Tom Kacich: Pension-cost shift a ‘nonstarter’ for many lawmakers

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The keystone of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2019 budget — a plan to shift the cost of pension payments from the state to universities and local school districts over four years — is “a nonstarter,” says state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin. He’s not alone in his assessment.

Hays is among 46 House members (out of 118) who have signed onto a resolution (HR 27) sponsored by Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, that says that “an educational pension cost shift is financially wrong and would only serve to shift pension burdens from the state to the status of an unfunded mandate.”

McSweeney introduced the resolution in January 2017 when there were concerns that House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, would trot out the idea, as he had in 2013. McSweeney had 23 co-sponsors on the resolution until this week when, following Rauner’s budget address, he picked up 23 more, Republicans and Democrats.

“He said several times that he was going to bring this back at some point,” McSweeney said of Madigan, “so I wanted to get out there again. I introduced it again thinking it would be anti-cost shift proposal for Madigan’s plan. But it’s exactly applicable to Rauner’s proposal.

“My concern is that this would result in a massive property tax hike. It’s actually more radical than the Madigan proposal because Madigan was proposing his over a longer period of time. Rauner phases his in over four years so it would have a devastating impact.”

McSweeney, who supports Rep. Jeanne Ives for governor in the Republican primary, calls the idea “Rauner hypocrisy” because while Rauner has campaigned to reduce property taxes, the cost shift would increase property taxes.

He said he is sympathetic to the governor’s push to give local governments more tools to cut costs “but this governor has not been able to pass anything, nothing. If all we end up with is lousy Rauner-Madigan cost shift, it’s just unbelievable.”

While Hays indicated he might be open to a longer phase-in of a cost shift, McSweeney said he’s against the entire concept.

“I think it’s a bad idea because you have to do pension reform at the state level,” he said. “We should do real pension reform in Springfield. All that Rauner is doing is moving things around. He’s just moving it from Springfield to a property tax increase at the local level.”

Hays said the pension-cost shift plus a Rauner-backed property tax freeze would be devastating to local governments.

“So off-loading this financial obligation onto local folks and then telling them that from Springfield we’re going to cap your ability to handle that obligation, I don’t know how you can have it both ways there,” he said.

“That’s a nonstarter, I think they’re getting close to have a majority of people on the resolution. That tells you all you need to know. That concept is dead on arrival.”

In addition to Hays, Reps. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, and Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, also are co-sponsors of McSweeney’s resolution.

Madigan investigation?

Ammons said last week that she believed there should be an investigation of sexual-harassment charges lodged against a political aide to Madigan, but that it should be done by the state Democratic Party, of which Madigan is chairman.

Whether by coincidence or plan, Madigan on Saturday named Ammons and two other high-profile Democratic women to lead a discussion about the role of women in the party and how to “change the culture of politics.”

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline, State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Ammons, according to a letter Madigan sent to members of the Democratic state central committee, were charged with moving away from the “business as usual” mentality within campaigns and political offices.

“I understand the ‘knock it off’ mentality is not enough, and we must, and will, do better moving forward. I commit to do more, and I welcome any and all suggestions you may want to bring forward,” Madigan wrote.

Alaina Hampton, a 28-year-old former Madigan campaign worker, charged last week that she had been harassed by an employee of Madigan’s legislative staff and had written to Madigan about it in November. The alleged harasser, Kevin Quinn, finally was fired by Madigan on Monday, hours before a Chicago Tribune story about the allegations was set to be published.

“I think there should be an investigation into the entire matter. When did he know? What did he know? How did he come to know about the situation?” Ammons said. “The state central committee, of which I am not on, should certainly take up this issue. Those are people who represent us all over the state. I think it will be taken up in that body.”

Asked at that time whether Madigan should step down either as speaker or head of the state Democratic Party, Ammons said, “I can’t take a position at this point because I have no actual facts on what’s going on.”

Angel Sides fundraising

The last Democrat to jump into the 13th Congressional District Democratic primary race, Angel Sides of Springfield, hasn’t filed a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission.

But she has a GoFundMe page and the results can’t be considered encouraging.

Of her goal of $35,000, Sides has received $15.

The four other Democratic candidates have raised anywhere from about $353,400 to about $70,500.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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