State lawmakers address pensions at local discussion

Amanda Gilbert, Reporter

Two Illinois state lawmakers met with constituents Tuesday for a discussion on health care and pension reform.

About 20 people attended the discussion led by State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) and State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) at the Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln Ave.

On pensions, the main concern of the night, Gabel said the problem is having enough finances to pay the money promised to those entering retirement. The state is not providing banks the amount of money it is supposed to give for pension funding, she said.

“In order to relieve this problem, we have to either give less money to the retired residents each month or the state has to provide more money,” Gabel said.

If elected state senator, Biss said there are three ways he hopes to address pension funding concerns.

First, Biss said he wants to create a package of benefit reforms that makes annual pension cost growth manageable. Biss also hopes to put in place a risk-sharing plan that would provide a guaranteed minimum benefit for state employees in case of financial crisis, as well as “a rock-solid mechanism of force” to ensure the state pays its share of pension costs.

Talk later pivoted from pension costs to government health care programs.

Going forward, Biss said he wants Illinois to implement Medicaid reforms that state lawmakers recently passed in May. Both Gabel and Biss said under the reform plan, lawmakers hope to cover an additional 500,000 people with Medicaid.

“We are working on the health care exchange so that health coverage can be as affordable as possible,” Gabel said. “We want everyone to afford it.”

After the candidates presented their views, they answered questions from the audience, including one from retired math teacher Sam Sibley on current pension funding for educators. Both Biss and Gabel said they plan to look into pension funding for school districts outside Chicago, which they say have been overlooked by lawmakers in the past.

After the event, pension funding is going to be a “real mess” for the two to solve, Sibley said.

Both Biss and Gabel said they were pleased with the evening’s turnout. Biss also said he was glad to be able to clear up confusion about pensions and health care.

“This stuff is complicated and weird,” he said. “When twenty people want to engage, it’s great for their feedback and good for them to get a more complete picture of what’s going on.”