Ill. House: Senate Pension Plan Saves Less Money

May 21, 2013

A new analysis says a union-backed pension overhaul would bring Illinois significantly less savings than originally claimed, but the sponsor of the pension legislation says the findings are incomplete.

Illinois House members say Senate President John Cullerton's pension-reform proposal saves at most only 60 percent of what the Chicago Democrat predicts.

There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion in unfunded liabilities, which is a fancy word that basically means "debt."

It is a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget. The House and Senate have different plans on how to drive that number down.

Senate President John Cullerton said his union-backed plan, which is kinder to employees and retirees and gives them retirement options. It will cut about $10 billion dollars off that unfunded liability.

But Reps. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) say an actuarial study of Cullerton's plan shows it would reduce a $97 billion debt in employee pension systems by less than $6 billion. Their numbers are from pension-system administrators.

As the House Democrats' leader on pensions, Nekritz tried to steer away from stirring up conflict.

"For us, it's always been about the math," she said. "So we wanted to get the math out there."

But she said the House pension plan is a more "affordable" approach.

Cullerton's plan gives both working and retired teachers, university workers and state employees choices, like keeping cost-of-living pay bumps or access to state-backed health insurance. So actuaries have to work out multiple scenarios. Cullerton said there's range of immediate savings. 

"Our best guess, though, assuming 50-percent take the deal, is $11.5 billion unfunded liability," he said.

Nekritz favors an approach passed by the House she says saves closer to $30 billion upfront. 

Backers of the Senate plan say the House proposal is not constitutional - and if it's overturned by the courts - its savings would be reduced to zero.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio