WBEZ | john cullerton http://www.wbez.org/tags/john-cullerton Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois Supreme Court to hear arguments on pension law http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-supreme-court-hear-arguments-pension-law-111681 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Illinois_Supreme_Court.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday on the constitutionality of a new state law that would reduce retirement benefits for state employees. At stake is Illinois&rsquo; unpaid pension obligations, which have risen to above $100 billion, in addition to the pension benefits that individual state employees&rsquo; say that they&rsquo;ve been promised through their years of work.</p><p>The lawsuits that were filed against the state come from labor unions representing a range of their members, from suburban and downstate teachers and employees of universities, to cashiers for the Secretary of State&rsquo;s office and state prison correctional officers.</p><p>They say they&rsquo;re protected by the state constitution from the cuts that were approved by a bipartisan mix of lawmakers and that was signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Arguments at Wednesday&rsquo;s Supreme Court hearing are likely to be a high level of legal discourse.</p><p>Here is a short breakdown of the issues presented so far.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The stakes</span></p><p>The State of Illinois owes more than $100 billion in pension debt. Money from an increase in the statewide income tax rate had been used to make some pension payments, but that tax rate dropped in January with the election of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has said the state&rsquo;s taxes are too high.</p><p>Many other local governments within Illinois are closely watching how the Supreme Court rules on the statewide pension question. State lawmakers granted the City of Chicago the ability to change retirement benefits for workers and laborers for the city. The city has stalled, changing the benefits to other pension funds.</p><p>Many of Chicago&rsquo;s suburbs are also watching the Supreme Court&rsquo;s ruling as they also look toward restructuring retirement benefits for their police officers, firefighters and other municipal employees.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The argument <em>for</em> the pension law</span></p><p>The Illinois Attorney General&rsquo;s office has been defending the pension law in court. Attorneys there have argued that although the state pensions have been underfunded for years, the debt is now so large that it puts the government funding of schools, public healthcare and road construction at risk.</p><p>They argue fundamental functions of state government could not be funded without changes to pension benefits for state employees.</p><p>The Attorney General has also said that the pension costs are continuing to increase. For example, they say in court documents that in 1999, the pension fund for suburban and downstate teachers had nearly $11 billion in unfunded liabilities. By 2013, that debt had increased to $55.7 billion.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The argument <em>against</em> the pension law</span></p><p>Labor unions say the constitution is on their side because it says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>According to court filings, attorneys for the unions say the politicians running Illinois state government chose not to fully fund the pensions for decades, and now &ldquo;the State expects the members of those systems to carry on their backs the burden of curing the state&rsquo;s longstanding misconduct.&rdquo;</p><p>Individual employees affected by these pension changes, from teachers to child protection investigators, listed their expected annual pension upon retirement, and have calculated an estimated amount of retirement income they&rsquo;d lose if the law stands. Among some state employees, that number reaches the hundreds of thousands of dollars.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Previous court ruling on the pension law</span></p><p>The unions won round one in court. Sangamon County Judge John Belz said in a written opinion:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;The State of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits. Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the State of Illinois cannot break this promise.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>Attorneys were able to expedite the case to the state Supreme Court.</p><p><em><a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">Tony Arnold</a> is WBEZ&#39;s state politics reporter. </em></p></p> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 16:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-supreme-court-hear-arguments-pension-law-111681 Morning Shift: Investigation seeks source of holes at Indiana Dunes http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-15/morning-shift-investigation-seeks-source-holes <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Indiana Dunes - Flickr - pepplerchristine.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The EPA and scientists are trying to discover the source of holes at the Indiana Dunes. What is causing them and what&#39;s the solution? Also, Lake Bell, star of &quot;In a World...&quot;, talks about the voice-over community, the topic of her new film.</p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-44.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-44" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Investigation seeks source of holes at Indiana Dunes" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 08:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-08-15/morning-shift-investigation-seeks-source-holes Could Chicago Public Schools’ troubled pensions become the model for the rest of the state? http://www.wbez.org/news/could-chicago-public-schools%E2%80%99-troubled-pensions-become-model-rest-state-108188 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/dave pruneau photo.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Public Schools continues to face severe budget problems. As a result, it&#39;s laying off staff and cutting programs. And part of the reason for those reductions has to do with the district&rsquo;s pension obligations.</p><p>It&rsquo;s raised the question: Why do some Illinois lawmakers look at Chicago Public Schools&rsquo; pension structure as the model for every other school in Illinois?</p><p>In this year alone, Chicago Public Schools says it&rsquo;s $1 billion in debt.</p><p>To give you an idea of what that means for schools, here&rsquo;s how Guadalupe Rivera at Morrill Elementary School on the southwest side of Chicago says her school could be affected.</p><ul><li>They used to have four teaching assistant positions and two special education teaching positions and those had to be cut.</li><li>Programs used to help students who were struggling. They would help differentiate instruction,&rdquo; Rivera said. &ldquo;They helped English language learners as well.&rdquo;</li><li>Students have to pay a $50 fee to join sports. And it&rsquo;s $50 each sport.</li></ul><p>And Rivera said the list goes on.</p><p>Cuts like these are being proposed at schools all around the city. The school system said these cuts are happening for a few reasons. Peter Rogers, the chief financial officer, said the main reason is because the district owes an added $400 million just for its retirement system this year.</p><p>&ldquo;The biggest factor in terms of increase year-over-year, is without a doubt, far and away, the pension fund required increase and it will continue to do so over the next several years,&rdquo; Rogers said earlier this week.</p><p>In May, the district tried to temporarily delay paying the whole $400 million in one budget cycle. But to do that, it needed the ok from Illinois lawmakers in Springfield.</p><p>And that didn&rsquo;t go so well.</p><p>At the time, State Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Addison), said he&rsquo;d seen the district ask for similar measures in the past.</p><p>&ldquo;You talk about the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. This pension holiday will probably work better than all the previous pension holidays,&rdquo; he said sarcastically on the House floor.</p><p>The bill failed, meaning Chicago Public Schools has to pay that extra $400 million into its pensions.</p><p>Yet two of the most powerful lawmakers in Springfield continue to push to make Chicago&rsquo;s pension structure the model for every other school in the state. Chicago contributes to its own pensions. But the state pays for suburban and downstate schools.</p><p>And lawmakers like House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), say it&rsquo;s high time those schools pay for their own teachers&rsquo; pensions.</p><p>Madigan even has a phrase he likes to call it: the &ldquo;free lunch.&rdquo; Madigan has said it&rsquo;s bad management to have the state pay for teachers&rsquo; pensions when the school districts can set the retirement benefits. And Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is on the same page.</p><p>&ldquo;We have to pay, because of some anomaly in the law, for all of the suburban and downstate teachers, all the university employees and all the community college employees,&rdquo; Cullerton recently said in an interview with WBEZ. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the state&rsquo;s obligation. No other state has that. And the reason why we fell behind in making these payments is because the bill is so high.&rdquo;</p><p>But while Cullerton is pitching that all school districts should pay for their pensions, he&rsquo;s also proposing that the state help Chicago&rsquo;s schools with its pension obligations, that extra $400 million that&rsquo;s being partly blamed for causing all the cuts.</p><p>&ldquo;All these cuts that you&rsquo;re hearing about in these schools, that&rsquo;s directly related to the Chicago teachers&rsquo; pension crisis and we really have to focus on that, even, arguably, even before we do the state pension funds,&rdquo; Cullerton said.</p><p>The situation makes the superintendent of west suburban Elmhurst District 205, Dave Pruneau, look at Chicago&rsquo;s pension difficulties as a cautionary tale for every other school in the state if pension costs eventually get shifted to the districts.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re going through a lot of - (it&rsquo;s) kind of a precursor of where we might be in a lot of districts in Illinois in the next few years,&rdquo; Pruneau said.</p><p>Pruneau said his school district has seen about $6 million in cuts in the past three years. Those reductions have mostly been administrative, but if the district has to gradually start finding money for its teachers pensions, those cuts could start moving into the classroom.</p><p>Pruneau pitched the idea of capping how much pension costs suburban and downstate schools should have to pick up.&nbsp; But regardless of what is eventually decided, whether Elmhurst starts paying for its teachers pensions or not, Pruneau said he&rsquo;s already seen a consequence of the ongoing debate.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very tough right now beyond a one or two-year window to plan long-term because you just don&rsquo;t know what&rsquo;s happening on the revenue side with the state,&rdquo; he said.<br />Pruneau said that means some capital projects on his wish list won&rsquo;t be going anywhere any time soon.<br />Something every other school in the state could be seeing.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.</em></p></p> Thu, 25 Jul 2013 12:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/could-chicago-public-schools%E2%80%99-troubled-pensions-become-model-rest-state-108188 Morning Shift: Black-on-black crime http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-07-18/morning-shift-black-black-crime-108098 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Crime-Flickr- Alessio Centamori PH.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago has become the poster child for violence, but none more pervasive than black-on-black crime. With black youths facing so many obstacles, how do we ensure that their futures can be bright, or that they will have a future at all?</p><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-black-on-black-crime.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-black-on-black-crime" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Black-on-black crime" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Thu, 18 Jul 2013 08:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-07-18/morning-shift-black-black-crime-108098 Illinois leaders hold another pension meeting, still no clear deal http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-leaders-hold-another-pension-meeting-still-no-clear-deal-107714 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/madigan_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Illinois&rsquo; top public officials met behind closed doors Friday to discuss the state&rsquo;s $100 billion pension debt. And still, there is no clear compromise on pension reform.</p><p dir="ltr">The meeting, and pensions stalemate, comes as Gov. Pat Quinn called lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session next week to address pension reform.</p><p dir="ltr">Without a compromise from legislative leaders, lawmakers have been left wondering why the special session is necessary.</p><p dir="ltr">Quinn said Friday he wants state senators to re-vote on a bill they soundly rejected two weeks ago, but was approved in the House.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to make a Herculean effort to get &lsquo;yes&rsquo; votes on that bill,&rdquo; Quinn told reporters.</p><p dir="ltr">But Senate President John Cullerton says getting 20 senators to flip their votes will be tough.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So, uh, I&rsquo;m not very optimistic,&rdquo; Cullerton said.</p><p dir="ltr">Meantime, Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno says she was uncomfortable at Friday&rsquo;s meeting watching Democratic leaders disagree.</p><p dir="ltr">Democrats hold supermajorities in the House and Senate in Springfield and the leaders in those two chambers have yet to see eye-to-eye on the best way to reduce retirement benefits of state employees.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I kind of felt like I was witness an awkward family fight,&rdquo; Radogno said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s clear that there&rsquo;s not agreement, even close to agreement between the Democrats.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Quinn also requested that lawmakers form a rare, special panel of lawmakers, called a conference committee, to come up with an agreed-upon pension plan. But that, too, was rejected by House Speaker Michael Madigan.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;m concerned on the conference committee that it&rsquo;s an effort by the governor to distance himself from the process,&rdquo; Madigan said.</p><p dir="ltr">But Quinn defended that plan, saying conference committees are designed to break a legislative stalemate when no other solutions are present.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 14 Jun 2013 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-leaders-hold-another-pension-meeting-still-no-clear-deal-107714 Top House Republican thinks Democrats purposely haven’t passed pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/top-house-republican-thinks-democrats-purposely-haven%E2%80%99t-passed-pensions-107663 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cross.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The top Republican in the Illinois House of Representatives says he thinks Democratic leaders are purposely not passing pension reform for their own political gain.</p><p>There are lots of conspiracies for why pension reform hasn&rsquo;t been approved, from the basic stance that it&rsquo;s purely a legal debate over how to interpret the constitution, to another, more complex thought: that the powerful House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan is stalling because it would somehow help his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, become governor in next year&rsquo;s election.</p><p>Lisa Madigan has only said she&rsquo;s considering a run for governor. Today - House Republican leader Tom Cross was asked if he subscribes to that second theory.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes,&rdquo; Cross said.</p><p>Cross repeated his answer of &ldquo;yes&rdquo; seven times to a series of reporters&rsquo; questions that ranged from why Michael Madigan and his fellow Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, would benefit from it, to how it would help Lisa Madigan&rsquo;s potential campaign.</p><p>Cross eventually expanded on his thoughts, saying Democrats in Illinois are powerful and if the leaders in the Senate and House really wanted pension reform passed, they would&rsquo;ve done it already.</p><p>&ldquo;The two most powerful guys in the State of Illinois can get anything done,&rdquo; Cross said. &ldquo;They pass a tax increase in the middle of the night, highest tax increase in the history of the state. Two guys that passed a pension holiday in the mid-2000s without blinking an eye can&rsquo;t get this done? Seriously? I mean, seriously?&rdquo;</p><p>For his part, House Speaker Michael Madigan said earlier this week that if he didn&rsquo;t want pension reform done, he wouldn&rsquo;t have worked to pass a bill that ultimately failed in the state Senate.</p><p>At that same media availability, Cullerton credited Madigan&rsquo;s passage of the bill in the House with helping get labor groups to the negotiating table and endorse a rival pension bill.</p><p>Cross&rsquo;s comments on Wednesday came on the same day Speaker Madigan filed an amendment on a pension reform bill passed by the State Senate. Madigan&rsquo;s amendment includes the language that the House had approved earlier in the legislative session, but rivals the Senate plan. A hearing on the amendment is scheduled for next week.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers statehouse politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a></em></p></p> Wed, 12 Jun 2013 14:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/top-house-republican-thinks-democrats-purposely-haven%E2%80%99t-passed-pensions-107663 Quinn offers new pension proposal, but fate in legislature uncertain http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-offers-new-pension-proposal-fate-legislature-uncertain-107620 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/cullerton-madigan.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to approve a plan that has previously stalled in the state senate. He has called legislators back to Springfield next week for a special, one-day session to address pension reform after they adjourned for the summer without sending a bill to the governor&rsquo;s desk for approval.</p><p>Quinn met privately for two hours on Monday with Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Chicago Democrats. Quinn&rsquo;s plan is one Cullerton had supported, in which two rival pension reform plans are attached to the same bill. That way, if one plan is found unconstitutional by the courts, then the second plan would be put into effect.</p><p>&ldquo;We put one idea after another before both houses of the legislature,&rdquo; Quinn said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a way to accomplish it if the two leaders work together as they have over and over again over the last several years.&rdquo;</p><p>Cullerton said he&rsquo;s willing to try Quinn&rsquo;s idea. Cullerton had pitched the plan of putting both pension reform bills on one single piece of legislation months ago, but the plan stalled earlier this year. On Monday, Cullerton blamed The Civic Committee headed by former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner, for taking votes away from the plan.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re the ones that killed the original Senate Bill 1, so they&rsquo;ve gotta make a decision whether or not they want to support this new proposal that the governor&rsquo;s asked me to try to pass,&rdquo; Cullerton said.</p><p>But Speaker Madigan wouldn&rsquo;t commit to calling the bill for a vote, telling reporters repeatedly that the governor can make the differences between the two pension proposals simple or complex. Madigan said he wants the governor to meet with individual state senators to pass the bill approved by the House, something labor unions oppose. He said that is the simple choice.</p><p>&ldquo;When we passed the House pension bill, we didn&rsquo;t have 60 votes to pass the bill until I had personal conversations with about 20 House members, persuaded them vote for the bill,&rdquo; Madigan said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s what we need the governor to do.&rdquo;</p><p>The bill Madigan passed in the House of Representatives calls for a variety of cuts to retirement benefits for state employees, including raising the retirement age and reducing cost of living increases. Cullerton&rsquo;s plan offers some state employees a choice between health care in retirement or cost of living increases. Many labor organizations favor Cullerton&rsquo;s bill and have said Madigan&rsquo;s plan is unconstitutional.</p><p>After Monday&rsquo;s private meeting, Quinn suggested to reporters that Cullerton and Madigan may not be motivated to pass a pension reform bill.</p><p>&ldquo;John Cullerton and Mike Madigan have known each other for 34 years. They&rsquo;re close friends. They&rsquo;re family friends,&rdquo; Quinn told reporters Monday. &ldquo;And when they want to put a bill on my desk that&rsquo;s one of their priorities, they know how to do it.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 10 Jun 2013 15:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-offers-new-pension-proposal-fate-legislature-uncertain-107620 Quinn prepared to call special session on pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-prepared-call-special-session-pensions-107529 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP429581287377_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said he&rsquo;s ready to call a special session. That&rsquo;s after lawmakers failed to pass a pension plan last week. But first, the governor says he wants leaders to work out an agreement first.</p><p>Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton met Tuesday morning to discuss the state&rsquo;s pension system. Missing from the meeting, was House Speaker Michael Madigan. Quinn said Madigan was unavailable and unreachable because he doesn&rsquo;t carry a cell phone.</p><p>The governor said he wasn&rsquo;t frustrated by the speaker&rsquo;s absence, but focused on solving the pension problem.</p><p>Last week, Madigan had made remarks that a lack of leadership in the Senate is one reason why there is no solution to the state&rsquo;s nearly $100 billion pension liability. Before adjourning, Cullerton looked straight at Madigan when expressing his disappointment at the lack of movement on pensions.</p><p>The governor says for things to move, Madigan and Cullerton need to get past personal differences.</p><p>&ldquo;On Friday, John Cullerton and Michael Madigan in the House of Representatives working together for a pension holiday for the city of Chicago. So if they can work for a pension holiday, they can work for pension reform for the people of Illinois,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a legislative bid to secure a 2 year break from making pension payment to the Chicago Public Schools retirement fund.</p><p>Quinn said he wouldn&rsquo;t sign off on that bill if a statewide pension plan wasn&rsquo;t in place first.</p><p>On Monday, Fitch Ratings downgraded the state&rsquo;s bond rating. Illinois has the lowest general obligation bond rating of any state.</p><p>Quinn says that will continue if a pension plan isn&rsquo;t approved.</p><p><em>Susie An covers business for WBEZ. Follow her at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/soosiean">@soosiean</a></em></p></p> Tue, 04 Jun 2013 14:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-prepared-call-special-session-pensions-107529 Illinois Senate rejects one of two pension reform bills http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-rejects-one-two-pension-reform-bills-107450 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/capitol.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>As Illinois lawmakers prepare Friday for their final day of the Spring session, the issue most say should be top priority received a blow Thursday evening.</p><p>The full state Senate overwhelmingly rejected a pension reform plan supported by the House of Representatives but panned by several labor unions. Just 17 senators, mostly Republicans, voted in favor of the bill.</p><p>&ldquo;How do you breach a contract?&rdquo; Democratic State Sen. Kwame Raoul asked during a floor debate Thursday evening. &ldquo;Well, you renege on a promise.&rdquo;</p><p>The majority of senators voting against the bill said it doesn&#39;t meet the standards of Illinois&#39; constitution. Unions representing state workers had vowed a lawsuit if the bill passed. But those who spoke in favor of the plan stressed the importance of passing a pension reform bill.</p><p>&ldquo;Retirees are worried and they should be that if we don&rsquo;t take care of this problem, they may go to the mailbox some day and not have a check that they were expecting,&rdquo; said Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno.</p><p>The bill called for a number of changes to employees&#39; retirement plans, including raising the retirement age and reducing cost of living increases in retirement.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn condemned the senate&#39;s vote, saying in a statement, &ldquo;Failure to send me a comprehensive pension reform bill hurts our economy and costs Illinois taxpayers $17 million a day.&rdquo;</p><p>Earlier this year, the Senate passed a rival pension plan that offers certain employees a choice between state subsidized health care or cost of living increases. Senate President John Cullerton has said that choice is critical to finding savings in the pension system while still obeying the state constitution.</p><p>With lawmakers scheduled to adjourn Friday, it&#39;s not clear what a compromise between the House and the Senate will look like.</p><p>Meantime, the House of Representatives adopted a bill shifting the cost of pensions from the state onto universities and community colleges.</p><p>Universities had said the added costs will force them to raise tuition in the future, but those representing Illinois colleges still supported the measure.</p><p>&ldquo;Why on earth they would agree to this is beyond me,&rdquo; said Republican State Rep. Tom Cross.</p><p>In a committee Thursday, a spokesman representing universities said Illinois&rsquo; public universities wanted to be a part of helping the state with its public pension funding problem.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 May 2013 08:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-rejects-one-two-pension-reform-bills-107450 The Ghost of Illinois Pensions Yet to Come http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/ghost-illinois-pensions-yet-come-104489 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F71955067" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/ghosts-illinois-pensions-past-104467">Earlier this week we received a visit</a>&nbsp;from the Ghosts of Pensions Past which shed light on how Illinois came to have the worst-funded pension system in the country. Basically, for decades Springfield chronically shortchanged the pension piggybank&nbsp;&ndash; not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge.</p><p>Now, we continue our series by looking at how we dig ourselves out of this mess with a visit from the Ghost of Pensions Yet To Come. What will Illinois state employees be saying about their retirement plans 30 years from now, based on the decisions made today?</p><p>If you&rsquo;re still not sure how bad Illinois&rsquo; current pension crisis is, well, clearly you haven&rsquo;t been paying much attention to Gov. Pat Quinn.&nbsp;Quinn has compared the current pension situation to the Battle at Waterloo, the sinking of the Titanic and more recently, the fiscal cliff. He&#39;s even talked about it in somewhat cosmic terms.</p><p>&quot;We can accomplish something that will last far beyond our years here on earth,&quot; Quinn said earlier this month.</p><p>Basically what you need to know is this: Illinois is $95 billion dollars in the hole when it comes to funding its state worker&rsquo;s pensions systems.&nbsp;It took <a href="http://www.wbez.org/illinois-pension-problems-go-back-decades-104454">decades</a> for the state to get in this fix. And it may take at least that long to get out of it, which is why the governor often talks in terms of legacy.&nbsp;Whatever is done to deal with pensions now could have an impact on the state&rsquo;s finances for the long haul.</p><p>It&rsquo;s a thorny problem, one that has bedeviled Illinois politicians for years.&nbsp;So the question now is, who will answer the call?</p><p>Well, Daniel Biss for one. Biss is fairly new to the Illinois Statehouse and represents the 17th District in the House of Representatives.&nbsp;When the north suburban Democrat was first elected, he actually volunteered to serve on the two pension committees.</p><p>&quot;Of course, I didn&rsquo;t understand that nobody wants to be on the pension committee,&quot; Biss said in an interview.</p><p>When asked if the pensions committee was anything like sitting at the lunch table with the cool kids, Biss said, &quot;You know, I come from mathematics. So I don&rsquo;t even know how to find the cool kids table in the cafeteria, but I&rsquo;m pretty sure this isn&rsquo;t it.&quot;</p><p>Biss used to teach math, but not just any math. He taught algebraic topology.</p><p>&quot;So what that was, still is, without me, is using algebraic structures to study higher dimensional geometric spaces,&quot; he said.</p><p>So if Biss can use algebraic structures to understand higher dimensional geometric spaces, then pensions should be a breeze, right?</p><p>&quot;Well let me begin by leveling with you,&quot; Biss said. &quot;It has not been the case that the exact work I did as a mathematician has carried over directly into pension work.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fortner.JPG" style="float: right; height: 224px; width: 300px;" title="State Representative Mike Fortner. (Tony Arnold/WBEZ)" />Okay, so who else we got?</div><p>How about Republican State Representative Mike Fortner? Fortner teachers physics at Northern Illinois University and is a particle physicist at Fermilab who&rsquo;s spent 20 years studying the nature of matter.</p><p>But he also has been studying the state&#39;s pension situation.</p><p>&quot;When I started looking at the pension problem, to me, seeing something that was growing too fast for our revenue, this looks like a math problem that you oughta be able to take a spreadsheet and unroll the spreadsheet and put in numbers and say, &lsquo;What will it take to make the pension system sustainable?&rsquo;&quot; Fortner said.</p><p>Fortner may be onto something here. Let&rsquo;s run with that math problem idea.</p><p>Imagine Professor Fortner and Professor Biss are standing at a chalkboard.&nbsp;If funding proposal x is added to proposal y is added to proposal z, what will it take to zero out the $95 billion pension debt?</p><p>There are lots of potential answers, some more divisive than others, but let&rsquo;s look at just four of them.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/idea1.jpg" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Fortner likes the idea of giving employees&rsquo; a choice to enter into a plan similar to a 401K, where the employee manages their own investment strategy. He&nbsp;said some university employees around Illinois already have plans like this, so the state can more easily predict what it&rsquo;s getting into.</div><p>&quot;They have a choice as to what system they are going into,&quot; Fortner said.</p><p>Fortner said he&rsquo;s crunched the numbers and this idea can work.&nbsp;Then again, many analysts say it won&rsquo;t save enough money.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/idea2%20copy.jpg" title="" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Retired state employees currently get pay bumps each year to help them keep up with the increasing costs of, well, everything.&nbsp;Biss said those pay bumps are expensive.</div></div><p>&quot;I think everybody agrees you can&rsquo;t solve the problem without having some impact on that,&quot; he said.</p><p>Biss has proposed delaying those pay increases to later in an employees&rsquo; retirement.&nbsp;But Fortner said the state has already committed to those pay bumps and they&rsquo;d be hard to change.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/idea3.jpg" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Arguably the most controversial idea involves straight up changing who pays for pensions for downstate and suburban teachers.&nbsp;Currently, the state pays which Biss says makes no sense.</div><p>&quot;If you were to blow everything up and restart, you would never come up with the current system,&quot; Biss said. &quot;You would never say the school districts don&rsquo;t even have the retirement costs of their employees on their budget.&quot;</p><p>This funding proposal would gradually make each school district pay.&nbsp;But Fortner says school districts would need more cash, which would have to come from somewhere.</p><p>&quot;In the districts I represent, most of the revenue has to come from the property taxes and property taxes are already pretty high and that&rsquo;s one thing that the public pretty frequently says, &#39;We don&rsquo;t want to see higher property taxes,&#39;&quot; Fortner said.</p><p>And that brings us to the impact these will have on state employees who have been banking on these pensions.&nbsp;How do they feel?</p><p>&quot;Truthfully, I don&rsquo;t like the sound of a whole bunch of stuff,&quot; said&nbsp;Patricia Ousley, who has worked for the state&rsquo;s unemployment office in Chicago for more than 36 years.&nbsp;She&rsquo;s also very active in the union and is the president of Local 1006.</p><p>Ousley said she put in her money for retirement, but the state didn&rsquo;t hold up its end of the bargain. Now she worries about all these new pension formulas and how they might affect someone like her who&rsquo;s looking to retire soon.</p><p>&quot;I do have grandkids and I spoil them when I can just because I can, because they&rsquo;re grandkids,&quot; she said. &quot;And you want to have money to do that and I think once I leave here, being on a set income, those things will be depleted somewhat. I won&rsquo;t be able to do what I do now.&quot;</p><p>Ousley said she doesn&rsquo;t know what it will take to make the pensions sustainable.&nbsp;But she suggests raising taxes.&nbsp;</p><p>The problem is almost everyone agrees that raising taxes isn&rsquo;t going to fix the problem; that pension costs are rising too fast.&nbsp;So it will likely take more than one idea to get the state out of this jam, which brings up its own issues. Namely, a little thing called the Illinois Constitution.</p><p>&quot;You have to understand that we have a constitution which is very specific about how you deal with changing pensions. You cannot unilaterally pass a law to reduce someone&rsquo;s pension,&quot; said Illinois Senate President&nbsp;John Cullerton, who&nbsp;has his own plan.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/idea4.jpg" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Cullerton wants to offer state workers like Ousley a choice: take a cut in health care or take a cut in pay bumps retirees&rsquo; get every year.</div><p>Cullerton, who already passed the plan in the Senate, said the beauty of his formula is that employees get to choose. According to the Senate leader, that makes it the most legally sound option out there.&nbsp;But Biss, who would still have to vote for it in the House, &nbsp;is critical of the plan.</p><p>&quot;On a human level, if you&rsquo;re asking someone to choose between health care and their pension, it doesn&rsquo;t feel like a positive choice,&quot; Biss said.</p><p>So where does this leave things?</p><p>Well, unfortunately it&rsquo;s not just a math problem, it&rsquo;s also a political and legal problem.&nbsp;If the courts strike down whatever may be approved, some lawmakers worry they&rsquo;ll end up back at the chalkboard, essentially erasing all those equations for pension reform we mentioned.</p><p>That means future Illinoisans could be dealing with this for years to come.</p><p>If so, Daniel Biss&rsquo;s kid already has a head start.<br /><br />&quot;My older son is four years old and the other day he was saying to my wife, &#39;Mommy, I just hope that I have a pension,&#39;&quot; Biss said. &quot;I don&rsquo;t know if he knows what a pension is, but he knows two things: One, that there are things that make you nervous, and two, there are things that you hope are going to be there for you.</p><p>That&#39;s something just about everyone can agree on.</p></p> Wed, 19 Dec 2012 16:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/ghost-illinois-pensions-yet-come-104489