Gov. Jim Edgar’s starring role in Illinois’ pension crisis: It’s bigger than just the ‘Edgar Ramp’

Jim Edgar’s continuing ability to be wrong is astounding — here are Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner from Wirepoints outlining historical and mathematical reality:

Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker has included former Gov. Jim Edgar in his transition team. It’s not hard to figure out why. Edgar is a highly-regarded figure in Illinois politics and his involvement will add bipartisan legitimacy to Pritzker’s financial plans.

That’s unfortunate considering Edgar’s reputation and legitimacy isn’t deserved when it comes to the biggest problem Pritzker has inherited: pensions.

Many Illinoisans don’t know Edgar’s full role in unleashing the retirement crisis in Illinois. Edgar’s pension mistakes are not confined to the more famous “Edgar Ramp.” The other bipartisan pension compromises he championed are also responsible for turning the state’s pension problem into a full-blown nightmare.

Edgar’s signature pension “reform” of 1994 has left tens of thousands of state workers wondering when their pensions will be slashed. His kick-the-can plan has the state’s credit teetering on the border of an embarrassing junk rating. And the full impact of his pension scheme has finally come home to roost — more than a quarter of the state’s budget goes toward pensions, taking funding from everything else that matters.

Of course the whole pension crisis shouldn’t be pinned on Edgar. He’s had plenty of accomplices who made things worse. But it was his “compromise” policies made in partnership with House Speaker Mike Madigan that set the stage for Illinois’ pension collapse.

Since Edgar’s term, Illinois governors have shunned reforms needed to fix the state, choosing whatever gimmicks they could get their hands on. Blagojevich chose $10 billion in Pension Obligation Bonds (POBs). Quinn copied Blago with more than $7 billion in POBs and added a $32 billion, four-year “temporary” tax hike on top of that.

Both followed the example Edgar set: Don’t reform pensions but instead, push the crisis along to future governors. Pritzker has already indicated he may do the same thing, saying he is “seriously considering” more POBs and a faulty “reamortization” plan.

Here’s what Illinoisans should know about Edgar’s handling of pensions:

1. The Edgar Ramp kicked the can far, far into the future.

Edgar originally touted his reform plan as the solution to the state’s $17 billion pension problem: “We had a time bomb in our retirement system that was going to go off in the first part of the 21st century,” Edgar told The State Journal Register in 1994. “This legislation defuses that time bomb.”

It accomplished the opposite.

Read more: Wirepoints