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McSweeney: State’s fiscal future starts with tough pension-reform votes

Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I ran on a platform of helping to resolve the fiscal crisis in Springfield.

Frankly, the problem is much worse than I thought before I took office in January. The state has $9 billion of unpaid bills, more than $200 billion of debt, and the state can’t issue debt on a cost-efficient basis.

Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman, was right when he said that Illinois is insolvent. Our terrible fiscal situation is discouraging job creators from coming to Illinois. We now have a very high unemployment rate of 9 percent in Illinois. It will be hard to get that unemployment rate down unless we’re courageous and make hard decisions.

The only way to start addressing the Illinois fiscal mess is to first reform public-employee pensions. I’m on record as supporting specific pension reform proposals based on limiting (not eliminating) future cost-of-living adjustments, capping the pensionable salary level, raising retirement ages, and increasing employee contributions.

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan finally has started to address pension reform on the House floor. He has designed the process to try to force very tough votes by members. On Thursday, I voted for all three measures that would limit future cost-of-living adjustments, cap the pensionable salary amount, and increase employee contributions.

The stakes are high on passing pension reform. Unless we act immediately, education will continue to be cut and pressure will build to increase taxes. I will strongly oppose any future tax increases. A tax increase would hurt families and kill jobs.

I’m also concerned that there will be a strong effort for a graduated/progressive tax in Illinois if we don’t pass real pension reform soon. The graduated income tax would be a major tax increase that would drive jobs out of Illinois. Remember what Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” I don’t want the Democratic leaders in our state to use our fiscal crisis as another excuse to raise our taxes.

We also need to cut spending. I’ve sponsored legislation that would abolish the post of lieutenant governor as part of my effort for greater government efficiencies. I have garnered bipartisan support, including 29 additional House members, to sign on as co-sponsors.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is one of the lead sponsors of my legislation, which passed the State Government Committee this week by a vote of 16-4. We need to have the courage to make our government leaner, smarter and more efficient. We are in a fiscal crisis, and we can’t afford the luxury of having a lieutenant governor.

To date, I have declined a legislative pension, proposed to end all legislative pensions, and have voluntarily cut my own pay and district office expenses by 10 percent.

There were tough votes on pension reform this week, and there will be plenty more in the future. That said, I was elected to make tough decisions. I’m honored to serve the residents of our area and will continue to work hard for real pension reform, lower taxes and less spending. The time is now to do our job and vote on all of the difficult issues.

• David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is state representative from Illinois’ 52nd Representative District. He can be reached by email at ilhouse52@gmail.com or through his district office at 847-516-0052.

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