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State of Illinois government is "headed toward
financial implosion." That's the opinion of a well-respected group
of Illinois business leaders. Our state owes more than $100 billion,
with neither the money in the bank nor any plans on how to pay this
That liability translates to roughly $8,800 owed by every man,
woman and child in Illinois.
The biggest part of this crushing debt is the $41 billion we owe
for pension benefits for teachers, university faculty and staff, and
other state employees
To avert or minimize this financial implosion that could cut
funds for our elementary schools, cause universities to raise
tuition even higher, threaten our public safety and security of our
prisons, we need to take difficult steps today. If we don't, the
state's bills will continue to grow.
Just like with your own credit card bills, the longer you wait to
pay, the bigger the bill becomes with added interest. But there is a
big difference between your family's credit card and the state's
borrowing -- you and your family will be stuck with your bills,
while Gov. Blagojevich and his allies won't be around to pay the
state's bills later. Your children and grandchildren, however, will
As the ranking Republican spokesman on the Senate's pension
committee, I have battled the administration's actions that have
jeopardized our financial security by putting off funding for
pensions. The governor's most fiscally irresponsible pension scheme
allowed the state to forgo $2.3 billion in payments to the state's
pension funds in 2006 and 2007. This pension raid allowed the
governor to "live large" with a bigger budget for a couple years,
but eventually that bill -- plus lost interest -- will come due.
It's clear that the pension raid that allowed the recent spending
spree is coming back to haunt us already, with steep pension funding
increases required in each of the next few years. Under the current
law, our pension payments grow by more than $600 million from this
year to next.
[to top of second column in this letter]
Some would argue that the answer would be to cut our pension
benefits for teachers and other state employees. But, it's hardly
fair to teachers to force them to pay for the governor's excess
spending out of their retirement funds, and the Illinois
Constitution won't allow us to cut benefits for people now in our
state pension plans.
Fixing the problem will require some difficult decisions, but I
believe it can be done. I am introducing legislation to begin to
resolve the problem by establishing a new pension plan for all newly
hired teachers and state employees.
The new plan would be a "defined contribution" plan, similar to
the 401(k) plans offered by many private businesses. This new plan
would replace the existing defined benefit plan that guarantees
retirees a lifelong annual benefit equal to a certain percentage of
their final salary. Under a defined contribution plan, both
employees and the state would contribute a set percentage of salary
to the employee's account, and the account would be invested at the
direction of the employee. Upon retirement, the employee would enjoy
the final account balance.
My idea is backed by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club
of Chicago, which is the business group predicting our financial
implosion, and I am certain that taxpayers will support this idea as
Other legislators and civic leaders may have other ideas to
reduce our pension bills, and I am eager to work with them to craft
a solution. What we cannot do is simply continue to spend like
tomorrow never comes.
Sen. Bill Brady
(Posted Feb. 8, 2007)
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