Illinois’ four legislative leaders may be drawing closer on an agreement that could address the state’s massive public pension debt.
The House Speaker, Senate President and the Republican Leaders in each chamber have told rank-and-file members to be prepared to return to Springfield during the first week of December for a possible vote.
In June, pension reform negotiations were given to a bipartisan Conference Committee, which worked for months exploring details and seeking common ground. Now, those discussions have been returned to the state’s four legislative leaders.
That’s not unusual, as initial discussions on major issues are often handled by senior lawmakers assigned to work through the broad outlines of a possible agreement. Discussions are then frequently turned back to the top leaders to nail down the details and determine if sufficient votes can be found to pass a measure.
Worst-funded Pensions in Nation
Illinois holds the record for the worst-funded public pension system in the nation – about $100 billion in unfunded liability, and assets to cover less than 40% of the debt the state owes. The state’s poor pension funding has been a major contributor to Illinois having the worst credit rating in the nation.
Although there appears to be progress toward a proposal that all four legislative leaders can urge their members to support, no final decision can be made until the ideas under discussion are “scored” by financial experts. That’s a painstaking process that relies on complex financial projections as to what the impact of each individual component may be on the retirement systems over the coming decades. Those calculations are then used to arrive at an estimated overall savings.
Park District Reform Goes to Governor
In the meantime, another pension reform designed to address problems at the Chicago Park District is now on the Governor’s desk. Senate Bill 1523 will be closely watched on two fronts. Although Governor Pat Quinn has claimed he was “put on earth” to accomplish pension reform, he has done little to advance pension reform discussions.
Components of the Park District plan, which passed with strong bipartisan support during the final week of the fall veto session, are similar to provisions under consideration for the state reforms. With the proposal now on his desk, the Governor will be hard-pressed to reject the reforms, but will also be facing strong pressure from his union allies who are staunchly opposed to any pension changes.
Should the Governor sign the measure, it will likely go quickly to the courts, where it could help define the parameters of what changes will be viewed as constitutional. The Illinois Constitution contains one of the strongest pension guarantees in the nation and a key concern throughout the debate over pension reform has been how to craft changes that will pass constitutional muster.
CUB Phone Bill Clinic November 19 in St. Charles
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) will be offering tips to save money on phone bills at a free Community Phone Bill Clinic at 10:00 a.m., November 19, at the City Hall/Municipal Center, 2 East Main Street in St. Charles.
CUB representatives will be on hand to analyze phone bills one-on-one and show participants how to save money. CUB is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1983 to represent the interests of residential utility customers across the state.
For more information, call my office at 630-800-1992.
Huge Medicaid Increase in State
An Associated Press report has found that while “only a few hundred middle-class Illinois residents were able to sign up for health insurance” when the federal health insurance exchange opened in October, the state’s system for signing up new Medicaid recipients has seen applicants signing up “by the thousands.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states did not have to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act (commonly called “Obamacare”), Illinois elected to greatly increase eligibility anyway. Just one year after lawmakers placed a moratorium on expanding Medicaid, Democrats in Illinois approved an expansion of the program in May that is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion over the next seven years.
Senate Bill 26 made almost 350,000 individuals eligible for the Medicaid program beginning on Jan. 1, 2014. That increase was in addition to 250,000 Medicaid enrollees added in 2012 as a result of a Cook County waiver to implement “Obamacare” earlier. At the time, Republicans raised concerns that Medicaid costs are already one of the fastest-growing components of the state budget, even outpacing the rising costs of the state’s public pension systems.