Republican congressmen vow to 'work with' state on aid, but not on pensions
Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, speaks to the media Jan. 19 after being elected Senate president. (Capitol News Illinois file photo by Jerry Nowicki)
Tell state Senate president he went too far in ask for $40 billion in federal aid
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — The state’s five Republican congressmen responded Monday to a letter sent last week by Illinois Senate President Don Harmon requesting $40 billion in aid to the state, including $10 billion for the state’s pension system, which has an unfunded liability of $138 billion.
The GOP members hold five of Illinois’ 18 Congressional seats, and they said Harmon, D-Oak Park, should consider pushing structural reforms before requesting “aid that is beyond this immediate crisis.”
“We will fight for more aid to support the state and local governments in Illinois, but your letter assumes the federal government will approve aid that is beyond this immediate crisis,” the congressmen wrote. “For example, you suggest the state’s revenue loss will be approximately $14.1 billion, but your letter requests aid that is many multiples of the state’s loss projections. We fully support federal assistance to help defray some of the state’s losses, but we oppose using the crisis as an opportunity for a full-scale federal bailout.”
They said the pandemic did not cause the pension crisis in Illinois, but only “further illuminated the one that already existed.”
While the GOP members said they will “work with” the state to provide more resources, they said Illinois must reform its pension system, reduce spending and local government mandates, and “withdraw the graduated income tax increase to protect Illinois jobs that are already at risk from the pandemic and to stem the exodus of people and opportunity from our great state.”
Through a spokesman, Harmon pointed to an agreement passed in Congress late Tuesday for a $500 billion interim aid package for hospitals, health care workers and small businesses as proof that more aid is needed.
"As evidenced by the interim emergency package announced today, there are ongoing discussions in Washington on what economic relief should look like for workers, businesses, communities and institutions across this country,” Harmon said in a statement. “My letter reflects the real world needs of Illinois as we seek to rebuild and recover from this ongoing global pandemic that is destroying our economy."
Also on Tuesday, New Jersey Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney urged Congress to pass a federally-funded low-interest pension loan program.
“While New Jersey, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Illinois and other states have implemented important reforms to improve the stability of their pension funds, the coronavirus stock market plunge has pushed a majority of state and local government pension plans below the 65 percent funding threshold that would be considered ‘at risk’ under the ERISA Act for private pension plans,” Sweeney said in a news release.