By: Mark Glennon*
The response of the Sun-Times editorial board to last week’s catastrophic pension decision from the Illinois Supreme Court can be summarized as “Springfield better start working on Plan B, and we’ll let them figure out what that is.” It’s the latest in a regular stream of milk toast editorials from the Sun-Times on the pension crisis.
In truth, there never was a Plan A, and that’s what they should have been saying all along. Instead, they’ve been endorsing phony pension reform — SB-1 and the most recently passed “reform” bill for two Chicago pensions, both of which are probably invalidated by the recent ruling. And Plan A always was subject to a high likelihood of being torpedoed because the Illinois Supreme Court has an established record of making up law and subservience to union campaign contributions.
It’s not as if the Sun-Times doesn’t have the resources to do better; you have to wonder if the editorial writers ever sit down with some of their own reporters who understand numbers, say, Fran Spielman. Work with her for a few hours and say, “OK Fran, let’s go through these pension numbers and let’s all decide if there’s even a remote chance that the pension crisis can be solved by the kinds of reforms we’ve been endorsing in our editorials.” Seemingly, they haven’t done that.
In their editorial this week they question whether any solution is now possible, and correctly point out that even a constitutional amendment has problems. But they seem unaware of another solution that’s quite feasible, which is discontinuing putting money into the pensions. (The Illinois Constitution prohibits reduction of benefits going out but it does not mandate that taxpayer money go in.) That option has been discussed behind the scenes for months. Is the Sun-Times out to lunch on this, or why not discuss it?
They conclude their editorial this week defending the recent decision, saying the court’s job is just interpret the law that others write. That’s the kind of simplistic comment you might find in an eight grade school paper. In the stroke of a pen, the Illinois Supreme Court made subsidized healthcare premiums a constitutionally protected right — the price of which will be tens of billions — based on a pension provision that doesn’t even mention healthcare or premiums. You’d think they’d at least acknowledge the controversy over that.
The Sun-Times has particularly good readership in working class areas, which include lots of pensioners. Many of those readers have reasonable pensions that ought to be protected, and the cuts they face increase every day that real pension reform is delayed. They deserve not just good reporting but editorial advocacy for aggressive reform — including aggressive means testing that keeps the knife focused on excessive pensions for the undeserving.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints