Pat Quinn Tells Truth about Pension Underfunding, But Not Whole Truth

The irony in this part of his interview with Governor Pat Quinn is that Neil Steinberg and maybe even the Governor do not know the pension problem is directly attributable to stealing money allocted to pensions in years past to increase State Aid to Education.

Neil Steinberg adds to the pressure to address the public pension mess Monday morning in a column featuring an interview with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

There is one part that I found interesting, accurate as far as it goes, but missing the main point.

“The folks who put us in this mess are from both parties,” Quinn said.

He’s got that right.

“Every governor and every session of the legislature, the choice at the end of the year came down to: ‘Do we pay this pensions thing or spend a little bit more money on other things?”

Correct again.

“They always picked now over requiring pension payments. So it got worse and worse.”

The Governor again speaks truth.

But not the whole truth.

Each year I remember the Governor’s budget would allocate so much for education.

It would be broken down into State Aid to Education, university subsidies and pension payments for those employed in higher and lower education.

Each year, the teachers unions–I’m talking the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers–would come in and argue that the pension money would be better spent “NOW,” to put it in the Governor’s word, on State Aid to Education.

Tomorrow would take care of itself was the implicit message.

Since those still employed as teachers or professors or support personnel were so much more influential than the retired folks, the money was allocated by General Assembly after General Assembly for current expenditures, rather than future pension payments.

Hard to criticize the political sense of the judgment at the time, because most of the representatives and senators voting for the budgets wouldn’t be around to pay the piper, so to speak.

But doing so had more than political advantages for incumbent legislators running for re-election.

Sending extra money to local schools had the unintended effect of increasing the pension burden on state taxpayers.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, higher teacher salaries meant higher teacher pensions.

Having said pointed that out, I remember thinking time and time again that I might be around to have to figure out how to pay for extravagant programs.

That was before I voted, “No.”

Maybe someone can find someone who voted against more budgets than I over the 16 years I served in the General Assembly, but I doubt it.

At this point, it would be appropriate to remind readers that I receive a legislative pension, but one that was not hopped up by having a post-GA job at a higher salary than I received as a state representative. Because of the 3% annual so-called “cost of living” increase–which is a flat rate not based on inflation–my pension is substantially higher than my final salary in the Illinois House of Representatives in 2000.

I remember voting for only two pension bills. One was in the second year of my first term that affected the General Assembly pension system. I remember asking the legendary C.L. McCormick from Vienna what it was all about. He told me not to worry about it and I voted in favor.

That was the favorable last pension vote I remember until a McHenry County Judge called me in the 1990’s about supporting a bill that would put his bifurcated judicial service on an equal footing with those who had only served as a judge. He had been an Associate Judge after serving as Assistant State’s Attorney, gone into private practice and returned to the bench to finish his career.

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