Yeah, I have a question. I know I'm just a music teacher and all and I know next to nothing about high finance...
But how would shifting the costs to localities do anything to help bring in more revenue?
The pensions in Illinois, like just about every other place in America, have been underfunded for years. There are only two solutions to this: decrease the amounts paid out, or increase the revenue going in. Shifting costs does nothing to address the fundamental problem.
Now, here in Jersey, we've "increased" revenues through two means. First, we forced public employees to pay more into the pensions; next, we came up with a ridiculously high projection of 8.25% for the return on the funds' investments. We then decreased the amount paid out by stopping all cost of living allowances (COLAs) on current and future employees. And, even with all that self-deception and promise breaking, you know what?
It still wasn't enough to make the pensions sustainable! Because the state doesn't have to make a full payment into the pension for seven years, and there's no plan to make up for the twenty years of neglect before that happens anyway.
Meanwhile, public employees are trapped in the pension against their wills, because the system would fall apart if current employees had the option of keeping their payments for themselves; the state needs that money to meet its current obligations to current retirees. Notice how the idea of letting employees opt-out in Illinois isn't even being floated:
Screwing over public employees is the only thing they've got - and it's not going to be enough. At some point, you need to come up with more money to fund the pensions.
I know some of you out there just want to close the entire thing down. You've convinced yourselves that greedy unions are shafting the taxpayer with their wild demands. What you forget is that pensions are deferred compensation. You owe that money to public employees the same way you owe money to your plumber when he sends you a bill for installing a new toilet. You can't just walk away from your debts - especially when that deferred compensation saved you money in the first place.
At some point, someone is going to have to stand up and propose a way to bring a substantial amount of revenue into the states to deal with this mess. One of the best ideas I've heard is a financial transactions tax (as long as it's progressive). But maybe there are other ways.
In any case, it has to happen. The only other alternative is to so degrade the pensions that their "reform" becomes nothing more than legalized welching. A state can't do that; walking away from these debts would put the entire notion of government credit in doubt, which would be far more catastrophic than any tax increase levied.
Governor Quinn, Speaker Madigan, and the Illinois legislature have a golden opportunity here to step up and show some real courage. They can propose a new revenue stream dedicated solely toward paying off the debts the state has already incurred.
Will they take it?