By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Quick, who said Illinois should pay down its worst in the nation, $130 billion pension debt?
Who noted that Illinois needs to secure a stable pension system for the future? And who added that Illinois needs to keep it promises to current and retired public employees?
Gov. Pat Quinn, and of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.
Yes, the same group being label a conservative shill organization, released a new report that sounds very similar to Illinois’ populist, but not popular, Democratic governor.
The ALEC report, titled “Keeping the Promise”, lays out six broad goals:
- Pension reform should remove the risk that states will go functionally bankrupt due to pension obligations
- Pension reform should make sure that commitments and obligations to current workers are fulfilled
- Pension plans should be predictable and defined
- The public (taxpayers) should not bear all the risk of pension plans
- No pension plan should be exempt from scrutiny
- Retirement plans should not lock employees into the public sector
That sounds very similar to the broad goals from Quinn’s office.
“The governor’s proposal has been, and continues to be, we need a comprehensive solution,” Quinn Chief of Staff Jerry Stermer told the Legislature’s special pension committee last month. “(A solution) that stabilizes the systems, enables the systems to actually pay the pensions … to erase the unfunded liability, to get to 100 percent funding, and to end the squeeze.”
The squeeze, as embodied by Quinn’s cartoon python, is the dwindling amount of money being spent on education and human services as more and more is spent on pensions.
The ALEC report, written by former Republican Utah state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, does say that beyond the broad goals for pension reform, each state may look at other solutions.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that legislators should move from defined-benefit systems to properly designed alternatives, such as defined-contribution, cash-balance, or hybrid plans,” the report states.
Moving away from a defined benefit plan is not part of Quinn’s pension reform ideas. But a hybrid plan is a piece of the puzzle being discussed by lawmakers tasked with creating a pension reform plan.
State Rep. Elaine Nekrtiz, D-Northbrook, who is helping to guide the Legislature’s special pension committee, said she was shocked how similar the ALEC report is to her ideas.
“At first I thought, ‘Is this really from ALEC?’,” Nekritz said. “But a lot of the ideas mentioned in the (ALEC) report are failry standard pension reform doctrine.”
“I think (the similarities) say more about the broad base of ALEC,” state Sen. Matt Murphy, the GOP’s second in command on the pension committee said.
But Murphy is quick to say that just because ALEC is on the same page as Illinois’ Democratic leaders on pension reform, does not mean the group is going to be embraced by those on the left.
“While there may be agreement here and there, the liberals and Democrats will continue to take issue with ALEC,” Murphy added.
Murphy and Nekritz said Illinois is “closer than ever before” to an agreement on pension reform. But they also said Illinois is “not quite there yet.”
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.