Miller says 'state needs to get out of the pension business'
Newly elected state Rep. Chris Miller (R-Oakland) says that finding answers to some of his most burning questions has come easily during his first few weeks in Springfield.
“You see why things are so upside down,” Miller told the SE Illinois News. “Down here, everyone has an advocate but the taxpayer, the one person we’re all supposed to be down here representing but in truth is left always getting the shaft.”
As the latest example of that, Miller points to a new Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) report that finds state and local governments in Illinois now dole out more for pension benefits than any other state in the country at 8.71 percent, or nearly double the national average.
IPI adds, collectively, that pension-related costs now constitute upwards of 25 percent of the state’s budget, surpassing such critical expenditures as public safety, education and social services.
Across the country, Pew Charitable Trusts pegs the cumulative price tag of unfunded pension liabilities at roughly $1.4 trillion, with Illinois and West Virginia ranking as the only states where pension spending has continued to rapidly spiral over a decade-long period commencing in 2005.
“It was Benjamin Franklin who said, ‘When people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic,’” said Miller, who won the 110th District in November with 60 percent of the vote. “That’s what we’re seeing here. People promised things that other taxpayers are forced to pay for. The state needs to get out of the pension business. People in the private sector fund their own pensions and the government sector needs to be doing the same thing.”
At 601 percent, Illinois set an all-time high record in 2018 for state pension debt as a percentage of state revenues, prompting Miller to lament that it is just more of the same.
“The pension system has never been funded because lawmakers are afraid to address the issue and want to get reelected while not angering the big unions and lobbyists,” he said. “The reality is our fiscal issues will never get fixed until we address our pension problems.”
As more local governments move to hike taxes even higher and cut central government services in a desperate effort to deal with still rising pension payments, Miller wonders why there is not a greater sense of urgency to help struggling taxpayers.
“I haven’t heard any Democrats talk about pensions,” he said. “Pensions are bankrupting this state and all you heard from Gov. Pritzker in his budget address is talk about raising revenues. You can’t raise taxes enough to fix these problems.”
The 110th House District includes Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Edgar and Lawrence counties.