State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that state employee pension benefits are protected under the state constitution, countering lawmaker's efforts to overhaul the state's underfunded pension system.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court says free health care is a protected retirement benefit for certain government employees. It was cause for celebration among those who’ve opposed Illinois' attempts to save money by cutting retirement benefits. But Illinois' pension battles are far from over.

Many state retirees used to get premium-free health insurance. When the law was changed to make them pay, a group of them sued.

flickr/Terence S. Jones

One of a number of Illinois towns struggling with increasing pension costs wants to save money by shifting control of its fire department to a private company.  

North Riverside officials pitched the proposal at a hearing before state regulators in Chicago on Thursday. Mayor Hubert Hermanek says the move could save $700,000 annually.  

Illinois Municipal League officials say other cities could try similar solutions when the state begins to enforce increasing pension payments in 2016.  

Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The Illinois Teachers' Retirement System says it expects a lower return on its pension investments in the next year. That means the state will have to cover more of the cost of teacher pensions.

TRS says it's still a good assumed rate of investment return at 7.5 percent. That falls in line with similar pension systems nationwide. But it's not as profitable as 8-percent, which TRS had been using for the previous few years.

Dave Urbanek is with TRS. He says the unpredictable nature of the international economy spurred the decision to lower the rate.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois Legislature adjourned its spring session having passed a new state budget and other key measures, but leaving some business undone. Here's a look at what passed and what didn't:  
Budget: A roughly $35.7 billion budget for 2015 keeps funding flat for schools and most state agencies. Majority Democrats acknowledged the budget is ``incomplete'' because it postpones tough votes about whether to slash spending or find new revenue until after November's election.

Illinois' pension overhaul might be on hold, but credit ratings agencies say they're not concerned. A Sangamon County judge Wednesday ruled that reductions to public employees' retirement benefits will not go into effect next month, as planned.                                                  

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Officials at the University of Illinois say they are willing to work to retain faculty who opted to retire early as a result of mistakes in the state's pension overhaul.

It was a small typo, but it turned out to have big consequences for the state's public universities and community colleges.

  A judge has blocked Illinois pension overhaul from taking effect next month. It's a temporary victory for government employees who say the law is unconstitutional.

State employees, teachers and university workers were supposed to begin seeing changes to their retirement plans in June. It's part of a sweeping pension overhaul passed late last year.

Earlier this month,  the Springfield Police Department promoted two sergeants to the rank of lieutenant.  One has already retired, able to earn a higher pension because of the promotion.

Under state law, retiring police officers are allowed to collect pension benefits based on rank for their last day of employment.

Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin says a lieutenant retiring at a rank he never served is quote 'offensive.' He says the public doesn't appreciate a "revolving door of promotions right before retirement.”

The board of the State Universities Retirement System has voted to accept an interpretation of last year's Illinois pension reform law that says it won't inadvertently cut university retirees' pension.  

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, ( the board's executive committee voted unanimously on Thursday in Chicago to follow other state pension systems and accept the interpretation of the 2013 law.

The State Universities Retirement System now says a troublesome piece of last year's state pension-reform law may not cut retirees' pensions after all.  

William Mabe is the executive director of the retirement system. He tells The (Champaign) News-Gazette ( ) that the language in law that would cost retirees' a year of pension should be interpreted as if it didn't _ because it wasn't intended to.  
That's based on the interpretation the Teachers Retirement System has been using when it looks at the law. Now SURS plans to follow suit.  

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.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

A new report (PDF) says Illinois' pension overhaul will save less money than advertised. Some politicians are trying to make hay out of that. But it might not be such a big deal.

The pension vote came with promises of big savings — $160 billion. Then, after it was already law, a new analysis of the bill said, well, maybe we'll save $145 billion.

This latest report puts savings even lower, at $137 billion.

WUIS stories on pensions, concussions, crop insurance, and tornado recovery are being recognized with four 2013 Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters awards: 

Local Radio:

Best Investigative Report: WIUM-FM, “50% Plus One,” Rich Egger
2nd Place: WUIS-FM, “Judges' Pensions”, Amanda Vinicky

Amanda Vinicky

A fifth lawsuit has been filed by state employees challenging Illinois' new pension law.  
The lawsuit from current and former employees at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Parkland Community College was filed in Champaign County Circuit Court Thursday.  

It says the legislation passed by the General Assembly in December violates several provisions of the state constitution, which says retirement benefits should not be diminished or impaired and private property should not be ``taken or damaged for public use.''  

Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Republican candidates for Illinois governor are arguing about pension reform and the state's finances in the second-to-last debate ahead of the March 18 primary.  

State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, businessman Bruce Rauner  and Treasurer Dan Rutherford attended the debate Wednesday hosted by WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune.  

Brady is the only one who supported a recent pension overhaul that cuts benefits for state workers and retirees. Dillard voted against it, which has been the reason that several unions have endorsed him.

A conservative think tank recommends the City of Springfield switch its employee pension system to a 401K style plan rather than a defined benefit.

"First and foremost you need to make sure the data is pure." -- Budget Director William McCarty

The Illinois Policy Institute presented aldermen data that indicate the city of Springfield has the worst funded pension system among larger cities in the state.

Efforts are underway to consolidate four lawsuits challenging Illinois' new pension reform law.  

Lawyers representing the respective groups of state retirees who filed class-action suits have asked the Supreme Court to allow them to present their cases as one.  

The groups share the common claim that the new pension reform plan violates the state constitution, which says benefits may not be diminished.  

Illinois Supreme Court
Brian Mackey / WUIS

A court case decided in Arizona Thursday could have implications for Illinois' ongoing legal battle over pensions. The decision (pdf), by the Arizona Supreme Court, struck down an attempt to reduce Arizona officials' retirement benefits.


The controversial new law that overhauls pensions for Illinois public workers is now facing legal challenges.

But even before it was passed, experts had been fighting over exactly how big the state’s pension crisis really is. The answer to that math problem could have a big impact on your wallet.

When pundits and politicians and reporters talk about Illinois’ monster pension problem...there’s this number that keeps coming up.


Illinois labor unions have filed a lawsuit seeking a new plan to reduce the state's $100 billion pension shortfall declared unconstitutional.  

The We Are One Illinois Coalition of public employee unions filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Sangamon County Circuit court.  
The long-anticipated legal challenge comes weeks after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure into law and ahead of his annual State of the State address.

The President of the Illinois State Senate - John Cullerton - says he wants to meet with the eventual Republican nominee for governor about the state’s finances.  It comes as the state’s income and corporate tax rates are scheduled to go down in a year.

The governor’s office predicts the tax decrease will create a nearly $2 billion hole in the next budget. Cullerton - a Chicago Democrat - says he’d like to hear from the Republican nominee about the state’s budget.

U of I

University of Illinois President Robert Easter and other administrators will consider ways to help university employees make up for some of the money they will lose when state pension reforms begin June 1.  

University trustees on Thursday directed Easter to assess the changes coming to the state pension system and options for preserving benefits that will be lost. The president is expected to make recommendations to the trustees before June. The board of trustees oversees the university's three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.  

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois' pension overhaul is tied up in a court challenge.  But even if it remains law, cuts to state employees' and public school teachers' retirement benefits will not solve the state's budget problem.  That's the forecast from a report issued today by the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs. Amanda Vinicky spoke with the report's principle author, economist Richard Dye.


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.  

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

With the new year comes the annual process of crafting a new state budget.  Money will be tight, despite a pension law that's supposed to save $160 billion dollars over the next 30 years.

Legislators who voted to cut state employees' and teachers' retirement benefits say they had no choice. Nearly a fifth of the state budget was going into Illinois' pension systems. Meaning there was less money to spend elsewhere. The pension law is supposed to ease that so-called "squeeze."

This week's topics include the state's system for accepting Concealed-Carry applications, the many lawsuits filed against the recent law changing the state's pension system, and a look back at some top stories from 2013.

A group of retired state employees has filed a lawsuit challenging a new Illinois plan to eliminate the state's $100 billion public pension shortfall.  


A published report says groups with ties to the pension-reform law adopted last month have contributed close to $3 million to Illinois Supreme Court justices who might decide its fate.  

The Chicago Sun-Times reports ( ) that six of seven justices have taken money in the past 13 years from labor unions, business groups and a political committee controlled by Chicago Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.  
Retired teachers have sued to stop the pension-reform plan that cuts retiree benefits to reduce a $100 billion debt.  


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.