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Our View: Getting the state’s fiscal house in order is imperative

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address Wednesday is a textbook example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Quinn repeatedly blamed members of the General Assembly for failure to reform the state’s five pension systems, the mismanagement of which has led to a $96 billion unfunded liability. He implored them to act.

“What are you waiting for?” he asked.

Taxpayers have been asking that for years.

Inept leadership and an unwillingness to touch an issue that likely will cost some lawmakers their seats in the Legislature are the main reasons why reform hasn’t happened.

Quinn should own this issue. If he could issue an executive order to reform pensions, what would he do? The time for proposals is over: Lawmakers need to settle on which proposals already out there are acceptable and move forward.

He mentioned Wednesday two ideas we support: adjusting the annual cost-of-living hike so it isn’t a 3 percent compounding increase every year, and making sure the state pays its full share of the pension obligation each year.

Add in bumping up the retirement age and having employees contribute more toward their pensions (and not simply “adjust” the amount, as Quinn suggested), and we’ve got some real reform that would save money.

Instead, Quinn has proved himself incapable of leading the state through the biggest issue facing Illinois in a generation. How many times has he set a “hard deadline” and demanded action, just to see it pass by with no consequences for failing (again) to reform systems that cost taxpayers $17 million a day?

That’s not to say the state’s representatives and senators are blameless. Far from it. One person cannot be blamed for the growing, unfunded pension liability.

The sad truth is, until reform is enacted, pensions will dictate everything else in our budgets. We can’t afford new initiatives – economic, educational or otherwise – until there’s a resolution.

Getting the state’s fiscal house in order is the only focus lawmakers should have this session.

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