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Proposal, questions to consider for the state’s pension mess

ShaunBittle | Staff Photographer Editorial columnist LindMcDaniel-Hale photographed house ElgIL Friday Nov. 28 2008.

Shauna Bittle | Staff Photographer Editorial columnist Linda McDaniel-Hale photographed in house in Elgin, IL on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008.

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:28AM

The Nov. 6 election hoopla has finally settled down. Whether your candidate won or lost, you have had 19 days to deal with it and move on.

As our federal government stands teetering at the edge of the so-called fiscal cliff and in danger of toppling over the rim, here in Illinois our free-fall is going to be much greater if someone doesn’t get serious and fix the pension mess.

Gov. Pat Quinn is going to the public to apply pressure on the lame duck legislature to get on the ball and stop the avoidance by Jan. 9 before the new lawmakers are sworn in. A website,, has been set up for Illinois residents to get information about pension reform that will get the word out on what Quinn wants to happen in Illinois.

His plan is simple enough. He wants to raise the retirement age for most “job titles,” require bigger employee contributions, limit cost-of-living adjustments and require school boards and university trustees to be responsible for the pension plans they grant. Quinn also wants Illinois to make sure the pension contributions are being made each year.

On the first point, what does most “job titles” mean? How many state employees will be left off of the most job titles categories? What are these categories, and why should we support this change without a full account of what we are supporting? Shouldn’t all categories have to have their retirement age increased before they receive full benefits?

In regard to bigger employee contributions, are the state workers going to be treated fairly and made to put in a reasonable amount of money toward their future retirement? Cost-of-living adjustments must also be determined fairly and take into consideration how much money is available to be paid out.

The fourth point — making school boards and university trustees responsible for what they agree to — should not be a cover-up for raising property taxes on property owners, who already are paying outrageous amounts on their real estate taxes. Is this point a fancy way of saying taxpayers get to foot the bill for the failure of the Illinois legislature to responsibly manage its pension funds?

Illinois wouldn’t be in this mess if the state had been making their contributions in the first place. In 2008, pension payments made up 6 percent of the state budget. Now, with the neglect of the issue in the past five years, this year’s pension payments will take up 16 percent of the budget.

Our legislature needs to stop avoiding the issue and get down to business. If a reasonable plan cannot be drafted before Jan. 9, then our legislature needs to try again during the regularly scheduled session and add more special sessions if need be.

Something must be done before Illinois drops over its own fiscal cliff. A dangerous free-fall is just over the horizon.

Linda McDaniel-Hale is a Sleepy Hollow resident.

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