bipartisan supermajorities of Illinois voters support constitutional pension reform

Lisa R. Parker

Polling showed 61% of Illinois voters would approve an amendment to the state constitution changing future pension benefits while guaranteeing those already earned by public employees. Taxes remain Illinoisans’ top concern.

Polling commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute shows 61% of likely voters across the state support constitutional pension reform – more than enough Illinoisans to pass an amendment if it were on the ballot today.

The study, conducted by Echelon, found a supermajority of Illinois Democrats, Republicans and independents supported changing the state constitution to address Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension crisis. 66% of Independent voters support the constitutional amendment along with 60% of Republicans and Democrats each.

Specifically, respondents said they would approve a constitutional amendment that would protect benefits retirees have already earned while allowing for changes in future benefits.

The “hold harmless” pension reform would tie all pension cost-of-living adjustments to inflation rather than a fixed rate of annual growth, saving $2.4 billion for the state budget in the first year and more than $50 billion by 2045. It would also increase required government contributions to fully fund retirees’ promised pensions.

“The polling makes it clear that voters are ahead of lawmakers on this topic,” said Adam Schuster, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute. “While some state politicians choose to cover their eyes and ignore the issue, Illinoisans are committed to a solution that would protect workers and drastically change the fiscal picture of the state.”

Respondents said the biggest issues facing Illinois now are taxes, crime and fiscal mismanagement of the state’s budget and pension crisis. Overall, only 31% supported fully funding future fixed-rate pensions if it meant raising taxes or cutting services.

Illinois is home to the nation’s highest state and local tax rates, second-highest property taxes and second-highest gas tax thanks to shortfalls in funding our nation-leading pension debt.

Illinois’ state retirement systems owed roughly $313 billion to government retirees in 2022 – more than 32 other states combined, according to Moody’s Investor Services. Funding this nation-leading debt consumed more than a quarter of all spending in the 2022 state budget. Local governments add at least another $75 billion in pension debt.

Springfield politicians have quietly risked financial catastrophe and jeopardized the retirements of state employees for decades by overpromising generous retirements to union bosses that taxpayers could not afford.

Now it is time for Illinois elected officials to stop prioritizing special interests and start pursuing the public policy solutions that Illinoisans are asking to see.

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