One day after Gov. Pat Quinn signed pension reform into law, a top union leader blasted the package as “grand larceny” even as a leading bond-rating agency predicted Friday it could “substantially ease” Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation, $100 billion pension crisis.
Henry L. Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said it’s outrageous that the General Assembly has chosen to cut meager benefits for state workers, while voting to hand out huge tax breaks to corporations doing business in Illinois.
“Clearly, what happened this week was unconstitutional,” said Bayer, speaking during a labor relations law conference at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. “What happened this week was grand larceny.”
The tax breaks Bayer referred to involved Senate votes to let Archer Daniels Midland, Univar and Office Depot keep state withholding taxes, but the measures stalled when the House adjourned Tuesday without taking action.
Bayer said he presumed a lawsuit would be filed “relatively quickly,” but didn’t elaborate. Labor unions have vowed to take the legal fight all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Bayer acknowledged that a few have profited handsomely from the pension system through the years.
“For the vast majority, they are not getting rich,” he said. “If people think that $28,000 [annually] for someone who has spent a lifetime in public service is too much, I’d like to hear them say that.”
Bayer blamed an “irresponsible political class” for the problems with the pension crisis — politicians plundering the pension funds for other projects.
“Anybody who thinks this bill is going to solve the fiscal problems in the state of Illinois is going to have a rude awakening, not too far down the line,” Bayer said.
Also Friday, Moody’s Investors Services called the pension-reform deal “a credit positive” that will “substantially ease the pension funding pressure that has helped trigger five Illinois downgrades since early 2009.”
If the deal withstands a labor-driven legal challenge, Moody’s said, it “may be the largest reform package implemented by any U.S. state.”
Earlier this week, Fitch Ratings also called the deal a “positive” development.
Neither rating firm offered any indication whether they planned to boost the state’s bond rating.
Contributing: Dave McKinney