Politicians should listen to their voters on pensions

Guest Column

It was in Illinois’ best interest that no significant action was taken on pensions during the Aug. 17 special session.

That’s because Gov. Pat Quinn and other policymakers have been ignoring working families’ values and priorities, and backing the pension-cutting schemes of millionaires who only want to protect their tax breaks.

So, instead of signing off on unfair and illegal proposals, taking no action on pensions was the best option for the session.

However, Illinois still has an $83 billion pension deficit that needs to be addressed fairly and, in a way, uphold the state constitution.

It’s time for the policymakers to listen to the voters.

A new scientific statewide poll shows that — despite years of hostile editorials, a well-funded public relations campaign as well as anti-union “think tanks”’ non-stop efforts to turn the public against education employees — more than two-thirds of Illinois voters believe teachers should receive their pensions as they were promised, even when pressed about the state’s budget problems.

The percentage siding with teachers receiving their full pensions increases to 71 percent when voters learn teachers are ineligible for Social Security. It rises higher still to 75 percent when they hear that Springfield politicians failed to put money into the pension systems and spent it on their own priorities instead.

These data show the public understands education employees are being reasonable when they argue that public employees should not be made to bear sole responsibility for fixing the pension mess.

Fifty-eight percent of voters believe the legislature is most to blame for the current pension deficit, with only 5 percent laying blame at teachers’ feet.

When it comes to solutions, 58 percent consider cutting benefits to current retirees a very bad idea, while 54 percent think closing tax loopholes for corporations is a better solution.

The public employee unions have developed a fair and constitutional framework for dealing with the pension crisis. It state the following must be part of any pension legislation:

A guarantee that the state will pay its portion as required; the state needs to take a true look at revenue by closing loopholes for big corporations that hurt Illinois taxpayers by denying the state the revenue needed to provide a quality education to every student in Illinois; no pension cuts for current retirees. Teachers don’t get social security. Cutting people on a fixed income is wrong and unconstitutional.

If the state agrees to these common sense ideas, unions that represent current contributors to the state’s pension systems would agree to an increase in individual contributions.

A contribution increase would generate billions of dollars to reduce the pension debt and stabilize the systems to ensure the reasonable benefits public employees have earned would be paid as promised.

Those who would balance the budget on the backs of hard working teachers don’t represent the values of Illinois’ working families.

It’s time for Gov. Pat Quinn, Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, and Republican leaders Tom Cross and Christine Radogno to work with the unions for a fair and constitutional solution.

It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s what the voters want.

Cinda Klickna

President

Illinois Education Association

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