Illinois Pension

Illinois Issues: The Next Pension Time Bomb

Jul 2, 2015

Illinois has more than $100 billion in pension debt. So far, attempts to fix it have been mostly illegal.

Amanda Vinicky

The Illinois House held its first hearing on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to address the state’s unfunded pension liability. 

Under the governor's plan, employees would keep all the retirement benefits they have logged so far, but would see a cut to their benefits going forward. Democrats on the House's pension committee said last week’s Illinois Supreme Court opinion, overturning pension changes passed two years ago, rules out that idea.

John Cullerton
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Even though John Cullerton went along with the pension law that on Friday was found by the state's high court to be unconstitutional, the Illinois Senate President had always favored another approach. Now he's saying (well, not exactly in these exact words ... ) "I told you so." In this episode of The Players -- a podcast about who's who in Illinois politics and what they're up to -- Amanda Vinicky spoke with the Senate's top Democrat about his plans to try again.

Amanda Vinicky

There's a reason analysts say Illinois has the nation's lowest credit rating. It has the nation's largest unfunded pension liability. A 2013 law that’s facing a challenge before the Illinois Supreme Court is intended to help.

Illinois is facing a budget hole in the billions, thanks to a rollback of the income tax. If the high court tosses out the pension law, there'll be more fiscal pressure.

Analysts like Moody's Ted Hampton say the rating won't likely drop further, even if the justices toss the law because the rating already presumes the law cannot be implemented.

Bruce Rauner
brucerauner.com

Union members and state employees can expect another pension battle ahead, regardless of what the state Supreme Court says about Illinois' landmark 2013 law. 

Amanda Vinicky

The fate of Illinois' pension law will stay on the fast track. Illinois' Supreme Court justices today rejected a request for a delay.

It can take a long time for a case to wend its way through the courts. But after a Sangamon County judge in November ruled Illinois' overhaul of public worker pensions unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court agreed to take up the case on an expedited basis.

On Tuesday, lawyers contesting the law tried to slow it down by a month.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

As they seek to permanently toss Illinois' pension overhaul, state employees and retirees are asking the state Supreme Court for more time to make their arguments. Lawyers filed the request Tuesday.

It's a case that's supposed to be on the fast track: After a Sangamon County judge in November found Illinois' pension law unconstitutional, the Attorney General appealed straight to the state supreme court -- which agreed to hear it on an expedited basis.

Lisa Madigan at Inauguration 2015
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Attorney General Lisa Madigan is arguing that a landmark Illinois pension overhaul should be upheld because the state has ``police powers'' that allow it to change a contract in extraordinary circumstances.

Madigan is appealing a lower court ruling that found the 2013 law unconstitutional. She filed an opening brief to the Illinois Supreme Court Monday.  

Several groups filed briefs supporting the state's arguments. They include the city of Chicago, the Illinois Municipal League and Chicago Public Schools.

npr.org

The trade magazine "Institutional Investor" has ranked Illinois' incoming governor as its most influential player in U.S. pensions. An article says Bruce Rauner may regret ever having run for office, given the state's massive longterm pension debt, and the difficulty he is expected to have in addressing it.

Lisa Madigan
Marsy's Law for Illinois

Attorney General Lisa  Madigan says if the state supreme court agrees to an expedited hearing...  a ruling on the state's pension law could come by January,.

The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club is launching an initiative Wednesday that aims to spark a discussion about consequences if the Illinois Supreme Court strikes down pension overhaul legislation.

The nonpartisan organization of executives is calling the outreach effort to lawmakers, schools and social services the ``What If'' initiative. Committee President Ty Fahner calls it ``imperative'' to understand what could result if pension reform is overturned.  

  Governor Pat Quinn now has the support of the two statewide teachers unions. The Illinois Federation of Teachers endorsed Quinn Wednesday despite the union's opposition to Quinn's ideas for pension changes.

The IFT is one of the groups suing Quinn for the pension overhaul law passed late last year that would reduce public employee benefits, including those for teachers.

But the union's president, Dan Montgomery, says the election is bigger than the ongoing lawsuit.

WUIS/Lee Strubinger

A couple dozen mayors from throughout Illinois came to Springfield Wednesday, calling on legislators to help fix downstate pension systems that they say are unsustainable.

Municipalities are on the hook for paying local police and firefighters’ retirement benefits.

But the pension rates are set by the state.

Mayors say lawmakers have increasingly “sweetened” benefits – without giving their cities any funding to cover the extra cost.

It’s left many pension systems severely underfunded.

wikimedia

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a pension-reform measure for the Chicago Park District.  

The legislation Quinn signed Tuesday is designed to deal with a $971 million deficit in the district's pension program. When lawmakers approved it in November, experts hailed it as example of compromise for what was then an elusive solution to the five state pension systems' $100 billion hole.  

SRS

Officials say sufficient state funding the last two years means key state-employee pension funds didn't have to sell assets to meet payments.  
 The State Retirement Systems covers pensions for ex-state employees, judges and lawmakers. A report Thursday by Auditor General William Holland says SRS withdrew $30 million in the 2013 fiscal year _ down from nearly $250 million the year before.  
 William Atwood heads the Illinois State Board of Investment, which manages the SRS portfolios.  
 He says the large withdrawal in 2012 was because of state underfunding in 2011.  

How The Pension Lawsuits Could Play Out

Dec 11, 2013
University of Illinois

Several state employee unions are expected to file a lawsuit contesting Illinois' new pension measure.

A University of Illinois law professor says that action will start a process that could last as long as two years. 

John Colombo said any decisions will ultimately come from the state’s Supreme Court, but the process has to start in circuit court.

He expects unions to seek an injunction that would keep the reform plan from taking effect while the legal process plays out.

WUIS State Week host, Bill Wheelhouse, guests on the latest CapitolView regarding the pension reform passed in Illinois.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois legislators will be asked today (12/3) to take what many say could be the most important vote of their careers. They've been called back to Springfield to take up a measure that would drastically alter the state's retirement plans. Doing so would have obvious ramifications for state employees, teachers and university workers whose pensions are at stake. But the impact of a vote is far more widespread. What happens could also affect everything from the state's credit rating and Illinois' next budget, to the 2014 elections. The outcome is anything but certain.

 After years of inaction on changes to the state's employee pension systems, legislative leaders say they have hammered out a deal that could be presented to lawmakers December 3.

 

End and Means: Crisis? Maybe Not. But the Red Flags Are Waving.

Dec 1, 2013
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Senate President John Cullerton a few weeks back said the state’s pension funding problems were not a crisis, the reaction was swift: shock and outrage that the Chicago Democrat might suggest that failure to slash public employee retirement benefits NOW would not mean the imminent demise of the Land of Lincoln.

Details are out on what the leaders of Illinois' General Assembly want to do to the state's retirement systems. They've released an outline of their deal.

After years of debate about what to do about the $100 billion dollars of unfunded liability Illinois has racked up for its pension systems, legislative leaders announced on Wednesday they had agreed to a deal. But they were tight-lipped about what all it involved.

That information has now been spelled out in a one-page overview, a memo passed out to members of the House and Senate.

ILGA.gov

 Overhauling Illinois' pension systems is no longer in the hands of the special committee of legislators that met all summer. How to reduce the state’s $100 billion of long-term pension debt is now in the hands of the General Assembly's four leaders.

All summer long, state employees and retirees concerned about their retirement benefits had their eyes on a bipartisan conference committee, but insiders say even the key panel members are no longer part of discussions.

The General Assembly's four leaders (who are really always in charge) are taking the reins.

Loves Park City Website

The new head of the Illinois Municipal League wants lawmakers to remain committed to a pension overhaul. Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg was recently named president of the organization. Lindberg says the group has not put its support behind any one plan, but is paying attention to work being done by the bipartisan pension panel.

Louis Kosiba
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Editor’s note: I am forgoing my column this month to instead publish a piece by Louis Kosiba, executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Primarily because state law requires municipalities to contribute to their employees’ retirement annually, the Municipal Retirement Fund is in much better shape than other public pension funds in Illinois, where lawmakers and governors have repeatedly skipped payments or only made partial contributions. — Dana Heupel 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Everyone knows Illinois has the largest pension debt and worst credit rating in the nation, right? So obviously its elected officials, especially Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, have to be absolute bozos, folks who should be sent packing at the earliest opportunity.

That’s been the clamor since lawmakers adjourned the spring session on May 31 without cutting pension benefits for public employees, a din raised particularly loudly by editorial boards, online commentators, and folks firing off angry (and often ill-informed) letters to the editor.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For someone with a penchant for stream-of-consciousness speechmaking, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address last month was notable for its laser-like focus on the need to address the state’s mounting pension debt, now approaching $100 billion.

The oft-repeated theme: Ever-mounting pension obligations are crowding out funding for education and other core services.

End and Means: Gov. Quinn's Speech Didn't Avoid Pension Subject

Mar 1, 2013
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Listening to lawmakers’ reaction and reading the pundits’ commentary after Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his State of the State speech a few weeks ago was even more entertaining than the governor’s 38-minute performance.

A random sampling, with sources not identified to spare any potential embarrassment:

Quinn “made a campaign speech,” complained various lawmakers, most but not all of them Republicans.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly continue to search for a way to reduce the state’s nearly $97 billion public pension liability by changing the benefits of current state employees, teachers, university workers, legislators and, perhaps, judges.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

One political party in Illinois is bound and determined to slash health care for poor people and retirees while waging attacks on organized labor and teachers — at the same time giving tax breaks to huge corporations like Sears and CME Group, which operates interests, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.

 

And then there’s the other political party, the Republicans …

Marc Levine
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In February, Illinois borrowed $3.8 billion and paid a higher interest rate spread than any of the other 49 states. This means the financial markets believe that Illinois is the state most likely to default on its obligations.

In light of the state’s diverse economy and general obligation debt levels, this default risk is entirely explained by Illinois’ insolvent state pension system. 

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