Yesterday I voted for the pension reform bill.
We arrived at the crushing $100 billion liability facing our state not through the fault of our employees, but because of the irresponsible actions of state politicians, Republican and Democratic, who increased pension benefits without paying for them.
Illinois has come to this place because we chose to forgo our pension payments and use them as a line of credit to cover for a structural budget deficit. For too long Springfield budgeted out of inertia and political tradeoffs, instead of budgeting for performance.
This was not an easy vote for me. I understand how much retirees depend on the promise of their pension – and retirees will continue to have a pension. Their pension, however, will be one that the State can honestly afford.
The status quo was simply unsustainable. We could do nothing and continue painful and devastating funding cuts to schools and our frayed safety net programs or we could find a way forward.
The bill we passed yesterday is fairer than previous proposals – the benefit multiplier will be increased according to the consumer price index (CPI), to defend retirees against inflation. It provides more protection for long term, low-income workers -those workers who retired earning $42,000 or less – who will keep their current three percent compounded cost of living adjustment (COLA) for life. The bill requires annual funding of the pension programs to guarantee the State’s commitment to annuitants. This bill is an important step for securing retirement security for this generation and the next, and shoring up our state finances.
This bill is an important first step in securing Illinois’ future, but our work is not done.
As we have faced the painful truths of our broken pension system, we must find renewed energy to tackle the challenges that bedevil our state. We must reform a regressive and archaic tax code that punishes working families and gives the wealthiest individuals tax breaks. We must close inefficient and economy distorting corporate tax loopholes and exemptions. We must address drug addiction and mental health as diseases and cease the use of punitive incarceration for non-violent offenders. All of these issues have my utmost attention, and I am committed to finding real working solutions to them with my colleagues in the General Assembly.