Despite challenges, McSweeney thinks big

-crossposted from the Northwest Herald (Dan McCaleb)
Sunday, January 27, 2013

David McSweeney does not have an easy road ahead.

The first-term state representative from Barrington ran on a platform of reform. Judging by his words and deeds during his first few days in office, he plans to push forward with his campaign pledges, despite the obstacles that lie ahead.

McSweeney represents Illinois’ newly drawn 52nd District, which includes the southeast corner of McHenry County. Cary and Fox River Grove are in the district, as are eastern Algonquin, Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills, and parts of Lake, Cook and Kane counties.

Not only is he a freshman lawmaker, as a Republican, McSweeney also is a member of the minority party in Springfield. Democrats have supermajorities in the House and Senate, and hold the governor’s office.

Getting anything meaningful done in the General Assembly isn’t going to be easy. But he’s still dreaming big.

McSweeney shared his priorities last week with members of the Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board.

The top of his list mirrors ours – pension reform.

Illinois’ public pension systems are underfunded by $96 billion and climbing. Funding pensions takes up a bigger portion of the state’s budget each year, reducing the money needed to provide vital services. Taxpayers simply can’t afford to pay 3 percent cost-of-living increases each year, or six-figure salaries to thousands of retirees.

During our meeting, McSweeney predicted that the state’s credit rating was going to drop because lawmakers have failed to do anything about the growing pension problem. Sure enough, on Friday, Standard & Poor’s dropped Illinois’ credit rating from an A to an A-, and placed a negative outlook on the rating. The rating agency cited the state’s bloated pension systems and lawmakers’ inability to fix them for the downgrade. It means it will cost the state more to borrow money.

McSweeney said he supports a bill by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, that would suspend cost-of-living increases for retirees until they reach age 67, and cap that COLA increase at the first $25,000 of income. The bill also would require employees to contribute more of their paychecks toward their pensions. He said the bill doesn’t go far enough to reform the pension systems, but it’s a good start.

To practice what he preaches, McSweeney has opted out of the legislative pension plan, as he said he would, and he also is not taking state-funded health care. He is reducing his legislative office’s budget from $73,000 annually, which he is allowed to spend, to $63,000. And he’s returning 10 percent of his salary.

“We have to lead by example,” McSweeney said. “We have to show that we’re willing to make sacrifices.”… (read full)

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