Time 'to take a stand' on pension crisis, says Rep. Ugaste
Rep. Dan Ugaste thinks it is time for Illinois lawmakers to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
“We can’t afford to have Springfield continue to ignore what’s happening with pensions in this state,” Ugaste told the Kane County Reporter. “It’s not fair to our kids, grandkids or anyone else left around here and it’s not fulfilling the job we were sent here to do.”
Ugaste’s statement was prompted by a new Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) report that details how Illinois now spends more on pension benefits than any other state in the country, with payments consuming more than 25 percent of the state’s overall budget.
According to IPI, the state now also spends 8.71 percent of all state and local revenue on pension costs, nearly double the national average.
And while Pew Charitable Trusts reports that unfunded pension liability across the country has ballooned to more than $1 trillion, Illinois essentially stands in a class by itself as one of just two states to continue to experience rapid-fire increases over a decade-long period extending as recently as into the year 2015.
Just last year, the state’s 601-percent pension debt as a percentage of state revenues was also a record high.
“All this speaks to all the promises made in the past that were not at all funded,” said Ugaste, who won his seat in the 65th District in November with 52 percent of the vote. “We’re still forced to make up ground now. As long as we have a mandate in the state constitution that says pensions have to be funded, we’re going to have to deal with the problem to some extent.”
Ugaste said that includes having to cut other services the state is supposed to be providing in order to steer those resources toward pensions.
“Plain and simple, it’s eating up way too much of our budget and the time has come to take a stand,” he said.
But as bad as things are, Ugaste said he still holds out hope.
“You hear things being floated around now with one good suggestion being consolidation of some employee pensions, which will help property tax owners if it’s done in the right way,” he said.
The 65th House District includes Batavia, Burlington, Dundee, Elgin, Geneva, Grafton, Hampshire, Plato, Rutland and St. Charles.