This Letter to the Editor from IOP Spokesman Pat Hughes was published by the Chicago Tribune on April 17.

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Plainfield, and Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Buffalo Grove, recently wrote that it is time to “set aside our differences and work together” on pension reform (“Working together on pension reform,” Guest Columns, April 8, 2013).

Cooperation, bipartisanship: What could go wrong?

What these phrases really mean is that professional politicians in Springfield have realized that there is a problem so serious it could put their permanent public employment at risk. But they are only pretending to solve the problem.

Cross has been the minority leader in the House for 10 years. Nekritz has been a representative in Springfield for just as long. The pension disaster has been building up for that entire decade and longer. Why didn’t Cross or Nekritz come up with a pension reform proposal before we were facing a crisis?

They are no different from any other politician in Springfield, all of whom know that real pension reform is going to cause political pain for them. Politicians hate to say no. They don’t want to make anyone angry at them. They especially want to avoid the anger of unionized public sector employees, who watch them as if their livelihoods depend on it—which, of course, they do.

As result, the full-time crew in Springfield is committed to doing as little as possible, picking at the edges of the pension problem. The goal is to do just enough to declare success, have a group-hug and put off the day of reckoning a little bit longer.

Recently, a proposal for serious reform, HB3303, failed to make it out of committee. The bill called for switching to a defined contribution plan for state employees, much like 401(k) plans. Cross and Nekritz continue with a defined benefit plan, which has proven to be unsustainable. HB3303 would have allowed state employees to make their own investment decisions with their retirement savings. Cross and Nekritz keep those decisions under the control of politicians.

We will believe that real pension reform is coming to Illinois when a serious proposal like HB3303 gets the attention it deserves.

Illinois voters and taxpayers do not benefit when their representatives avoid doing the hard work, something their job often requires. And when both parties engage in this sort of “bipartisanship,” it means they are dodging the issue and protecting business as usual in Springfield.

Pat Hughes, Illinois Opportunity Project

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