Pensions: Back On The Table

Dec 14, 2015

Union members and other pensions regularly rallied in protest of the 2013 pension overhaul, later found to be unconstitutional.
Credit npr.org

  Even with all of its fiscal troubles Illinois will have to put nearly $8 billion into its retirement systems next year -- that's a quarter of the state's expected revenue. Legislative leaders and the governor may finally be poised to begin talking about how they may be able to reduce costs.

A couple of years ago, the statehouse was fixated on what Illinois was doing about its underfunded pension systems. Ultimately, lawmakers passed a bipartisan package that reduced workers' benefits, only for it to be declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Since then, there's been little serious discussion about the pension situation -- until now.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin last week said he, the other legislative leaders and the governor had a "healthy" discussion about pensions.

“No one wants to talk about it but we have to talk about it," he said. "The unfunded liabilities in our system continue to grow. We can't lose sight of it. And I think that we can get there at some point.”

Durkin wouldn't talk about details, other than to say that there are differing opinions on how to move forward. It's a divisive issue to begin with, bt there's already an added complication.

When he left that meeting the House's top Democrat - Speaker Michael Madigan - said Gov. Bruce Rauner has tied his pension ideas to collective bargaining --- the very issue at the heart of Illinois' budget stalemate.

"It gets terribly complicated. Bottom line for understanding is that when the governor talks about changes in the pension laws, he always talks about changes to collective baring. That’s important to understand," Madigan said.

Though they went months without meeting jointly, the leaders and governor are expected to talk again soon, including about pensions.