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Chris Lauzen: Illinois Budget Still Crazy After All These Years

Letter to the Editor: "It breaks my heart that years of executive mismanagement of the budget ... have led us to such dire choices."

Senate Bill 1313 requires state employees, both current and retired, to contribute to their healthcare insurance. Although this mandate seems practically necessary to those who are employed in private industry and to those who are unemployed, among state government workers it is controversial.

Many state employees are naturally upset by my vote in favor of SB1313. I cut my own pay, as well as all members of the General Assembly, by 5 percent two years ago and have sponsored legislation toeliminate pensions for senators and representatives before we even considered asking other state employees to contribute to their healthcare insurance benefit. It's cold comfort to those employees affected that politicians are covered under this same law.

The Blagojevich and Quinn administrations along with their enablers in the General Assembly have bankrupted the state over the past decade, as you already know. They have raised our income taxes by 67 percent, driven hundreds of employers and thousands of jobs to other states, begun to cut social services including homeless shelters and early childhood learning, and now they're talking about multibillion (with a B!) dollar cuts to Medicaid and public employee pensions. Who votes for thesefolks?

There were legitimate arguments to vote "No" against cutting state employee healthcare benefits, i.e. "a promise made should be a promise kept," "this is an earned but deferred portion ofcompensation," "if we didn't give away corporate welfare (which I debated against and voted 'No') to the likes of Motorola and Sears, we could pay for these costs." "they're expecting us to 'trust' the governor's Central Management Services (CMS) and Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) going into the future," etc.

However, the arguments to vote "Yes" were even more compelling, if not also more desperate. This liability is growing at more than a 25 percent annual compounded rate, according to the unbiased, non-partisan Commission of Government Finance and Accountability. Last year the cost was $680 million; this year it is $880 million; and, next year it is projected to exceed $1 billion. We are one of only two states that still have this level of benefit.

We were told in Senate debate that 90 percent of our retirees make no contribution to health care ... although I think I have been called by every person in the 10 percent. You know that non-publicly-employed neighbors don't receive this valuable subsidy.

Some areas of the state government are simply out-of-control in awarding this benefit and they must be reined in, e.g. we were told that in SURS (the universities) and the General Assembly folks receive life-time free health insurance after only four years of service, and judges after six years. If this had been the narrow definition of the entire problem, the simple solution would have been to correctonly these excesses.

I don't trust the people whom the majority of our neighbors and friends in Illinois have elected to run this state, but they attempted to assure us in the "structure" of the plan of now requiring a contribution to health insurance premiums, as most other employers require. Illinois is Democrat-run, this legislation is Democrat-sponsored, and certainly Illinois is biased toward organized labor. Rather than written in statute, this benefit is now to be "collectively-bargained" through negotiation.

Another check-and-balance is that, after the Governor's Office through Central Management Services negotiates the amount of the employee-retiree contribution, it must go back to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, where legislators have another shot at stopping an excessive amount. I recognize, as I see your eyes roll, that none of these institutions have covered themselves in glory in the past ... nor most likely will sparkle to our satisfaction in the future.

However, the decisive argument for taking even imperfect action, was that doing-nothing onbenefits, pensions and Medicaid eligibility will inexorably lead to the collapse of the entire state.

It breaks my heart that years of executive mismanagement of the budget and General Assembly acquiescence—about which you know I have kicked and screamed—have led us to such dire choices. However, just like in your own life, my first responsibility is to do my duty on your behalf ... and then meet the consequences.

I understand how disappointed state employees are with my decision. I also fully appreciatehow angry most taxpayers are with the nearly-doubling of our income taxes in 2011 which I opposed. Actually, there's a lot more austerity pain coming, at both the state and county levels, and the Federal Government has not even begun their necessary cuts.

I respect the work of our state employees whether they serve us in Corrections, Transportation, or Social Services. However, benefits paid in the public sector must be balanced to those in private industry, especially as state government wages have been increased to par over the past decade.

Chris Lauzen
25th District state senator

G.Ryan May 28, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Read the article it is censored with entitlements. Once again, taking it out of context.......not paying for one's health insurance is that an earned benefit? The government has given away freebies in exchange for votes that is the Democrat way and now you don't want to hear the truth of the matter as with every entitlement program which will eventually bankrupt itself like social security and Medicare.
Angela Kane May 28, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Wrongo Montgomery. Add up the percentages that private company employees contribute to Social Security, Medicare, insurance and pensions and it's far greater than what a public employee contributes. I don't think a state pension is an entitlement, but provisions are far more generous than almost every private one. Remember, those provisions were negotiated with the very people their unions financially sponsored. Again, a huge conflict of interest. If that was done in private businesses there would be a huge investigation by an array of federal agencies.
Henry Smits May 29, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Angela is wrong. But don't take my word for it. Look it up. Aside, shouldn't the correct standard be what the "employer" pays, because that is what the cost is to the taxpayer? Why don't you go to the various human resource sites of the private higher education schools, and verify whether your statement is accurate or not. I will help get you started: http://surs.org/pdfs/joint/SURS_Facts.pdf "SURS does not provide “overly generous” benefits. And the cost of those benefits is modest. The normal cost to the state to pay for the FY 2012 benefits is 12.71% of payroll, or $444.2 million. SURS participants don’t contribute to Social Security – and neither does the state on their behalf. If SURS members were covered by Social Security, the employer cost for that alone would be approximately $216 million" That 12.71% varies from year to year. In past years, I have seen it below 10%. But what you will often find the private higher education employers giving a 5% contribution on top of the regular wages into a 401k type account for the employee. So right away, what the State is paying is comparable to what the private sector is paying. At the private sector schools, they often will additionally match the employee's contribution above this 5%, up to a few more points each.
Henry Smits May 29, 2012 at 11:00 PM
If I were a state employee, and I would say, "cover the employer's share of my Social Security and Medicare; and then pay 5% to my 401K, match another 3 or 4%, vested at the time of each paycheck", from where I stand, that would be a better deal for the employee than what the state currently provides. It also would cost the state more money.
Rick Anderson May 31, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Whatever the case may be, the State of Illinois is doomed by the likes of the Madigans, Quinn, Cullerton and other blowhard Republicans that falsely believed Obama Dollar$ would flow in to Illinois unfettered and bail us out. That isn't going to happen....but we can count on Obama to pardon his corrupt buddies in federal penns.

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