Your pension, Senator?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Illinoisans voted their anger Tuesday — although not enough Illinoisans and not enough anger. We'll see as soon as Thursday whether state Senate Democrats who dodged the national rebuke of their party, or who face a primary election in 16 months, were watching the returns. If so, they'll join SenateRepublicans in rejecting Gov. Pat Quinn's quest for another $4 billion in pension borrowing.

Here's why the election outcome should kill this proposal for still more taxpayer debt:

Quinn's lead in the governor's race leaves challenger Bill Brady searching for the Lost County of Atlantis, where everyone voted Republican. But if the GOP didn't oust the incumbent Democrat in this state, it did seize a coveted trophy: the U.S. Senate seat that President Barack Obamaoccupied but failed to hold for his party. Republican shifts in four U.S. House districts give the Illinois delegation 11 Republicans and eight Democrats, assuming the apparent defeat of Rep. Melissa Bean. Republicans also kept Mark Kirk's House seat which, national Democrats had touted as one of their likeliest pickups.

Republican gains were muted beneath the Statehouse dome. The GOP took the treasurer's and comptroller's offices. Republican gains of six House and two Senate seats weaken the Democratic majorities, but leave House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton in full ownership of the legislature and all its works.

With a governor who doesn't buck them, Madigan and Cullerton can continue to do whatever they want, such as burying ethics reforms and perpetuating their economic plan of "Splurge. Borrow. Repeat." The Senate's consideration this week of the added $4 billion in borrowing is a first test. The proposal passed the House last spring but flopped in the Senate, with Republicans solidly opposed and some Democrats holding out for a big tax increase instead.

Cullerton is convening the Senate post-election at Quinn's urging. To craft serious budget cuts? To map education reforms? To craft a jobs-friendly tax policy? Nope, to borrow more. Didn't voters nationwide just discourage the Democratic-led explosion of public debt that Quinn wants to aggravate?

Remember, legislators are beneficiaries of the generous state pensions that you as a taxpayer support. (Say, did you ever have a part-time job that paid a fat lifetime pension? Neither did we.)

Before they vote on more borrowing, we hope the senators publicly disclose their self-interests: Their projected pension payouts currently stand at … what? Senators, that transparency might help the rest of us understand why you aren't instead working toward the only real remedy for the pension monster: a reduction in future benefits earned by current employees, lawmakers included.

Considering a worsening of the debt-driven management policies that put Illinois in this fix makes no sense.

Senators, tell yourselves: Now is the time we stop spending what we don't have. The time we quit pretending a miraculous economic recovery will save us. The time we downsize.

Last winter, we identified more than $6 billion in potential spending cuts. There is simply no way to justify borrowing more billions when Illinois has no logical prospect of finding the money to repay. Last year's similar pension borrowing is a terrible drag on this year's budget — and now Quinn wants to double down?

Don't do that, Senators. Instead do the hard work of funding pension systems with the aggressive budget reforms you've thus far avoided. And don't forget to tell the rest of us how much we'll be paying you in retirement for your stewardship of … insolvent Illinois.