State Lawmakers Discuss Rauner's Power Over Pensions

Mar 10, 2016
Brian Mackey

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to let Governor Bruce Rauner reduce or delay pension payments.

The measure would give the governor the power to make unilateral cuts and reallocate money around state government.

Rauner's budget director says the governor would rather get a bipartisan deal -- including pension changes -- instead of going it alone.

Senate President John Cullerton has a pension proposal Rauner supports. But Cullerton says his legislation is not a quick fix for the state's massive pension liability. 

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

It’s been 10 months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s last attempt at a pension overhaul. Legislators have yet to decide what to do about Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt, but they are beginning to weigh their options.

One set of proposals would let employees collect their pension as a single payment when they retire.

Flickr user Pictures of Money / "Money" (CC BY 2.0)

The long-term pension debt in Illinois rose to $111 billion. That’s $6 billion higher than last year.

The state will have to contribute roughly $375 million more next year toward the retirement systems. That's money that could otherwise go to schools or government services.

Dan Long heads the state economic forecasting agency which produces the calculations. He says much of the burden stems from lawmakers' past decisions to skip paying the employers' share of pensions.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union

Thousands of retirees in the Midwest face a big cut in their incomes next year.

The pension fund for many retired members of the Teamsters Union proposed benefit cuts up to 60 percent. It says the fund will run of money in a decade without them.

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

The lack of an Illinois budget means public pension systems won't get their state contribution next month. That won't stop retirees from getting their checks.

However, there could still be an impact.

The funds get money from members, the state and in the case of the Teachers Retirement System, school districts.

Dave Urbanek is the TRS spokesman. He says another key is investment income. But some of those investments, like stocks and bonds, might have to be liquidated in order to send out future checks.


The U.S. Supreme Court will not get the last word on Illinois’s attempts to cut government pension costs; a 2013 pension law is dead, for good.

There'd been a slim possibility the law would have another big day in court.

Lawmakers attempt at reducing the state's ballooning retirement costs was viewed as landmark when it passed in 2013. 

Also major? A ruling this May from Illinois' Supreme Court that that law --- with its reduced benefits -- was unconstitutional.


Illinois may not be done with the 2013 law reducing state employees’ pensions after all. Attorney General Lisa Madigan appears to be readying an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many thought the question of whether Illinois could save money by reducing state workers’ and retirees’ pensions was resolved in May, when the state’s Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled the answer is “no.”

Rauner's Pension Proposal Examined By House Committee

Jul 16, 2015
Flickr user Pictures of Money / "Money" (CC BY 2.0)

A multi-tiered pension proposal put forth by Governor Bruce Rauner was examined during an Illinois House committee yesterday.

Rauner wants to offer employees incentives like a one-time pay bump or extra vacation time. In exchange, public workers would receive a smaller pension.

With his plan, workers who opt to stick with their current pension setup would not have future wage increases counted toward their retirement earnings.

First Pension Proposal Hearing Held

May 14, 2015

An Illinois House committee held the first hearing on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pension proposal. 

Under his plan, workers would keep all the benefits they earned, but would see a cut to their benefits going forward. Democratic Representative Scott Drury said last week’s Supreme Court opinion, overturning pension changes passed two years ago, rules out that idea.

Rauner's staff argued that the plan is legal because it does not reduce current benefits -- only those yet to be earned. 

Republican Jeanne Ives says employees in the private sector already face that reality.

Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court will hear a case affecting public employee pensions. 

The court agreed to a quick review. Justices want to see briefs submitted by January 12th and responses by February 27th. The court could hear the case by March.

Lawyers representing state employees, teachers, university workers and others have another month to respond. The Attorney General's office argued delays would be costly to taxpayers because the pension reductions are designed to save more than a billion dollars a year.