Illinois is broke. The state has $85 billion in unfunded pension plan liability. According to the Pew Center on the States, Illinois has the worst-funded state pensions in the nation. The deficit crisis is so desperate that one of the most powerful Democratic state legislators in the U.S., Mike Madigan, is supporting a bill to reduce the state's future pension liabilities. The pension overhaul plan, Illinois Senate Bill 512, was sent to the House of Representatives by a 5-4 vote by the Personnel & Pensions Committee yesterday (11/9/11), in part due to Madigan's support as well as the advocacy of the Illinois is Broke group.
Plans to get a handle on state and federal deficits put Democratic legislators in a box. On one hand, their core base of contributors vehemently oppose budget cutting measures. On the other, failing to address budget deficits will lead to financial calamity. The result is that they often "kick the can down the road' on tough decisions, ultimately allowing deficit holes to growing even larger and exacerbating the potential for a future crisis.
Illinois State Legislator Dan Bliss (D - 17th) has raised the bar on how to waffle on a tough deficit cutting measure. According to the Chicago Tribune, Bliss "noted actuaries had yet to calculate the worst case if the bill failed to work. He urged taking it up next spring, when he said he would vote for it if nothing better comes along". By taking this position, Bliss has avoided angering his core base of contributors, while also pacifying the fiscally conservative voters in his district with a straightforward opposition to the bill.
Unfortunately, a strategy of kicking the can down the road on deficits just creates a bigger mess for all those born in the U.S. after 1955. Does Bliss really think a new plan for addressing the Illinois pension crisis is going to magically appear in the spring?
The U.S. needs legislators that will attack the deficit crisis. There has already been too much waffling. We'll find out next November how the voters in the Illinois 17th State Representative District respond to the waffling by Dan Bliss.
(author's note - I'm a voter in the Illinois 17th district)