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Editorial: Listen to the nerds

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

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Updated: June 30, 2013 6:26AM

The math nerds have spoken and, without question, just one pension bill gets the job done for Illinois.

That’s House Speaker Mike Madigan’s pension-cutting bill.

It will reduce the state’s total public employee pension payments by roughly $187 billion over the next 30 years, according to new figures released Tuesday by the retirement systems’ number crunchers.

Compare that to the bill backed by Senate President John Cullerton and the state’s unions, which the math nerds also went over.

They found savings last week of only $46 billion to $61 billion over 30 years. And that brings the retirements systems to only 90 percent funded in 30 years, compared to full funding under Madigan’s plan.

Plus those savings aren’t guaranteed. Because Cullerton’s bill includes multiple plans to choose among — a strategy he embraced because he believes it is the only one that allows for cutting pensions under the Illinois Constitution — it is impossible to predict the savings with any certainty.

The bottom line: Madigan’s bill, which has passed the House, saves more than three times as much as Cullerton’s, which has passed the Senate. That makes Madigan’s bill just what Illinois needs — an outsized solution for an outsized problem.

Without major cuts to public employee pensions in Illinois — by raising the retirement age, scaling back cost-of-living increases and increasing employee contribution — there is no path forward. Not only are the retirement systems at risk of running dry, but funding for core services is in peril, including for schools, prisons and hospitals. They are competing with the pensions for scarce public dollars.

For the last several weeks we have urged Cullerton, a man we respect for his determination to solve this problem and to do it in a way he believes is constitutional, to open the door in his chamber for Madigan’s bill. We understand he’s close — now it’s a matter of bringing his reluctant legislators along.

The state Legislative session ends Friday and Cullerton does not want to leave without passing a pension reform bill. Getting there requires a tough vote and respect for the bottom line.

It’s time to listen to the nerds.

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