On December 3, 2013, the Illinois General Assembly passed historic pension reform in order to properly fund our underfunded pension system. Currently the pension system is $100 BILLION dollars in the hole. Something had to be done or we were headed for major fiscal collapse.
Prior to this vote, credit agencies had down graded the states’ credit rating over 20 times. The States annual pension payment eats up so much of the State budget, that we are forced to cut in other areas like k-12 education, public safety, human services and many other areas. When schools are laying teachers off every April, it’s because the schools have seen the State’s preliminary budget numbers. How can a teacher worry about a pension upon retirement if they don’t have a job? As a school board member for 12 years, I hated April because I hated to let hard working, good teachers go. This action by the General Assembly will help schools avoid the annual mass layoffs. Examples like this are all across the state budget. Even still, this was a tough decision to make. Numerous close friends and family members were directly impacted by my vote; however, I cast my vote in favor of pension reform because it was the right thing to do for all of Illinois.
For those of you who are disappointed, I do understand. Most of that disappointment is due to misinformation being released by opponents of reform. I believe elected officials are elected to make tough decisions. That is what we did. By making the tough and unpopular decision, the measure that was passed will save taxpayers $160 billion over the next 30 years, and the long term fiscal solvency of the pension systems will bolster the retirement of current and future employees. It is also important to note that these changes also impact legislators. Legislators were NOT excluded. Finally, it is important to note that the bill did not cut COLAs for retirees. However, it did slow the future growth of the increases. No ones pension was cut. No ones.
As a result of this bills passage, we have already seen credit agencies look positively on Illinois. What does that mean? People will lend the state money. Businesses will come to our state. Jobs will be available. The unemployment rate will fall, and the Illinois economy will thrive.
I am proud of what we accomplished for our State, and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of the Great State of Illinois. If voters decide they want another person representing them in Springfield because of my vote on this issue, I will accept that because that is why we are representatives of the people. God bless you all, and God bless our great state. VFP
Emanuel “Chris” Welch is the State Representative for the 7th legislative district, which includes all or portions of River Forest, Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview, Hillside, Berkeley, Westchester, La Grange Park, Melrose Park, Western Springs, and Northlake.