Judges left out of Illinois pension reform plan
SPRINGFIELD — Legislation intended to curb the rising cost of public pensions in Illinois would reduce the benefits for recipients, except for the judges.
The nearly 1,000 retired judges earn an average annual pension of more than $112,000. The average public employee retiree draws an average annual pension of about $40,000.
At the heart of Madigan's legislation is a stark choice for current employees and retirees.
One, choose between smaller cost-of-living increases and remain eligible for retiree health care. Or two, get larger COLAs but be ineligible for retiree health care. The changes are borne from an attempt to slow the ballooning cost of public pensions, which is increasing from $4.2 billion this year, to $5.1 billion next year. How much the state would save won't be known until employees and retirees choose an option.
Unions say the choices are unconstitutional, that they reduce benefits for current retirees, no matter what recipients decide. Reducing benefits for current retirees could violate Illinois’ constitutional provision, calling pension benefits an unbreakable contract, unions say.
If the current changes to public pensions manage to squeak out of the General Assembly and get Gov. Pat Quinn's OK, the public unions would probably sue the state.
Ultimately, the fate of the legislation would be decided by the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court, who, coincidentally, are members of the public pension Judges' Retirement System.
“I would call this buying off the judges. It’s a very sad situation, but it’s inevitable,” said Ann Lousin, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who helped draft the Illinois Constitution in 1970.
Madigan, D-Chicago, said judges were left out of the legislation to avoid a conflict of interest.
Madigan danced around questions of whether the omission of judges was a way to get a favorable ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court.
Leaving judges' pensions alone has some precedent. Judges were exempted when the state scaled back pension benefits in 2010 for new employees.
Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, has his own reasons for criticizing Madigan’s pension legislation. But, Cross said, he would have liked to have seen judges’ pensions included.
In addition to handing out the largest annual pensions, JRS has the second highest discrepancy between what it owes current and future retirees compared to the assets it has on hand, also known as an unfunded liability.
A 2011 report on the five systems that make up the state’s public pensions shows that the JRS has an unfunded liability of $1.3 billion, or 71 percent. The worst funded public pension system is the General Assembly Retirement System, which has an unfunded liability of $197 million, or 78 percent, and is included in the pension reform legislation.
Andrew Thomason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
73.0 F (22.8 C)
Pressure : 1016.3 mb
Humidity : 71 %
Wind : Southeast at 9.2 MPH (8 KT)
What's on FOX Illinois Full Schedule
That '70s Show
MLB Player Poll