Mazzochi: Fixing Pension Problems are a Necessity, Not a Fantasy

Springfield, IL… Responding to Governor Pritzker’s Budget Address,State Representative Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) sharply rebuked the Governor’s insistence that reform to help manage Illinois’ ever-growing pensions is a “fantasy.”

“Candidate Pritzker promised to increase pension funding, including with marijuana and gambling revenues.  Governor Pritzker failed on both.  He wanted a pension holiday last year, but we and others fought to make his budget keep at least the minimum payment promise,” Rep. Mazzochi said.  “The legislature also gave the Governor his cannabis and gambling revenues, but he has already diverted them to other new spending, and his latest budget proposal continues this bad habit,” Mazzochi explained.  

Illinois’ current pension liability estimates range between $137-236 billion.  In FY 2020, Illinois contributed $9.2 billion to the state’s five pension funds; and only $7.6 billion for K-12 education. Mazzochi warned, “a quarter of Illinois’ current budget is pension contributions, and will consume an even bigger percentage each year.” 

The Governor derided structural pension debt reform efforts as “wishful thinking.”  Mazzochi responded that “the Governor has two options to avoid structural collapse: a large infusion of new funds into the pension system, to ease the state’s annual burden over time; or implement structural reform.  Otherwise, we squeeze out the government’s core functions our residents rely on, from education to social services, public safety, and health care.  We literally cannot afford to dismiss pension reform so cavalierly.”

Mazzochi’s proposed constitutional amendment, HJRCA 38, relies on the 2013 comprehensive, bipartisan pension reform that passed the Illinois General Assembly, but which the Illinois Supreme Court rejected under the Illinois Constitution’s ‘ironclad’ pension protection clause.  Mazzochi reiterated, “my Amendment does not change the benefits accrued and payable as of the date of the Amendment.  It simply says that the General Assembly is not agreeing that a contract entered on day 1 locks every benefit in stone for life.” 

The Governor also sought to avoid any structural reform by calling any proposal a federal Contract Clause violation.  Mazzochi called that a cop out. “Federal cases recognize that when the lack of funds jeopardizes public health and safety, the state must be allowed to prioritize the overall public welfare.  The Governor simply doesn’t want to use his significant political weight to make a hard choice that ensures our state can serve our residents’ public health, safety and education needs.”  

The Governor’s address proposed a third option: tax increases.  Mazzochi observed that “even assuming the best of the Governor’s own projections under his new tax system, he would generate $3.4 billion, but direct a mere $100 million extra to the state’s pension systems. His real fantasy is thinking that this will solve the problem.”