Friday, February 20, 2015

Who’s to say how pension funding problem will wind up being resolved?

At least we now have a date.

March 11, to be exact. That’s the date the Supreme Court of Illinois will hold hearings to allow attorneys to argue over a lawsuit now pending before them as to how state government can resolve its long-standing problem of underfunded pension programs for state workers and public educators.

THE STATE’S HIGH court scheduled that date on Thursday, and attorneys will gather for all the sides to have a chance to make oral arguments. Then, it is up to the court to make its ruling, sometime during the spring months.

Many people seem convinced the state Supreme Court will issue a ruling that upholds the Springfield-area judge who struck down the piece of legislation that now-former Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law to try to settle this issue.

That solution called for cutting into the level of retirement benefits that state workers could expect to receive, and that resulted in a lawsuit by organized labor interests to try to strike it down.

For they argue the retirees should not have to suffer in any way in terms of losing benefits they had expected to receive. Which is an argument I can kind of comprehend; we get them to retire by promising them something resembling a living wage in their elder years.

TRYING TO TAKE it back after they’re no longer capable of resuming work is kind of cold.

Although a part of me also wonders how much additional harm gets done by revoking the effort that did get legislative and gubernatorial approval to resolve the pension funding problem.

The problem is that the shortfall in payments in past years eventually has to be made up for. The shortfall is getting so large that it threatens to devastate the level of funds available to cover the cost of other services that state government has an obligation to provide.

We went through several years of the Quinn administration with the Legislature continuing to avoid finding a solution. When a solution was found, it was long overdue.

IF IT TURNS out that the “solution” is revoked and that we still have a lingering problem, it means an even worse financial situation than Quinn ever tried to encounter.

Yet current Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t seem to care much about that. Of course, he’ll just spew some rhetoric about how it is the Quinn administration’s fault. Even though the former governor made a sincere effort to try to resolve the problem, and often came across as being the only state official who comprehended the severity of the situation.

I don’t have a clue what it is exactly that Rauner has in mind for a solution – although I suspect his plan of attack gets thwarted if the Supreme Court finds a way of legitimizing the Quinn-era efforts to resolve the problem.

Although I noted that during his state budget address this week, he made a point of saying that current retirees will receive what they were counting on in terms of benefits. “You get everything you were promised,” Rauner said to retirees. “That’s fair, and it’s right.”

HE DID REFER to shifting current employees’ retirement benefits to a different plan, except for police officers and firefighters whose benefits are covered by the pension programs funded by state government.

Which makes me wonder how those Public Works crews who are digging us out of all the heavy winter snowfall we got hit with feel, hearing the governor say that cops are doing more important work than they do?

Of course, the Legislature could go about trying to protect some of those workers, since they are not ideologically inclined to want to make Rauner look good – particularly at a time when much of his own rhetoric is intended to make da Dems look bad.

Which ought to make for a feisty hearing come March when the Supreme Court has to figure out just how complicated the path to a solution has to be in order to be legitimate!


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