Pat Sajak and Vanna White would be getting dizzy trying to deal with the myriad numbers spinning in Springfield the past few weeks offering changes to Illinois’ pension and Medicaid systems. Here’s the bottom line of what has – and hasn’t – happened. There’s a big difference between press conference sound bites and reality. The governor leapfrogged the work of a couple of independent legislative commissions dedicated to pension and Medicaid reform to announce his own version of their initiatives. Please remember that none of this is legislation, just talking points.
The governor suggested increasing the retirement age to 67, a 3 percent increase in employee contributions, COLA (cost of living adjustment) changes, retiree health changes and limiting public sector pensions to public sector employment. Translation? Teachers’ benefit costs would revert to local school districts.
My perspective: shifting pension costs to local schools and universities will result in property tax increases, higher tuition, program eliminations and layoffs. Illinois is already about $900 million behind in payment to local school districts and $759 million behind in payments to universities and community colleges. Shifting these costs would be devastating for their budgets and shirks our responsibility. The good news: the legislature just took a major step toward fiscal responsibility by unanimously approving HJRCA 49, which mandates that any future action affecting pensions must be approved by a 3/5 vote. This means members of the minority party would also have to lend their support.
While telling the legislature that the state would need to reduce expenditures by $2.7 billion earlier this spring, the governor shifted gears and announced plans to cut reimbursement rates for hospitals plus tack on a $1 cigarette tax.
My perspective: No one likes to make cuts. It is one of the most difficult things we have to do, but it is necessary to ensure Medicaid is there for those who truly need it. Propping up the Medicaid budget for another year with a cigarette tax increase won’t solve the problem – it only delays the inevitable and prolongs the uncertainty.
Finding the balance
Senior savvy Fox Valley Older Adult Services and Senior Services associates added their voices to many others concerned with state funding for the frail. In the past decade, the 60-plus population grew by 82 percent in Kendall and 54 percent in Kane. More than 2,500 grandparents are responsible for raising their grandchildren in Kane, nearly 250 in Kendall.
Who’s in town
At this point it’s almost easier to list who isn’t in Springfield. There are just a few weeks until session is scheduled to end and the Capitol is close to its 5,000-person capacity many days. I talked with HIV/AIDS funding advocates, Metro West Council of Government, Earth Day proponents, Catholic Charities, Competitive Energy Association, Skills USA, Council of Children with Disabilities, AARP, University of Illinois Extension 4-H, Taxpayers’ Federation, Muslims Action, United Way, Northwest Suburban Teachers Union, Public Health, U of I alumni, Homecare Hospice and many more.
Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, is the state representative for the 50th Legislative District. She can be reached at her Yorkville office at 630-553-3223 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow frequent updates on Facebook by adding State Representative Kay Hatcher as a friend.