LAWMAKERS APPROVE REFORMS TO PENSION SYSTEMS
Illinois lawmakers have approved long-awaited reforms to state and local pension systems as one means of addressing the state’s massive debt.
Senate Bill 1946 applies to all state and local pension systems with the exception of Chicago fire and police, and downstate/suburban fire and police. It does not affect current employees and retirees, and applies only to employees hired after the bill becomes law.
Legislators of both parties supported the package as a means of trying to correct the state’s fiscal crisis and keep the current pension systems from collapsing.
It’s a good first step. We have had trouble getting the machine politicians to understand that there is a private sector out there that is struggling. And as state revenues have lagged, the majority party has continued to pit pension liabilities against good government. Calls for reform have been ignored and unfunded liabilities continued to escalate, which puts the entire system at risk.
The state’s five pension systems have historically been underfunded and as a result, Senate Republicans worked with former Governor Jim Edgar to improve the situation with an advanced payment schedule. However, in 2005 members of the majority party and former Governor Rod Blagojevich started ignoring the schedule and taking pension “holidays” to skip payments.
Illinois’ fiscal rating has taken a hit because of missed payments and the overall underfunding. The state is officially ranked as the worst in the nation in terms of pension indebtedness and ability to make payments.
This legislation will also protect taxpayers in future years – our children and grandchildren who were going to have to foot the bill for the unfunded liabilities. We initiated these reforms a long time ago and I am pleased to finally see them be adopted. We have a long way to go though. This is just the beginning to reforming Illinois’ pensions.
Senate Bill 1946’s main provisions – affecting new hires only – include:
* Reduces benefits for members of the Judiciary and General Assembly; Increases the retirement age to 67 for employees with 10 years of service.
* Provides an early retirement option with reduced benefits at age 62 for employees with 10 years of service;
* States that the final average salary used to calculate benefits will be based on eight of last 10 years, capped at $106,800;
* Restricts the annual cost-of-living adjustments to the lesser of 3 percent or half of the consumer price index, with no compounding of the benefit;
* Limits survivor’s benefits to two-thirds of retiree’s benefits.
Passed by the House of Representatives and by the Senate March 24, Senate Bill 1946 now moves to the Governor’s desk and will become law with his signature.
HIGHER COSTS FOR VETERANS?
During a Senate budget hearing this week, the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs outlined a budget proposal from the Governor authorizing a $400 monthly fee hike on residents in Illinois’ veterans’ homes.
Senate Republicans expressed concern over the plan, given that many veterans in the facilities face serious health challenges and live on fixed incomes.
If approved, it would be the first fee increase on veterans in the state’s veterans’ homes since 1979.
LAWMAKERS QUESTION CORRECTIONS’ DIRECTOR
Also during the week, the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections was grilled by lawmakers about the Governor’s controversial early-release program that resulted in more than 1,700 inmates being discharged from state prison after spending virtually no time behind bars.
Under the Meritorious Good Time Push Program, known gang members, repeat drunk drivers, people convicted of domestic battery, and even criminals with murder in their backgrounds were released. Many immediately committed additional violent crimes after being let out.
The sale of Thomson Prison to the federal government was also a subject of Senate testimony. The Governor’s Office announced it intends to vacate the facility by the end of April and then declare it a “surplus” property to be sold to the Obama Administration.
Critics have noted the prison is being sold despite the fact the state’s maximum security facilities are at nearly 140 percent of capacity. Lawmakers also expressed concern that the sale, if enacted as planned, could result in a loss of nearly $100 million for taxpayers.
STATE POLICE TO LAY OFF 464 TROOPERS
The Director of the Illinois State Police revealed during a Senate hearing during the week that the Governor has proposed laying off 464 troopers and closing five of its 21 regional headquarters.
The facilities slated for closure are in Litchfield, Macomb, Carmi, Des Plaines and Pecatonica.
Numerous lawmakers objected to the plan, noting local police departments would be forced to increase their patrols of highways to cover the shortfall, taking away police coverage of neighborhoods and serious crimes.
GOOD NEWS FOR CHICAGO SCHOOLCHILDREN
Also during the week, the Senate approved a bipartisan measure creating a voucher pilot program for the 10 percent lowest performing schools in Chicago.
Under the measure, about 22,000 students could get a voucher to assist in attending private schools.
Senate Bill 2494 now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.