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Editorial: A last gasp for pension reform?

Updated: May 31, 2012 7:32AM

Pension reform may be coming to Illinois after all.

Late Wednesday night, House Speaker Michael Madigan agreed to drop a provision in his public employee pension reform package that Republicans had vehemently opposed. The provision would have shifted teacher pension costs from the state to suburban and Downstate school districts.

By stripping away that piece, Madigan dramatically increased the odds that desperately-needed pension cuts are coming to Illinois.

That is progress, even if passage on Thursday, the last day of the legislative session, isn’t guaranteed.

And, it’s important to point out, Madigan was right on the cost shift.

Madigan’s provision wasn’t a side note to pension reform. It was a vital component. It would have, for the first time, forced school districts to pay for the benefits they dole out. Currently, school districts can sweeten pensions without paying for them. Cost shifting is a much-needed check on excessive pension benefit growth.

Despite that, it makes sense to get behind dropping the cost shift because it means Illinois may finally do something dramatic to reduce pensions costs.

But that can’t be the end of the story.

The Republicans on Wednesday said they are willing to look for other ways to prevent school districts from boosting teacher pensions. We look forward to seeing what they come up with, though cost-shifting should still be on table for a later date. It is on the Republicans to take the lead on this issue.

Madigan’s announcement Wednesday night will hopefully break the log jam, clearing the way for a significant pension reform package. That’s no small feat and will do much to stabilize Illinois’ finances.

But no one should fool themselves into thinking the work is complete.

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