August 14, 2012

Union Leaders Push for Pension Compromise

Illinois union leaders are asking political leaders to negotiate with them before approving a plan to overhaul the state's pension systems. They made their plea on Monday in a teleconference with reporters.

Lawmakers are scheduled to gather in Springfield on Friday, Aug. 17 to consider options for fixing Illinois' underfunded pension system. It is a task that could include shifting pension costs for public school teachers from the state to school districts.

Sean Smoot, with an association of Illinois police officers, said the pension proposals currently under consideration are unconstitutional and will not solve the funding problem.

"Let me be clear: the path they have chosen, they have chosen alone, without meaningful input  from retired or working employees," Smoot said.

Christine Boardman, the president of a union representing government workers, said it is legislative leaders who have walked away from discussions.

"It is not the workers, it is not the people who actually add value to the state every single day," Boardman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Boardman and other labor leaders outlined what they'd like to see in pension legislation.

They want tax law changed to close what they call "loopholes" benefitting corporations. They want to make sure current retirees are not affected by the changes. And they say state funding of retirement benefits should be automatic and guaranteed.

Cinda Klickna is the president of one of Illinois' two big teacher unions.

"The pension crisis was caused by past governors and legislatures that failed the people of our state," Klickna said.

Klickna said union members have been paying for their retirement out of every paycheck, and should not have to pay for past decisions to underfund pensions.

“For decades, our members have made their payments to the retirement system, while the state has not," Klickna said. "Our members are asking, ‘What guarantee will the legislature make going forward, so that we protect tax payers, and pension system participants against a repeat of the bad  behavior that caused the pension crisis.’”

Consistent underfunding over the years is one of the main reasons the pension system is  roughly $85 billion short of what it needs to meet future obligations.

With Illinois talking about pension cuts, more than 4,500 state employees have retired in the past fiscal year. Roughly the same number of University employees also retired. That’s the highest in at least five years.


August 13, 2012

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Deal with Pensions

Members of Illinois' General Assembly weren't supposed to return to the capitol until November, but they will be back in Springfield later this week for a special session. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the special session on Friday to overhaul the state's pensions, even though lawmakers are still divided over the best way to do it.

There is an $83 billion gap in what the state has promised its employees they'll get when they retire, and what Illinois actually has in the bank. Legislators are in widespread agreement they have to do something to cut the state's pension costs.

In the spring, the Senate passed a measure that begins to do that, but it only applies to General Assembly members and state employees. Not affected are the benefits of public school teachers, university workers, and judges. That pushes aside having to resolve a dispute over how much school districts should have to pay versus the state.

But House Republicans say they won't back that partial solution.

"So it's a really significant bill, there's no question about the sufficiency of the bill, it's constitutional and it's already passed one chamber,"  Senator President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) responded. "So, I don’t know why the House Republicans wouldn't want to vote for it, I think it's a mistake."

The House GOP has said a measure that only deals with two pension funds is too weak, and lifts pressure on lawmakers to finish the job.


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