Biz group launches media blitz to focus on state pensions

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Chicago business group has launched a media blitz to focus attention on the state's massively underfunded employee pension plans.

Illinois Is Broke, an organization pretty much put together by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, this week began spending what I'm told is in the low-to-mid six figures on radio and print ads urging voters to "ask the candidates what they will do: fix the pensions, or just raise taxes?"

The radio version of the spot has a mother gently griping that, "Our family has to live within our means, but Illinois state government doesn't."

The ad then goes on to talk about "free health insurance" for state retirees and a state debt amounting to $25,000 per family."

The spot doesn't name any names, but it should be mildly helpful to GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady — a Republican, like the bulk of those who paid for the ad are believed to be. But neither he nor Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn has been specific on what they'd do to close a hole of at least $75 billion.

Mr. Brady wants to "look at" getting out of the pension business entirely by putting workers into 401 (k)-style defined-benefit programs to which the state might or might not contribute.

The Civic Committee likely would agree and would approve of Mr. Brady's views that future benefit accrual rates for current workers legally can be lowered.

But Mr. Brady also has talked about borrowing up to $50 billion to pay off old pension debts — something that may not go down well with some economic conservatives.

Mr. Quinn signed a bill that cuts benefits for newly hired workers. But the short-term impact is quite limited, and it's not clear if he's willing to take more immediate steps.