State action urged to stop pension debt from ballooning

SHARE State action urged to stop pension debt from ballooning
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Gov. Pat Quinn

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ multibillion-dollar pile of unpaid bills will quadruple within five years unless steps are taken to curtail state pension and Medicaid spending, a government watchdog concluded Monday in a new analysis of the state’s budget.

The Chicago-based Civic Federation is warning that state government’s $9.2 billion backlog of unpaid bills that will exist by early summer will reach an unprecedented $34.8 billion by 2017 without immediate action by Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers.

“The governor and General Assembly must act now. Failure to address unsustainable trends in the state’s pension and Medicaid systems will only result in financial disaster for the State of Illinois,” Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, said in a prepared statement.

Specifically, the group urged “aggressive implementation” of a Medicaid reform package that passed in January 2011 designed, in part, to boost the use of managed care and lessen reliance on institutional care for the elderly and disabled.

The group called for the elimination of Illinois Cares Rx, a showpiece prescription care program for the needy launched under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich that is not eligible for federal reimbursement.

The Civic Federation also encouraged Quinn and state lawmakers to curtail pension benefits for existing state retirees by limiting benefit increases to 3 percent a year or one-half the rate of inflation, whichever is less. That constitutionally questionable maneuver would extend 2010 pension reforms that imposed identical limits on workers hired after Jan. 1, 2011.

A spokeswoman for Quinn’s budget office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the group’s recommendations.

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