pensions

Flickr user Daniel Borman / "Money, Money, Money" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois state lawmakers are warning key figures in Chicago and Cook County governments to draft back-up plans for their underfunded pensions.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are both trying to approve changes to the retirement benefits their government workers receive because the funds are running out of money.

But that comes after the state Supreme Court called reductions in benefits to State of Illinois employees’ pensions unconstitutional.

WBEZ

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is pushing to restructure the retirement benefits of county employees. But she needs Springfield’s help to do it -- and that’s proving to be a challenge.

Like the state of Illinois and City of Chicago, Preckwinkle wants to lower the costs of pensions for Cook County. That’s in spite of legal questions.

Some key unions argue her plan is unconstitutional. But Preckwinkle has other hurdles to clear before it’s tested in court.

Mayor.cityofchicago.org

  Chicago’s top lawyer is defending the city’s pension plan, even as an investor service is downgrading the city’s bond rating.

The city owes billions in pension debt. 

Top attorney Steve Patton argues proposed changes to Chicago’s troubled pensions will withstand a legal challenge, even though the Supreme Court just ruled against changes to State of Illinois retirement funds.

"We don’t think you even get to the question of whether some defense or exception applies because we don’t think that our law violates the constitution in the first instance," Patton said.

Pension Overhaul In Hands Of State Supreme Court

Mar 11, 2015
Illinois Supreme Court

Oral arguments on whether state law passed in 2013 will stand were held Wednesday before the Illinois Supreme Court. 

The law reduces benefits for public employees like teachers, prison guards and many others.

State-employee unions object, citing a section of the state constitution -- Article VIII Section 5 -- which they say clearly prevents the state from taking such action.

Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro, representing the state, disagrees.

Illinois Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments On Pension Law

Mar 11, 2015
state of Illinois

It's been more than a year since Illinois passed a major overhaul of government-employee pensions. Today, the law goes before the state Supreme Court. 

The law being challenged does away with retirees' compounded cost-of-living raises and increases the retirement age for younger workers. It also gives employees a small break on how much of their paycheck automatically goes toward their future pension.

Back when he signed it in 2013, then-Gov. Pat Quinn called the reform a bipartisan victory.

"Everyday people, I think, will benefit from this reform," Quinn said.

Although one court has tossed out Illinois’ mega pension overhaul, state leaders are likely to wait on another legal opinion before deciding what to do next.

There’s no question -- the Sangamon County Circuit Court judge’s ruling is meaningful. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Madigan has said it makes sense for lawmakers to wait to hear from those justices.

Brian Mackey

Politicians, public employee unions and others spent the last several years focused on pensions. Illinois racked up a $100 billion unfunded liability -- largely because lawmakers didn't pay the state's share of its workers retirement benefits.

Eric Madiar is the top attorney for the Illinois Senate President. He found a report that said Illinois' pension systems were on the "verge of insolvency" in 1917.

"...and it stemmed primarily from the fact had not been properly been financing pensions."
--- Eric Madiar, Senate Democrats' Chief Legal Counsel

state of Illinois

Legislators passed a law overhauling the state's retirement systems. Soaring pension debt remains a concern. The law's constitutionality is also in question. It reduces workers' and retirees' benefits, and raises the retirement age.

Judge Puts Hold On Pension Reform Law

May 15, 2014
flickr user / Brian Turner (CC BY 2.0)

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz has issued a temporary restraining order that prevents Illinois' pension reform law from being implemented until questions about the law's constitutionality and a suit challenging it can be resolved.  The law was scheduled to take effect June 1. 

Five lawsuits by groups representing state workers and retirees challenging the law have been consolidated in Sangamon County court.   

It's a temporary victory for government employees who say the law is unconstitutional.

Pension Committee Update

Sep 27, 2013
Brian Mackey / IPR

A special committee has been negotiating over how to solve the pension problem for more than 12 weeks. 

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, is careful these days when she talks about the status of pension deliberations, and especially when asked how close legislators are to reaching a deal.

"I have actually stopped making predictions publicly, because I have been so wrong, that I'm a little bit embarrassed at this point," she says.

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