McSweeney zeroes in on pensions

-crossposted from the Northwest Herald
Saturday, January 26, 2013
By KEVIN P. CRAVER

Freshman state Rep. David McSweeney’s goal for his first two years in office boils down to one word: pensions.

Expanded into a sentence, his goal is reforming the pension system underfunded by at least $96 billion before it consumes the state budget.

At the very least, he told Northwest Herald editors this week, he wants immediate forward movement – bills on the floor and votes – rather than the past practice of waiting until the last days of session, which he blames in no small part for a lack of reform.

Besides the pension problem, Illinois has more than $9 billion in unpaid bills and the lowest bond rating of all 50 states from Moody’s Investors Service. Standard & Poor’s rating service Friday lowered Illinois’ credit rating from A to A-, blaming the state’s pension problems.

“We have to immediately address the pension problem because it’s suffocating the General Fund,” McSweeney said.

McSweeney, an investment specialist, represents the 52nd House District, the boundaries of which shifted somewhat under post-census redistricting. The district on the new maps shifted south to cover southeastern McHenry County, including Cary and Fox River Grove, and eastern Algonquin, Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills, plus parts of Lake, Cook and Kane counties.

He won a three-way March primary that included Republican incumbent Kent Gaffney, who was picked by the party to serve out the term of the late Mark Beaubien, who died unexpectedly in June 2011. In November, McSweeney fended off a challenge from Beaubien’s widow, Dee, who ran as an Independent for the seat.

McSweeney was seated in the last days of the previous General Assembly’s lame-duck session earlier this month because Gaffney resigned early. He said he was disappointed that a pension reform bill, drafted by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and backed by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, did not come up for a vote.

The bill would have limited retirees in four of the five state-run pension systems from collecting cost-of-living expenses until age 67, capped the salary on which the 3 percent COLA is calculated to the first $25,000 of income, and required existing employees to contribute more toward their retirement.

McSweeney said he could support the bill because it dropped the controversial provision to shift teacher pension costs to local school districts.

“The bill that Cross and Nekritz agreed on wasn’t a perfect bill, but it was a start,” McSweeney said… (read full)

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