I write to you at the end of the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly with an unusually personal confession.
I am angry and sad that despite my best efforts to lead us toward a responsible, comprehensive solution, session ended without an answer for our ever-increasing pension debt. Yet, with your much-appreciated encouragement back home, I am more determined than ever to work toward a solution this year.
Our progress was encouraging. For the first time, the House and Senate each passed pension reform legislation. But there is an impasse between the two chambers centered on the depth of the problem and the significant solution needed to address it. It’s important that you understand the different approaches and their consequences.
The House-approved plan – which I played a key role in developing over the last several months – puts us on a real, mathematically sound path to fully funding our pension systems over 30 years. That means with the changes made under the legislation to manage the growth of retiree benefits, we will avoid skipped payments that have created our debt problem and give both taxpayers and retirees assurance that promises will be kept and payments made more affordable.
There will still be challenges, as even under this bill our payments to pensions are estimated to grow at about the same rate as our main bank account – the General Revenue Fund – grows over the 30 years. We now are putting about 20 percent of those general revenues into pensions, while other states pay between 3 and 5 percent. Yet the alternative approach is much more troubling.
The Senate-approved version will make our pension squeeze that much more difficult. Not only would we not put in place the mathematical system to ensure we make the pension payments we should, we will save far too little in benefit cuts to preserve the system and provide the budget relief we need. It would be better than the status quo, but not nearly enough to keep pensions from crowding all of our other spending priorities.
I am determined to get to work on a solution both chambers can pass and the governor can sign into law. But I don’t want to let this pension reform failure completely undermine some good accomplishments during this session.
We enacted property tax relief in Senate Bill 1894. The basic homestead exemption was increased $1000 in Cook County. This will provide homeowners some relief from ever increasing local property taxes.
Second, we passed legislation to allow citizens to register to vote online. Several states have already made this move and the data is very compelling as to the increased registration and voter turnout among all demographic groups.
Third, I was delighted to sponsor legislation to require the State to consider environmentally sustainable practices when purchasing such things as delivery services and small package transport. This was an initiative of United Parcel Service and others, and I was proud to work with one of our large employers in Northbrook on this green initiative.
Finally, Illinois joined no less than 12 other states in urging Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment reversing the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. That decision opened the floodgates for unregulated and unlimited corporate dollars to flow in to political campaigns. We saw the pernicious effects of this money for the first time in the 2012 election cycle. We should rein this in as soon as possible.
One last item (sorry for this lengthy newsletter). As you no doubt know, as required by the federal courts, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law allowing Illinoisans to carry a concealed firearm. I voted against this legislation, among other reasons, because I felt it went further than was necessary to restrict the ability of cities and villages to enact their own ban on assault weapons and similar regulations.
I believe the Governor will veto this legislation and we will be called back to Springfield shortly to vote on an override of his veto. I anticipate supporting his veto.
Please know that I appreciate everyone who emails, writes and calls to share an idea or an opinion. All that input helps me do the best job I can representing you and the entire district. And while we may not agree on every issue, I try to listen to all points of view before making a decision.
I am grateful for the opportunity to represent such thoughtful and engaged constituents!