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Editorial: Best chance to solve pension crisis

Skokie 02/08/13 State senator Daniel Biss (D-9th) gets introduced during town hall meeting hosted by Turning Point Behavioral Health Care

Skokie, 02/08/13 State senator Daniel Biss (D-9th) gets introduced during the town hall meeting hosted by Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center at the Skokie Public Library February 8, 2013. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 20, 2013 6:21AM

Let’s do this for real, folks.

A bill that could come up for a vote in the Illinois Senate as early as Tuesday represents the state’s best chance to fix its budget-busting employee pension crisis.

We urge every senator who is tired of watching Illinois tumble to fiscal ruin to vote yes.

We know critics question whether this bill, introduced in the Senate by Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), will hold up in court. But we also know that an alternative bill, promoted by Senate President John Cullerton, falls far short of solving this pension mess.

The Biss bill — also introduced in the House by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, a Republican — would save the state $167 billion over 30 years. The Cullerton bill would save no more than $88 billion.

The Biss bill offers a lasting solution. It gets a $98 billion monkey, the state’s current pension debt, off our backs.

For decades, as Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney reported Sunday, politicians and union leaders have been complicit in short-changing the state’s pension funds. They agreed to a deeply inadequate 1994 funding law. Then they pushed through a 2005 law that allowed the state to skimp even more for five years.

The Biss/Nekritz/Cross plan calls for phasing in higher retirement ages, eliminating cost-of-living increases after the first $25,000 of a pension, and raising contribution amounts. It would allow retirement systems to sue the state if it does not pay its share. And it would shift the cost of paying for teacher pensions — but only for new hires — from the state to school districts.

Are those extreme measures? By no means. Not when the very solvency of the state’s pensions is at risk. And not compared with reform measures elsewhere. Rhode Island, for example, has frozen cost-of-living hikes for pensions entirely until their system is 80 percent funded, which won’t happen for a generation.

The Biss bill lives in the real world. Maybe it’s time we all did.

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