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Illinois' pension systems are the worst-funded of any
state in the nation, with money set aside now for only 43 per cent
of the pension benefits already earned. The national average of 80
percent is almost twice that.
As a member of the bipartisan, bicameral pension work group
appointed by the Senate Republican caucus, working with Gov. Pat
Quinn's office to stabilize our state pension systems, I am pleased
to report we are making progress. We are developing a comprehensive
solution that will lead to significant pension savings while
safeguarding the viability of the state's public retirement systems
for teachers and state employees.
Illinois' total pension debt is $99 billion, which includes $83
billion in unfunded pension liabilities (owed for benefits already
earned) and $16 billion in pension bonds still unpaid. We cannot
sustain this imbalance.
Our best course to a solution is an increased employee
contribution and an adjusted annual cost-of-living increase. We
think retired employees should continue to have access to health
care, but we acknowledge they must be prepared to pay a share of the
cost for that access.
Labor groups suggested, and we have agreed, that the state should
move to funding 100 percent of its benefit costs over 30 years, and
that the state guarantee its commitment to the funding plan.
Employees have made their payments; it is the state that has in the
past defaulted on its responsibility.
The governor has used the ongoing discussions of our work group
to frame his proposal, but I believe his plan to gradually increase
the retirement age to 67 for current teachers and employees is
[to top of second column in this letter]
On May 3, the Illinois Policy Institute issued a report providing
us with a lot of useful data and insight into pension reform.
However, I respectfully disagree with their support for the
Democrats' proposed shift of pension normal cost to local school
districts outside Chicago, to community colleges and to public
I do not support the cost-shift because of the inherent property
tax increase for homeowners and businesses to fund the new
responsibility for local taxing bodies.
The Illinois Policy Institute fails to recognize that the key
solution to our pension "calamity" is benefit reforms -- not the
cost-shift. The state must be responsible for paying off the $83
billion in unfunded liabilities that has accrued because past
General Assemblies and past governors failed to meet their
It is important that the issue of cost-shifting does not delay or
sidetrack the reforms, which can save the state as much as -- if not
more than -- $100 billion by 2042.
Pension reform should be about protecting the state's public
retirement systems so they will have sufficient funds to meets their
commitments and to pay the benefits promised to these workers under
the Illinois Constitution.
May 14, 2012]
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