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Democrats’ War on Blue Gets a New Recruit

Another Democratic governor is distancing himself from the blue model: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced a plan to shore up the state’s pension system by reducing benefits and increasing contributions and working time by state employees. Quinn’s plan would raise the age at which pensions can be collected by two years to 67, while reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments to 3 percent or less. His proposals could save the state up to $85 billion over the next 30 years.

The savings sound good, but the plan’s implementation is perhaps the most interesting part. Rather than simply mandate the changes, Quinn is offering state employees a choice:

Quinn would give current employees the option to reject the changes and remain enrolled in the current retirement plans. But there’s a big stick if an employee doesn’t take the carrot: Current employees who refuse to accept the new pension plan would not be allowed to figure any future pay raises into their overall pension calculation, and they would lose state-paid health care upon retirement.

This may give ideas to other politicians looking to reform pensions in their states. Zealous reformers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio hit serious roadblocks by antagonizing public workers. Quinn’s approach may be more palatable to state workers and their allies. Unions are still likely to oppose the measure, but it probably won’t kick up a firestorm as in Wisconsin. Aside from the union outcry, some Republicans have worried about the Quinn plan’s effect on property taxes, but so far the measure has received a good deal of bipartisan support and stands a chance of passing the state legislature. Along with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s reforms to blue model institutions in Chicago, the Quinn plan would mark a significant shift for the state’s political establishment.

Alas, our most famous Illinoisan, President Obama, seems reluctant to follow their lead.


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  • Anthony

    The Bond market (The street has threaten to lower Illinois bond rating) has hastened the Governor’s fiscal sobriety – legislative session ends May 31st let’s see what proposals look like then (after then more votes are needed to pass any pension reforms).

  • Lorenz Gude

    Regardless, it is heartening that both sides of politics at the state level are responding to reality. I think the next generation of our political leaders will come out of the ranks of those who succeed in solving this issue. It reminds me of how Thatcher and Reagan did labor market reform by confrontation, while here in Australia successive Labor prime ministers did it by negotiation. I’m not saying one way is better than the other and I believe that confrontation is often necessary before negotiation can work. We probably need both Walkers and Quinns. I think it would be fair to say Chris Christie is somewhere in between – he who speaketh belligerently and carreth a modest cudgel.

  • Jbird

    Of course there won’t be mass Wisconsin style demonstrations. Union leadership is in bed with the Democratic Party whether it benefits their membership or not.

  • AD-RtR/OS!

    The Reagan and Thatcher reforms were only possible due to confrontation:
    President Reagan’s firing of the air-traffic controllers for striking illegally; and Lady Thatcher’s willingness to shut down the coal industry over union abuses.
    It took such stances to make the unions appreciate that they needed to negotiate.

  • Pablo Panadero

    The difference between the Blue model reform and the Red model reform (Kasich and Walker) is that the Red model allows the public sector workers to opt out of the union, and thus saving them their union dues and get some of the money back that they were losing. Of course, this option is unacceptable to the Democratic machine, as that is their major source of campaign cash. Thus the end result for the state worker is they have less take-home pay with a Democrat in office than a Republican.

  • Luke Lea

    Is this a war on blue or an attempt to save it through reform?

  • red

    —the Blue model reform and the Red model reform (Kasich and Walker) is that the Red model allows the public sector workers to opt out of the union— Yes will be interesting to see if Quinn is depicted as Hitler.

    Seriously, why is this big stick…

    >>> not be allowed to figure any future pay raises ….lose state-paid health care upon retirement.>>>

    not much much more punitive than asking for contributions and allowing the employees to opt out, decertification and negotiate only on wages?

  • SukieTawdry

    Sorry, but I just don’t see the likes of Pat Quinn and Rahm Emmanuel, dedicated unionists both, leading Illinois out of the blue wilderness. As Luke Lea comments above, they’re trying to save the blue model, not replace it.

    As long as public sector employees are permitted to collectively bargain with the politicians they are instrumental in putting in office, the blue model will continue to limp along to its inevitable implosion. Defined benefit pension plans (especially those that provide lifetime medical) are simply not sustainable regardless of how they’re tweaked.

  • Charles R. Williams

    Quinn has accomplished little in Illinois. Whatever he is doing is driven by economic necessity and his state is sinking fast. Quinn’s huge tax increase outweighs what he is doing with the unions tenfold.

    Kasich’s failures are personal political incompetence. He knows what has to happen to get the Ohio economy back on track. The Republicans have made some progress, especially against the worst and most damaging estate tax in the nation.

    Walker is winning the battle against the unions but it is ugly. Cutting off their money was crucial for tipping the political balance in favor of growth.

    The facts do not in any way suggest that the Democrats have some advantage in reforming the blue model.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    There is no “Democrats war on the Blue Model”, being forced to take action due to economic reality, is not the same as becoming an advocate against the Blue Model, and actively seeking to tear the thing down.

  • Mark Michael

    The comments so far are right on. When unionism gets entrenched for many years, so much energy on the part of the unionists go into protecting their incomes, benefits, retirement pensions that there’s no way to scale those back other than to “go to war” against them. (Hopefully, many American states have not reached that unfortunate state, yet!)

    Case in point: the U.K. during Margaret Thatcher’s time as PM. Claire Berlinski’s book, “There is no alternative – Why Margaret Thatcher matters,” c2008, Basic Books. Two chapters, Chapter 7 “Coal and Iron,” and Chapter 8 “Miners is Miners” describe how Thatcher carefully planned to take on the coal miners and iron workers. There was no self-delusion that she could somehow finesse them through clever, diplomatic measures. The 2 chapters are 78 pages long, and Berlinski isn’t given to being excessively wordy.

    If you want to read some reviews of the book, here’s the Amazon link:

  • Glen

    Via Media’s commentary on state pension reforms is, at best, naive and often outright disingenuous.

    A little due diligence would have revealed that Illinois’ so-called “epic” changes to public sector pensions were in reality little more than the smallest possible adjustments that could have credibly been sold to the public and an accommodating press. Likewise, Governor Jerry Brown and California Democrats have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no interest in tackling that state’s massively underfunded public pensions.

    Via Media is prevaricating when it repeatedly asserts that there is a “Democrat[ic] War on Blue” and when it condemns real reform efforts in states such as Wisconsin. The simple truth is that public sector pay and pensions are a big problem, and there is no easy solution. Whenever one reads about grand compromises engineered by Democrats and their union allies, it is much more likely that nothing of substance has been accomplished. On the other hand, when Democratic Party politicians leave the state to deny quorums, when labor commits itself to do-or-die campaigns to oust its enemies, and when real laws change in ways that materially affect public sector pay, one can finally be sure that real change is happening.

    Wake up and quit embarrassing yourselves.

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