Public pension reform, is it fair to all? More gambling for Illinois , is it good or bad? These are two of the big issues and pending questions of the week considered by state lawmakers, according to State Sen. Kyle McCarter .
The Illinois House sent back to the Senate a pension reform proposal that drastically changes Senate Bill 1, a measure that previously passed the Senate. The House changes, crafted by the House Speaker, completely rewrites the original version of the bill. Those changes incorporated a number of ideas floated over the past several months including;
- Higher retirement age (67) for employees currently under age 45;
- Reduced Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) on pension benefits;
- Requiring employees to pay an extra 2% of their salary into the pension fund; and
- Transferring teacher pension responsibilities from state government to local schools.
Sen. McCarter, who offered his own pension reform plan this week, said any plan must be fair and constitutional.
“I’ll withhold my judgment on the Speaker’s plan until I see the details but certain must-haves are needed before I am willing to support it,” said McCarter (R-Lebanon). “It must be fair to public employees and it must be fair to the taxpayers of Illinois .”
McCarter’s own pension reform plan received a committee hearing this past week although the Senate’s Executive Committee did not advance the measure. To date, the 54th District Senator has offered four separate proposals to reform pensions, more than any other Republican legislator, including an entirely new pension reform formula, various compromise plans and a version that included many union-requested provisions.
“I believe my pension proposal is the only truly fiscally sustainable and constitutional bill that has been presented,” said McCarter. “The effort was made to get all parties to come together on a plan that could receive a majority of support from all the parties involved. We cannot delay in finding a solution to the single greatest financial issue facing state government, an issue that directly impacts the lives of every single citizen of Illinois .”
Under Sen. McCarter’s latest offer, long-time or Tier 1 employees would pay two percent more toward their pension and the state’s current financial commitments to pensions would be maintained into the future until the pensions are 100 percent funded. It also contains a funding guarantee, giving employees and retirees the right to sue.
Other parts of the plan include, creating a separate pension plan for new hires that would include Social Security and a self-funded 401K-style pension with a 3 percent state contribution. It would also move local teacher pensions back to local schools but only if coupled with relief from burdensome state mandates that would free up local finances to pay for the new pension responsibilities.
“The economic future of the state is really at stake,” said McCarter. “What we do today will have a direct impact on our children and grandchildren. Do we take responsibility for our past decisions or do we burden future generations? That is the question we all need to ask and answer. We owe it to future generations and to our public employees, who by all measure have held up their end of the bargain, to protect the solvency of the five pension systems.”
Sen. McCarter said his new plan solves the pension funding crisis by getting the state on a path of fully-funded public pensions by 2045 and ultimately gives employees more control over their pension while eventually getting government out of the pension business.
“It’s a win-win for employees and taxpayers alike and that’s the kind of reform we need,” said McCarter. “Will all parties be 100% satisfied? Probably not. But we have little choice at this point and the reality is we need to come together to devise a reform plan whose pluses can be shared by all.”
Another big issue debated this past week is a proposal to drastically expand legalized gambling in the state.
The measure approved by the Senate this week would authorize a Chicago-based casino and four new riverboats or casinos, slot machines at Illinois racetracks, and a major increase in the number of gambling positions allowed at existing riverboats.
Sen. McCarter voted against the gambling bill.
“I’ve heard all the financial arguments but gambling is simply not a reliable source of revenue that can get Illinois out of its financial crisis,” said McCarter. “Instead of relying on another jackpot-style tax revenue source to support this government’s addictive spending habits, we need to focus on structurally changing the economic and political atmosphere of our state. We have to make Illinois a great place to create jobs and expand businesses, like it used to be in the 90’s. That will generate the kind of long-term, reliable tax revenues state government needs. Let’s put our families back to work with good-paying, dependable jobs.”
Also this week, the annual Peace Officers Memorial Day event was held on the Capitol grounds. Sen. McCarter was there to honor officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.
This week, the Illinois Senate also passed a measure renaming the Interstate 55 Coalfield Rest Stop, at mile marker 64, in honor of Illinois State Trooper Kyle Deatherage of Highland who was killed last November during a traffic stop along I-55 near Litchfield.
In other legislative action by the Senate, a few questionable measures were approved, according to McCarter.
“Illinois is faced with a serious financial crisis that undermines everything state government stands for and yet the Senate finds time to debate and vote on issues that should not involve government and would be better left up to individuals to decide for themselves,” said McCarter.
On the list of questionable legislation was Senate Bill 1639, the so-called Puppy Lemon Law, similar to the state’s automobile lemon law. It would allow customers to receive financial compensation if a vet finds that a diseased dog or cat was sold by a pet shop.
“This is a situation that is better suited for the civil courts, if a pet owner feels wronged or cheated. It’s a situation that’s best settled between the business and the customer and doesn’t warrant state involvement,” said McCarter.
Also approved this past week was Senate Bill 2202, which would ban smoking on campuses of all state-supported colleges and universities. The ban even goes so far as to prohibit smoking outdoors on any of the institutions property, whether or not the smoking occurs near a building or people. The only place where smoking would be allowed would be in the smokers’ vehicles.
“This is a situation where the responsible party is the institution’s governing board,” said McCarter. “A college or university’s administration knows what’s best for its campus and students. This is simply intrusive government, which acts like it knows best.”
Sen. McCarter voted against both measures.
Senate committees also took action on a number of proposals, which recently were approved in the House and were sent over for Senate consideration. Included were the following measures:
No Indoor Tanning for Minors (House Bill 188): Prohibits a tanning facility from permitting anyone under 18 to use tanning equipment which emits ultraviolet (UV) radiations.
“This is state government overreaching. Whether to allow or prohibit a minor from tanning should be decided by the child’s parent,” said McCarter. “I am confident a parent has a higher concern for their son or daughter than state government. Unfortunately, that’s not a belief shared by many in Springfield .”
Sex Education (House Bill 2675): This bill requires all school districts which provide sex education courses to use a “comprehensive” sex education curriculum. School districts have the option to not offer sex education, but if they do, it must be ‘comprehensive.’ Opponents raised concerns that this would actually discourage some school districts from providing sex education because a ‘comprehensive’ curriculum includes instruction in the use of condoms, abortion and other controversial topics and could also exclude abstinence-based programs from meeting state sex education guidelines.
“This is just another example of state government imposing a belief system and desired behaviors that are better left up to families,” said McCarter. “The definition of ‘comprehensive’ sex education curriculum contained in the legislation concerns me because of the real possibility that it goes against the wishes, desires and teachings of many parents.”
Part of any legislative week or nearly any week at the Capitol for that matter includes visits by school groups, families and others. Recently, Sen. McCarter received a visit from a group of young ladies from Mercy Ministries, an organization which works with at-risk youth. Sen. McCarter and his wife, Victoria are on the Board of Directors for Mercy Ministries Metro St. Louis group home and take an active role in the girls’ education and training. The group also took the time to spend part of their day watching the Senate in action and was acknowledged publically by the Senate for their attendance on April 24.