PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday June 23rd, 2010, 11:47am

Sun-Times (Finally) Comes Around On State Pension Attacks

Today, the Sun-Times editorial board criticized a local pro-business group for repeatedly referring to the "Cadillac" pension plans purportedly received by state workers.  But just last fall, the board itself was using that same phrase.

As defenders of the increasingly demonized state workforce, we were pleased this morning to see the Sun-Times editorial board take dead aim at the stubborn myth that public employee pension benefits here in Illinois are out-of-line with other states or the private sector. Specifically, the paper blasted the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago -- a local group that wants to cut current employee benefits -- for their repeated references to "Cadillac" benefit plans. Here's an excerpt:

The phrase "Cadillac public pensions" sure gets your blood boiling, doesn't it?

That's why the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a business group spearheading a campaign to cut pension benefits for current government workers, uses it regularly.

Too bad it's an exaggeration and gross simplification of Illinois' seemingly overly generous pension systems.

But while we're happy to see the editorial board push back against such "simplifications," we still have to ask: Where were they back in 2009, when the paper's own reporters ran a four-part series on the public pension system that used sensational headlines and ignored important context to dramatize the system's deficiencies?

The Sun-Times' own data showed that 82 percent of state pensioneers -- including 78 percent who don't qualify for Social Security -- take in less than $50,000 per year.  In fact, most actually take in less than $25,000 per year.

So what did the Sun-Times editorial board write at the time?  In their September 15, 2009 editorial they took the bait -- lamenting "the travesty of overly generous public pensions that are bleeding Illinois taxpayers" -- and even used the exact same phrase as the Civic Committee:

Over the last four days, in a Chicago Sun-Times investigation called "Pension Bonanza," reporters Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Art Golab have documented the whole sorry saga of Cadillac state pensions.

After cherry-picking several examples of exorbitant pensions, the editorial board added a brief qualification at the very end of that piece. "The vast majority of public pension recipients, of course, don't get the golden deals of the Gannons, the Winnies, the Weavers and the Netsches," they wrote. "We know that."

But the paper's own articles repeatedly omitted that critically important fact! Indeed, the lead of the first piece, printed on September 11, read as follows: "Want to retire with a fat pension? Get a government job in Illinois." 

The Sun-Times' latest editorial is a helpful addition to the ongoing pension debate in Illinois. It's also good to see the paper list specific reform recommendations -- as we've done in the past -- that don't violate the state constitution (as gutting current pension benefits would). 

It just would have been helpful to see them push back last fall, when their own reporters were stoking the fire.

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