GOP Illinois congressmen blister state Senate Democrats for using COVID-19 as excuse for pension bailout

GOP Illinois congressmen blister state Senate Democrats for using COVID-19 as excuse for pension bailout

State Senate President Don Harmon was slammed by the five Illinois Republicans in Congress for a pension bailout request. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“This pandemic has not caused a pension crisis; it has further illuminated the one that already existed,” five Illinois lawmakers told Harmon in a letter.

The five Illinois Republicans in Congress blistered Democratic Senate President Don Harmon on Monday for using the COVID-19 fiscal emergency as an excuse to seek $10 billion to bailout Illinois’ already troubled pension funds.

“We fully support federal assistance to help defray some of the state’s losses, but we oppose using the crisis as an opportunity for a full-scale federal bailout,” the five said in a letter to Harmon, referring to the pension request.

“Even in the best economic climate, with some of the highest taxes in the nation, Illinois could not afford its obligations. This pandemic has not caused a pension crisis; it has further illuminated the one that already existed.”

The letter was signed by Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger, John Shimkus, Rodney Davis, Mike Bost and Darin LaHood.

This uproar started when Harmon, from Oak Park, sent a letter April 14 to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., with a $41 billion list of items, including the pension cash, he wanted in the next round of emergency federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The request for the pension lifejacket touched a raw nerve with Illinois Republicans, because the state pension mess — to them — is emblematic of state of Illinois fiscal problems that predate the COVID-19 economic meltdown.

Congress is working on a fourth massive emergency federal assistance coronavirus pandemic financial package and a stalemate may break this week.

Harmon noted in his letter the significant revenue losses the state of Illinois will suffer will exacerbate existing pension funding problems.

Some of the items Harmon requested fit in with what Congressional Democrats are seeking — more money for public health, hospitals and municipalities and jobless benefits.

Harmon also asked for $9.6 billion for local governments, justifying it by noting the “unbearable” revenue loss will make it difficult to fund the retirement system covering first responders.

The five Republicans, in their reply, hit Harmon, said, “while we honor and celebrate the service of our first responders, their service in this crisis will not convince representative of other states to pay for pension plans that Illinois has mismanaged.”

In the Illinois Senate, Democrats hold 40 seats; Republicans only number 19. The Harmon letter was on behalf of the Senate Democrats.

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