Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Madigan Pension Fix Would Save Less Than Estimated

Gov. Pat Quinn on Sunday said 10-member panel making "progress"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The estimated savings on a pension proposal backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan earlier this year is nearly $25 billion less than originally thought.

    That's because the Teachers Retirement System -- one of Illinois' five pension systems -- says it made a mistake in its calculations. The change was outlined in a Monday letter to a bipartisan panel tasked with coming up with an approach to solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

    Madigan's plan involves across-the-board cuts in benefits. It was originally touted to save Illinois about $187 billion over 30 years. However, the new estimate is about $163 billion in the same time period.

    Another plan from Senate President John Cullerton, which had union support, was estimated to save roughly $47 billion over the same timeframe.

    Gov. Pat Quinn on Sunday called the outline of a pension overhaul proposal floated by the bipartisan panel "positive" and "progress," but he shied away from saying whether he'd fully back it.

    The so-called conference committee, formed in June to come up with a solution to Illinois' nearly $100 billion crisis, is considering a framework that would, among other things, end automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees. Increases would instead be linked to the rate of inflation.

    "It appears ... that some progress is being made," Quinn told reporters after an unrelated Chicago event. "We still have to get to the finish line but I think the concepts ... are very positive indeed."

    Pensions have been Quinn's top issue for two years. He's set numerous deadlines for lawmakers to come up with a plan. However, when committee members didn't meet another deadline In July, Quinn moved to halt lawmakers' pay. He also vowed not to take a paycheck himself until the problem was solved. Legislative leaders have sued Quinn over the issue, which is still playing out in the courts.

    He said although some of the concepts in the plan are familiar and his own budget office is heavily involved in the committee's research, he wants to see final details of a plan before he weighs in.

    Under the committee's framework, employees would contribute 1 percent less to their own retirement. However, their annual pension benefit would be based on their salary over their career, rather than on the higher amount they're making right before they retire. The changes are estimated to reduce the state's nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability by about $18.1 billion and fully fund the retirement systems within 30 years.

    Quinn said he would only support a plan that would eliminate the unfunded debt.

    "If you erase the liability and make sure it doesn't happen again, that's what we're aiming for," he said.

    Illinois has the worst-funded public employee pension funds in the country, largely because lawmakers voted to skip or short the state's contribution to the five retirement systems for decades.