Illinois state Rep. Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport)
In the mind of Illinois state Rep. Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport), rising pension debt is at the heart of essentially everything wrong with the state's finances.
“You cannot address budgetary reform in Illinois without addressing pension reform,” Chesney said in a recent press release. “You cannot address high property taxes in Illinois without addressing pension reform. You cannot understand the push by the tax-and-spend crowd to tax retirement income without understanding the need for pension reform.”
Chesney argues that the victim of legislators' reluctance to proactively address pension reform is the already overburdened Illinois taxpayer who is forced to carry even more of the weight as costs continue to mount.
“In many downstate communities, pension costs exceed the total amount of property taxes collected by cities, leaving all city services to be funded on other taxes and fees collected by cities,” Chesney said. “Wonder why you keep getting hit with new local taxes and fees? Look no further than local pension costs for the answer.”
With runaway pension debt showing no signs of slowing, Chesney argues that other areas of government are left to suffer.
“This lack of pension reform crowds out other government functions, altruistic as our goals for other peoples’ monies may be,” he said. “Consuming an ever-growing portion of both state and local government budgets, annuitants outnumber active employees in many city and village budgets in Illinois.”
Chesney said he’s careful to place the blame where he believes it belongs.
“None of this is the fault of police and firefighters, teachers and caseworkers, prison guards and professors,” Chesney said. “They paid into the system, even when their duly elected politicians made promises to them knowing full well they couldn’t be kept. A pension is a promise. Rank-and-file retirees can take pride in having made their payments.”
Chesney reasons that Illinois taxpayers now have a decision to make.
“Are we willing to accept continually higher taxes from all levels of state government to pay for pensions that are simply unaffordable, while still well-intentioned?” he asked. “Or is it time for a better deal for taxpayers moving forward.”
Chesney is clear about where he stands, staunchly rejecting the current push for taxing retirement income.
“I don’t want continually increasing taxes to pay for past promises over current needs,” he said. “While we explore all legal options to chip away at the unfunded liability for current employees and annuitants, we must concede that large-scale systemic pension reform must be undertaken in Illinois to move us into the future more securely.”