Dear Governor Rauner,
You have an enormous task before you in trying to navigate pension reform. Through political duplicity, the state legislature in cahoots with the public service unions have fashioned for themselves retirement benefits far in excess of any reasonable amount. The Courts, appointed by the same players, have determined that it is not even legal to revisit the magnitude of these retirement benefits. It must be difficult to draw up a plan when your hands are legally tied from being able to make actual changes to the pension system in order to alleviate the $100 billion in debt. As such, I propose an alternative solution:
Since the courts refuse to allow you to negotiate with the workers for lower pension benefits, then take the negotiations to the worker’s base pay. Simply take the costs of the excessive retirement benefits for each employee and subtract it from the worker’s base pay in determining the new base pay under the new contract. The Courts may not allow a reduction in retirement benefits, but there is certainly no Constitutional provision preventing the negotiating of a lower base salary.
There is no rule that someone must be paid the same base pay amount as last year. If you are constrained from the pension end of the contract, then you ought to change their next offer and reduce their overall compensation from the base pay end, thereby restricting compensation and benefits to amounts no greater than what those skills would command and be realistically afforded in the private sector.
Overhauling the contract process from this end will provide an opportunity for fiscal reform. This will ensure that, going forward, no worker be paid more in any new contract then what can be actually afforded, without regard to what the prior contract provided. Once a current contract ends, there is nothing on the table; nothing prevents any new contract from offering less that the prior contract, especially where pay and benefits of the prior contract are out of line and hamstrung by ironclad guarantees.
The people of Illinois realized when they elected you, that decades of fiscal mismanagement needed to end in order to ensure that Illinois has a chance. Even though it may be politically difficult and unpalatable, anybody representing the taxpayers has an obligation to those taxpayers. Budget reform and deficit reduction will naturally follow once compensation levels have been stabilized and brought in line with realistic affordability. Contract negotiations must happen in order for long term sustainability to be achieved.