Rauner Laughs At Cullerton Suggestion That Pensions, AFSCME Contracts Are Tied

May 23, 2016

Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaking in his Springfield office Monday, is pressing for a reduction in the state's pension costs through lesser benefits, as part of a grand budget compromise.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

It's been a year since the state Supreme Court found Illinois' big pension law unconstitutional, and an attempt to get a new law passed is stalled.

Lawmakers' goal is to reduce the state's expenses for its vastly underfunded pensions.

The court says it's illegal to do it by reducing an employees' retirement benefits.

Senate President John Cullerton and Governor Bruce Rauner think they have a way around that.

The idea is to push employees to opt-in to earning a lesser pension benefits; those who don't would have it forced on them in a roundabout way, by not applying future salary hikes toward their pensions (the idea being that raises aren't constitutionally guaranteed).

Though it's Cullerton idea, he says there's a reason the the Senate hasn't voted on it.

"It's very difficult to pass a pension bill with union opposition," Cullerotn said last week. "And I can empathize with the folks from AFSCME who don't know what their salary is going to be for the next four years or what their health care package is going to be. So it's kind of difficult to ask them to sacrifice their pensions when we don't even know what their contract is. So if the governor's interesting in helping us pass a pension reform he's going to need to deal with the contract with the unions."

Rauner literally laughed aloud at the notion when asked about it at a press conference Monday.

"I love John. That comment's kinda goofy," he said. "I mean, here's the issue: he's advocated for pension reform. I'm advocating his plan. That has nothing to do with any particular round of contract negotiations. They're not related."

Contract negotiations between the state's largest public workers' union and the Rauner administration are stalled. The state labor relations board is deciding if they've reached an official impasse.

Illinois has the nation's largest outstanding long-term pension debt.