Naper Chamber event focuses on pension crisis, health care costs
By David Sharos For The Sun February 22, 2013 2:24PM
State Sen. Linda Holmes, 42nd District
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:38AM
Pension reform, raising caps on property taxes, spiraling health care costs and more were among the issues Friday as the Naperville Chamber of Commerce held a roundtable luncheon meeting with some of its members and state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-42nd District).
In an effort to provide more exposure and communication with local and state government officials, the Chamber launched a new program last month where area business owners could express needs and concerns to those officials as well as learn the latest developments at the state legislative level.
Late Friday morning, the Chamber held its second monthly session. More than two dozen area business owners, intergovernmental officials and others attended the informal luncheon, which CEO and Chamber President Mike Evans said could provide a way “to set the tone for the rest of the state.”
“We plan to hold these sessions on the last Friday of every month, and we see this as a way for local legislators and those beyond the local level to introduce pieces of legislation and champion issues for this region which I think is capable of setting the tone statewide,” Evans said.
A large portion of the meeting centered on teachers and pensions, which Holmes said actually average less than “many who read the papers think.”
“Teachers average about $44,000 throughout the state, while those in the General Assembly make $49,000 and the average pension for most people is about $33,000,” she said. “Of course there are concerns about those that double dip.”
Holmes warned that changes to the state Constitution concerning pensions would be difficult.
“Getting something on the ballot and making changes is not easy,” she said, given the number of votes that must be secured in the Senate and then the House, and also the votes needed to override a governor’s veto. “A lot of people would be more willing to see taxes go up if we could show there were sufficient cuts being made (in pensions).”
Evans skillfully steered what could have become an hour-long gripe session about pensions on to other matters, including local business. Brian Palm of Naperville, who operates his own business, raised concerns about “the unofficial increase involving health care costs” and later said those costs are preventing him from hiring some good people.
“Everyone is concerned about benefits, and it’s impossible for us to hire some good people out there we’d like to have because we can’t afford the benefits,” he said. “I still feel good about sessions like this because at least there are people willing to listen.”
Local attorney Thomas Homer said he served once for 12 years in the state legislature and admitted there were no easy answers to the current financial woes of the state. Homer said he appreciates the effort being made by elected officials as well as the local Chamber.
“The solutions for the huge problems we have aren’t easy, but I admire that politicians like Holmes are willing to put themselves out there,” he said. “I think the Naperville Chamber is excellent and I’m impressed with the message it puts out.”
Shannon Burns, a commissioner with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage, said she came Friday as a newly elected official and wanted to hear about issues from those in the area.
“We have issues of our own with the Forest Preserve and we know that right now the pension issue is a big crisis,” she said. “I think it’s important to know about how others around us are being affected.”
Jeff Davis, who currently serves as president of the Naperville Library Board, said he believes that the Chamber being an advocate for local business was a way to start to attack some of the current problems.
“Getting business and government together is a way to address our issues,” Davis said. “I really appreciate Holmes coming out like she did today.”
Evans expressed confidence that the information shared in Friday’s session would not fall by the wayside.
“Change is made one vote at a time, and we watch the voting record of our representatives and will know how they voted on the issues we are concerned about,” he said. “This equips us as a Chamber with more information, whether we’re going to Springfield or Washington, D.C.”
We know that representatives want to hear first-hand stories and need knowledge to pull a group of people together in order to make the right decisions.”