Our view: Act now on fiscal reform
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has much still to do before it adjourns May 31.
At the top of the list are three critical issues that are tied together: passing a balanced budget, reforming Medicaid, and reforming public pension.
Lawmakers aren’t going to be able to pass a balanced budget if they don’t make significant strides in reforming the state’s Medicaid program and unsustainable pension systems.
Medicaid has a $2.7 billion funding gap. While Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed an aggressive mix of service cuts, reimbursement reductions and a cigarette tax increase to close that gap, we don’t agree with all of his proposals. There’s no doubt that significant cuts are necessary. But lawmakers need to find a reasonable solution with help from key stakeholders.
As for pension reform, it needs to happen this session. Illinois’ five statewide pensions systems are underfunded by more than $80 million, and the cost will continue to rise unless lawmakers pass sweeping changes.
A bill approved earlier this month by both the House and the Senate that will virtually eliminate free health care for retired state employees is a good start, but it’s just that ... a start. Taxpayers no longer can afford the elaborate benefits that many public retirees receive. At a minimum, reform needs to include increased contributions from employees, a hard cap on annual pension amounts, and an end to end-of-career salary bumps that inflate pensions.
Lawmakers cannot push these tough decisions off until after the November election. Another year wasted will push Illinois ever closer to the financial brink, and will make the decisions that much tougher.
The clock is ticking on this legislative session. The time to act is now.