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Our View: Clock ticking on pension reform

It seems counter-productive to inform state lawmakers that there are only eight days remaining in this year’s regular legislative session, and they should be spending every minute of it focusing on pension reform as time wanes.

A ticking clock for the past few years has yet to spur any true substantive action, even though the state’s underfunded pension obligation grows by $17 million every day there is no pension reform. Lawmakers either continue to punt a decision into the future, or they hold overtime or special sessions – all on the taxpayers’ dime – and still don’t come up with a solution.

But like that teacher who insists repetition as a way to learn the ABCs or the 12 times table, we’ll say it again.

Pass. Real. Pension. Reform.

Now.

Every fiscal decision by state government is ruled by pensions. Continued inaction will lead to lower bond ratings and higher interest rates. Spending on education and social services will continue to plummet. More companies will flee as Illinois becomes increasingly unwelcoming to businesses. Workers will follow.

It’s time for public employees and their unions to accept that reform is inevitable. We know you kept your side of the bargain and annually paid into your pension while for decades elected officials didn’t keep up their end of the bargain.

But without conceding that you’re going to have to work more years before retiring, that cost-of-living increases aren’t going to be as high as they are now, that you will have to pay more of your pension and health-care costs, you risk that inaction will lead to no pension at all.

There are proposals out there, one from Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and another from House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Madigan’s promises higher savings, while Cullerton claims his will stand up to the inevitable legal challenges that will follow any reform.

The thing is, even if a lawsuit that claims modifications to the pension systems are unconstitutional is won, it won’t suddenly result in overflowing state coffers.

Instead, Illinois will just be further into its financial quagmire. And if the state has no money, it can’t pay you anything.

It’s time. Pass Madigan’s proposal now. It’s not perfect. But it’s a good start.

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