USA TODAY International Edition

States should stick to pension promise

- Crosby Smith Crosby Smith is a mental health technician and president of AFSCME Local 2645.

Inequality is rising. The gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing. And big corporatio­ns, their CEOs and other millionair­es control the levers of power. These wealthy elites are using their vast fortunes to rig the rules of our economy — even our very democracy — for their own benefit.

Here in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner is a millionair­e private equity mogul. For three years he has failed to propose a balanced budget, holding our state hostage. He refused to do his job unless legislator­s gave in to his demands on unrelated issues, like limiting the freedom of working people to form strong unions and making it harder for injured workers to get medical care.

Rauner also demanded cuts to the modest pensions earned by teachers, police, nurses and other public service workers like me. For 15 years, I’ve provided care for people with severe developmen­tal disabiliti­es, and I’ve paid from every paycheck toward the pension I’m counting on when I retire.

Illinois pensions are modest, just $ 32,000 a year on average. Since most public service workers aren’t eligible for Social Security, our pension is all many of us will have in what should be our golden years.

Politician­s ran up our state’s pension debt over decades by using our retirement funds like credit cards. Instead of raising revenue or cutting costs, they skipped or shorted pension payments.

A pension is a promise that shouldn’t be broken. My life savings shouldn’t be taken to let politician­s avoid tough choices. The Illinois Constituti­on agrees, saying pensions can’t be cut.

Our state’s fiscal problems stem from our low, flat income tax that allows rich folks to avoid paying their fair share, while two- thirds of Illinois corporatio­ns pay no income tax at all. To fund schools and other public services while paying the state’s bills, we need to close loopholes and enact a fair, graduated, tax.

Every American would benefit from measures like these and others — to create good jobs, keep health care affordable and protect our freedom to form strong unions — helping ensure that we all do better.

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