Research is the next step in pension reform quest

Jun 7, 2012

Illinois officials will gather financial information from the state’s more than 800 school districts over the next two weeks to understand how shifting pension costs away from the state would affect those districts.

“The more facts we could gather regarding what the impact would be on school districts,” Gov. Pat Quinn said, “it would be very important facts we should know.”

The governor initially supported shifting the cost of future pensions for downstate teachers and university workers to school districts and universities but backed away as the legislative session waned.

Many Republican lawmakers fear that shifting costs will force school districts to raise property taxes. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he opposed cost-shifting, so proposed pension reform was never called for a vote in the House.

After meeting with the four legislative leaders Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn said a comprehensive pension package is required. “We can’t have partial solutions,” he said. “That won’t get the job done.”

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had said before the meeting that he believes the General Assembly could pass pension reforms for state employees and lawmakers fairly easily. Then they could pursue the stickier cases university employees and downstate teachers.

That would show the state is tackling pension reforms, and address concerns of bond rating agencies, he said.

Illinois' failure to act this spring on a pension overhaul has prompted a warning from Standard & Poor's. The credit rating agency says it considers Illinois' failure to overhaul pensions "negative from a credit standpoint."

Quinn wants the legislature to act soon.

"Ideally, you know, we have to sign a budget by the end of the month,” he said. “I'd like to also sign pension reform.  This is our rendezvous with reality."

Quinn and Madigan have said that school districts and universities should be responsible for pension costs because they negotiate labor contracts that eventually determine pension costs.

Quinn and the leaders will meet again June 19, 20 or 21.