With the governor scheduled to release a pension task force report today, public pensions were on the minds of Evanston Chamber of Commerce members at a legislative breakfast this morning.

State Rep. Daniel Biss of Evanston said he hopes that this spring — or at least this fall after the election — the legislature will adopt reforms that will apply to the state’s five pension systems, and that reforms for local public safety pensions are likely next year.

Biss said that historically the state “has been pretty dumb” about the schedule it set for paying pension debt, but that in an effort to reform the public safety pensions in 2010 the legislature probably went too far — demanding that municipalities catch up on their pension contribution shortfalls too quickly.

Biss said the pension issue “has become very a overheated, polarized and angry fight, when it really needs to be an argument about mathematics.”

The real debate, he said, needs to be about what the state can and cannot afford to pay out.

Top: State Rep. Daniel Biss. Above: County Commissioner Larry Suffredin.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said the uncertainty about the state’s pension funding is driving up the cost of borrowing for the state and for local governments across the state.

He said one of his constituents had added up all the government pension debt for Evanston residents and concluded it amounts to the equivalent of every person having to write a check today for $20,000.

Chamber Governmental Affairs Vice President Dick Peach (in blue shirt) and other chamber members at the breakfast.

Asked about the steep burden of property taxes to pay for education, State Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston said it will take comprehensive tax reform in Illinois to accomplish that.

She said that of 46 states with a sales tax, Illinois has third narrowest base — exempting most services from taxation.

State Rep. Robyn Gabel.

Of the 41 states with an income tax, Gabel said, Illinois is one of only three that exclude all retirement income from taxation.

And Illinois is one of only seven states with an income tax that impose a flat tax rather than a graduated rate structure.

But she said any reform on that issue isn’t likely until 2014, when the recently enacted increase in the income tax rate is scheduled to expire.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston said she’s shocked by the funding differences between Sullivan High School in Chicago, which she attended a half-century ago, and New Trier High School in Winnetka, which will soon be part of her district.

The vast majority of kids don’t have the kind of facilities in their schools to prepare them for 21st century jobs and make our country more competitive in the world, Schakowsky said.

She said studies show that students from U.S. school where less than a quarter of the students are living in poverty rank first in the world on standardized tests. But students from American schools where three quarters or more of the students live in poverty rank only about 50th in the world in achievement.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Now our Democrat pols want to tax retirement income?

    So now these tax and spend Democrats want to tax retirement income? The answer they always give us is MORE taxes.

    It wasn't enough that Robyn Gabel who ran unopposed voted to raise our income tax 67 percent in a lame-duck session after many Democrats had lost the midterm election.

    Is Jan Schakowsky suggesting that money needs to be transferred from wealthier school districts to poorer ones?

    After government unions marched on Springfield in the spring of 2010, demanding a tax hike, ONLY Democrats granted their wish, raising income taxes 67 percent. Who in their RIGHT mind RAISES TAXES in a severe RECESSION!

    These Democrats sensing justifiable outrage by taxpayers are now talking the game that CURRENT pension reform will happen AFTER November's election. How convenient. Why didn't they reform current pensions last year or this year?

    You can't ignore the fact that almost 90 percent of all union campaign donations go to these tax and spend liberal Democrats. There's a reason for it.

    The Democrats have been looking out for unions at the expense of hard-hit taxpayers all along. The unions have so much government control that here in Evanston city officials couldn't even layoff three firefighters without being sued by the Evanston Fire Union. Evanston rehired the firefighters and agreed that a third party would decide any future layoffs, which never occurred since the Recession began.

    Meanwhile, city taxes increased double digits in the past two years as property values declined.

    We need change from these politicians. Vote them all out!

  2. Politician = Liar

    Only in politics can you have a contract with someone and halfway through decide the terms of the contract are not good. These public servants were PROMISED certain benefits for their years of service. Now the government has spent their PROMISED retirement funds on pork projects and special interest. So, now they expect the employees to cover their mis management and fiscal irresponsibility. I think I will call up my mortgage company and tell them I mismanaged my finances, spent my mortgage payments on other stuff, and can no longer make my payments. I'm sure they will not have a problem reducing my mortgage payment or raising their interest charges to cover my debt!

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *