Speaker tells Quincy Tea Party that Legislature "failed" with pension reform impasse

David From of Americans for Prosperity addresses the Quincy Tea Party Tuesday night, June 5, 2012 at Microtel Inn and Suites. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jun. 5, 2012 9:35 pm Updated: Jun. 26, 2012 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

David From gave what he called a greatly shortened version of his complaints about Illinois government as one of the speakers at Tuesday night's meeting of the Quincy Tea Party.

From, the Illinois state director of Americans for Prosperity, said his organization is concerned that lawmakers left town without completing work on the $85 billion unfunded pension liability problem. He said leaving the work undone could trigger lower bond ratings that would force higher borrowing rates for the state, which will have to be paid with taxpayers' dollars.

"I think it was disgusting and very disheartening to see how it fell apart last week," From said.

For the past few months lawmakers had worked on a package of pension reforms designed to save tax dollars while meeting state obligations. Talks fell apart when "partisanship boiled over," From said.

Although Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative leaders are meeting Wednesday to discuss a way forward for pension reform, From said the issue should have been settled during the regular session so that a special session would not be necessary.

"They left town before they completed the job," From said.

Americans for Prosperity was described by From as a grass-roots organization committed to economic freedom, less government regulation, less taxation and less wasteful spending. He said AFP has chapters in 36 states and has more than two million members. In Illinois, he said AFP has about 60,000 members and supporters.

Kristina Rasmussen of the Illinois Policy Institute spoke at the Quincy meeting along with From. The IPI has outlined an alternative budget designed to assure that the income tax hike approved in January 2011 will be temporary.

From said Americans for Prosperity focuses on advocacy, while the IPI is geared more toward promoting specific policies. He said both groups see the need to fix the state's financial crisis.

A large number of legislators appear to favor a change in Illinois pension procedures that would cap annual cost of living allowances at 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. However, the bill did not come up for a vote during the final week of the legislative session as Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, withdrew his support over plans to drop a shift of pension payments for teachers from the state to school districts.

From said the AFP has not promoted any specific plan, but it does not oppose the cost shift to schools.

"If it's done responsibly it would be a more appropriate alignment of pension responsibilities," From said.

Schools throughout the state might then be forced to raise property taxes, but From said it would give voters a chance to demand greater accountability from school boards.

Americans for Prosperity of Illinois took a pair of buses to Wisconsin last weekend as a show of support for Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican facing a recall election this week. From said Walker's reforms have cut spending and helped balance the Wisconsin budget. That has led to opposition from Democrats and public worker unions.

"They did this in Wisconsin without laying off any workers. We want to see those same kinds of reforms in Illinois," From said.