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Spineless Illinois Politicians Propose to Shift Pension Burden to Schools

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

By and large, politicians are not willing to tackle the unsustainable costs they’ve created. Consider Illinois public employee pensions.

Public employee pensions have been a state expense. Therefore, a big chunk of legacy costs don’t need to be shown on school district books. But new legislation proposed by Senate Democrats seeks to change that. They want local school districts to bear that burden.

The problem? On third of Illinois school districts are already on “financial watch lists,” according to the New York Times. So the geniuses in Springfield are proposing to increase the weight because it is likely much easier to raise property taxes in local communities than it is to reform spending or raise state taxes in Springfield.

These are state politicians – many elected with financial assistance from the unions – punting to school boards. The state school boards association, of course, is resisting because it estimates an additional $800 million in costs for local school budgets with already-thin margins. Ben Schwarm, the association’s executive director, was quoted as saying:

“On the heels of an income tax increase last year and taxpayers’ looking at the fact that the state still has a huge budget deficit — and then they’re looking at a cut to education or a property tax increase — a lot of taxpayers are going to look at it and think it’s not the best idea.”

There are politicians on both sides of the aisle willing to seriously tackle these problems. But the obnoxious unions aren’t willing to give an inch, and overreact – intentionally – anytime Democrats propose even meager reform.

That’s why they’re traveling to Milwaukee, Wisconsin today to protest an appearance by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who so far has been bold on school reform. Unions will attack anyone – Republican or Democrat – that dares cross them.

Illinois’ problem is grave. Champion News reports the 100 highest-paid school employees will pull down $1 billion in pension payments when they retire. The debate is not whether or not these government employees deserve this type of compensation, but whether it’s affordable, and whether politicians have the intestinal fortitude to fix the mess they created.

Do they have the courage to look public employees in the eye and say, “We screwed up – we can’t afford what we promised,” and dramatically change the system? Or will they continue playing games, putting local schools and taxpayers in an even more dangerous position?

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