Heartland Expert: Illinois Needs Far Bolder Pension Reform

Published March 25, 2010

Steve Stanek, research fellow for The Heartland Institute, managing editor of Budget & Tax News, and coauthor of a forthcoming Heartland “report card” on public-sector pension reform, offered the following comments on the pension reform measure passed by the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday, March 24.

You may quote from his statement below or contact him directly at [email protected], 815/385-5602.

“Sometimes imminent fiscal disaster can be a good thing, as pension reform passed by the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday shows.

“The measure scales back pension benefits for future government workers. Considering that the General Assembly has long operated almost as a wholly owned subsidiary of unionized state and local government workers, this gives the measure some symbolic significance.

“Government unions strongly opposed a rollback, even for workers not yet on an Illinois government payroll. But benefits for past and current workers are bankrupting the state now. And those past and present workers are receiving far more benefits than most taxpayers who fund them will ever see.

“The crisis has been building for years. Lawmakers finally did something because Illinois has a projected budget deficit of about $13 billion and the nation’s largest unfunded pension liability, conservatively estimated at $85 billion.

“The Illinois Constitution does not allow the state to cut pension benefits that workers have earned. But lawmakers can say, from this point, benefits for current workers will be changed. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago has recommended doing this. To take a meaningful step toward fiscal responsibility, lawmakers should follow that recommendation.”