On behalf of children caught in pension squeeze, effort will "educate and activate" Illinois citizens about $96 billion problem
Governor Pat Quinn today launched an Internet grassroots campaign to increase public awareness about the need for pension reform in Illinois. Relaying a message from the next generation to today's leaders, the "Thanks in Advance" public awareness campaign is designed to educate citizens about the "squeeze" caused by skyrocketing pension costs, and activate them to advocate for pension reform using tech tools like Facebook, Twitter and email.
Flanked by children yelling "Thanks in Advance" through red megaphones, Governor Quinn called the pension crisis the "most urgent challenge of the decade," which is squeezing Illinois schools, public safety, job creation, decent health care and vital services. Illinois' unfunded liability recently grew to $96 billion, the worst in the nation.
"Kids count on adults to look out for them and act responsibly," Governor Quinn said. "Children have a critical stake in pension reform and that's why we are here today calling Illinois citizens to action. If the General Assembly passes comprehensive reform, we will ease the squeeze on essential services, restore fiscal stability to our state and protect the future of the next generation. Illinois' children have a message for us: Thanks in advance for rising above politics and getting the job done."
Illinoisans can visit www.thisismyillinois.com to learn about Illinois' seven-decade old pension crisis, as well as to make their voices heard through social media in support of pension reform. The new website details the history of public pensions dating back to Ancient Rome, through the issuance of the first pension in Illinois in 1915 all the way to the present. There are now 760,000 members of the state's five public pension systems. The site shows how public pensions are partnerships which help retain a quality workforce while offering a safety net to those who serve the public. Public pensions are funded by member contributions, employer contributions and earnings from investments.
The site also chronicles the roots of the Illinois pension crisis which began in the 1940s and grew out of Springfield neglect, two economic recessions and changing demographics. Featuring videos and a mock Facebook timetable to explain the pension crisis, the site provides "daily factoids" for people to share with their social networks.
The Pew Center on the States, a national nonpartisan think-tank, rated Illinois 50th in unfunded pension liability. Moody's Investors Service lists Illinois as the lowest-rated state due primarily to "a severe pension funding shortfall." According to the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, each day that pension reform is not enacted boosts the long-term shortfall by $17.1 million. By 2016, the state of Illinois will be paying more on public pensions than on schools without comprehensive pension reform.
In April, Governor Quinn proposed a plan that would rescue the pension systems, ensure employees have access to benefits and prevent skyrocketing pension costs from eating up core services like education and healthcare. The governor's plan would fully fund the pension system by 2042.
"Thanks in Advance" aims to build public awareness about the need for legislative action on pension reform in Springfield and empower citizens to make their voices heard. Veto session begins November 27 and the legislature is scheduled to work January 3 - 8.
Quinn has been employing grassroots organizing techniques for 35 years. His successful 1976 "Political Honesty Initiative" to ban advance pay for legislators garnered 635,158 signatures. He used "petition power" to trim the size of the Illinois House, create the Citizens Utility Board (Illinois' largest consumer group) and enact local Whistleblower ordinances.
For more information about this initiative, visit www.thisismyillinois.com.