Illinois politicians are still vacillating on their budget. Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton have shaken hands on pension reform legislation, and that bill is now being drafted. Let’s hope. Because pension bills in the past have run the gauntlet of controversy and opposition. The union, for one, may not so readily accept this new plan.
The plan seems simple and passably attractive. It focuses on giving state employees a choice. For instance, an employee who wants to keep the 3 percent, compounded cost-of-living benefits payable in retirement would have to accept a lower pensionable salary. On the other hand, the employee could take the higher salary while working but get smaller cost-of-living raises while in retirement.
Supporters of the Cullerton plan say it could save Illinois about $1 billion annually. They expect the plan to be opposed.
Cullerton is more optimistic. Certainly the Illinois Supreme Court tends to throw out pension reform efforts as happened in 2013 when it said that membership in a public pension system is a contractual relationship and therefore its benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.” But Cullerton expects support from Speaker Madigan, D- Chicago, whom he described as “not reluctant to take on pension reform.”
The problem may come from other politicians who are ringing bells for the budget bill. Pension reform, some say can wait.
“The problem is going to be many of our members are probably going to say… what about the rest of the budget? What about all the other issues?’”
That’s a good question.
Illinois faces an ongoing budget impasse that has lasted since July in addition to pension funding issues. Perhaps, once one has been resolved the other will follow forthwith.