By Ben Yount, the Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Public employee unions in Illinois are trying to kill pending pension reform, even though the state is making some extraordinary promises.
Even though the state would pay more and guarantee billions for the defined contribution plans before lawmakers decide how much to spend on schools, roads, public safety or social services.
“The average voter does not get to retire in their early 50s and get their salary for the rest of their lives with escalators,” Bruce Rauner a GOP candidate for governor and avowed opponent of Illinois’ public employee unions told Illinois Watchdog.
Illinois is promising an additional $1 billion a year for 25 years — from 2019 to 2044.
- The state paid more than $8 billion for pensions this year
Rauner says the reform package is a gift to big labor, though unions vehemently oppose it.
The legislation would end astronomic cost-of-living adjustments, have some public employees working longer, cap future public pensions in the low six figures and end an egregious practice in which union officials roll union work into pension systems. Under reform, public employees would pay less for their retirements.
Not good enough, Rauner says.
“(This plan) gives more power to the government union bosses. That’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. This would allow the government union bosses to push their pension payments ahead of public safety spending, education spending, the social safety net.”
Rauner is focusing on the funding guarantee, which would allow public employee unions to sue the state if lawmakers fail to pay as promised.
The reform package would save $160 billion over the next 30 years, supporters say, but no one in Springfield is putting numbers on the annual payments.
Cory Eucalitto, an editor and author for State Budget Solutions, said Illinois’ pension debt is far more than $100 billion, the figure lawmakers are using. The proposed reforms don’t save that much, he said.
“Compared to their current assets, (Illinois’ pension) plans combined are just 20.1 percent funded. $20 billion in savings will only reduce the unfunded liability to $235 billion and raise the funded ratio a laughable 1.4 percent,” Eucualitto wrote in his analysis.
Ecualitto takes issue with the 401(k)-style defined contribution option, which is included in the reform. Just 5 percent of public employees can enroll, and the money can be “swept” up by the state and spent on other “needs.”
Rauner said Illinois should take a lesson from the private sector and get out of the pension business altogether.
“The state of Illinois’ government looks a lot like GM,” Rauner said. “We’ve become, in effect, a pension operation and a health-care operation for employees.”
Illinois lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday afternoon, and Rauner expects the pension reform package to become law.