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Friday, April 12, 2013

PENSION: Evanston town meeting focuses on pension reform

--Any options currently being considered by the state legislature do nothing to fix the problems we have or that we face.
Simply cutting COLA's and increasingevery contribution by employees is not the answer.
Responsible care of the money by the state should be number one on the reform list.--

Story at Chicago Tribune

April 12, 2013

EVANSTON — Some community members leveled strong criticism of the state’s course on pension reform at a charged town meeting on April 4, hosted by state Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th) and state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9th).

The legislators hosted the town meeting in the Parasol Room of the Lorraine H. Morton Center Thursday night to provide community members with a legislative update as they prepare to return to Springfield for the spring session.

Members in the packed room – including a number of former and current state workers and teachers – focused almost of their questions on pension legislation. They challenged Gabel and Biss – both considered progressives on the issue – on the focus of the proposals they were supporting.

Biss has been a key player on the issue, cosponsoring a comprehensive measure to fix the state’s pension mess.

The state faces a nearly $100 billion deficit in unfunded liabilities. Biss has put forth a comprehensive measure that would cut nearly $30 billion from the shortfall by capping cost-of-living adjustments at 3 percent for some workers.

His bill and others also include hiking employee contributions, raising the retirement age, and other measures.

At Thursday’s town meeting, a number of speakers asked why the lawmakers aren’t more aggressively pursuing revenue options to close the shortfall – including closing loopholes so wealthy individuals and corporations would pay more.

It almost seems like “class welfare,” retired Wilmette Junior High School teacher Jean Artabasy said, asking legislators to take the current pension measures off the table.

Artabasy said she spent some 34 years in the school system, sometimes

“I did my work for the children,”” she said. “If you will talk to my students, (now in college and beyond) they’ll tell (how) we changed their lives.”

“We had contracts,” she said about the proposed pension reform. “Its Springfield’s responsibility to get the money to run our state,” she said to applause.

Biss agreed with Artabasy on the truth of her statements, noting she had paid into the pension system “when nobody asked you whether you should pay, or could pay that.”

He said the revenue question is very much alive, noting that he was the only member of the General Assembly to co-sponsor two Constitutional amendments to create a progressive income tax.”

As for taking the current pension bill off the table, he said he couldn’t do that.

“When I look at the way we are funding education today – when I look at human service funding – when I look at our backlog of bills … I can’t honestly come to the place where it seems right to take the pensions entirely off the table.”

Gabel said she also has come to the realization that state must continue to pursue the issue. She offered hope that legislators would be able to forge a compromise proposal before the end of the session to address some of the issues raised by retirees.

Evanston resident Herbert Bashir, a state worker for 25 years with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and then the Department of Mental Health, said he fell ill after retirement.

He expressed concern about higher doctor co-payments and other costs under the changes.

“We on the lower end of the spectrum just have to accept what is handed out to them and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

Another speaker, Frank Candioto, also of Wilmette, urged legislators to ensure the state makes accruable basis and doesn’t skip them as it did during the Governor Jim Thompson administration, when officials said “we’re doing well enough – let’s have a pension holiday.”

“I feel if you don’t have that in we could end up seeing the same situation we’re seeing now,” he said.

Biss agreed that was something to be watched. “The so-called flexibility to skip pensions is by far the biggest source of today’s problems.”

Some citizens also expressed that they were willing to lay out their rationale on the questions.

Several said Gabel and Biss were on the right course.

Pension payments would ramp up from $11 billion to some $17 billion, noted Jeff Smith, an attorney and longtime Evanston activist. “That’s about half of what (the total budget) of what the governor proposed,” he noted.

Another speaker, Andy Thomas, of Evanston, suggested that the legislators have to look beyond the interest of the predominately older audience at the town meeting “to future generations and a bankrupt state that (currently) can’t pay its bills.”