Week in Review: Illinois pension reform still top priority
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Capitol was quiet a week after lawmakers closed out the spring legislative session, but pension reform negotiations continue behind closed doors in Chicago.
The state’s four top legislative leaders met with Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday in Chicago to begin hashing out pension reform.
The reform effort fell apart in the final hours of the legislative session, when lawmakers disagreed over shifting some costs to local school districts. Democrats supported the cost-shift, but Republicans said they feared it would lead to property tax hikes.
Quinn met with Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago; House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago; House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego; and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
State officials are gathering information from school districts statewide to find out how shifting some pension costs to them and away from the state would affect their bottom line.
“We can’t have partial solutions. That won’t get the job done,” Quinn told reporters after meeting with the leaders.
The reform package is a top priority for Quinn. If the state’s mounting pension liability goes unaddressed, its bond rating could be downgraded.
A recalculation of the investment returns in one of the state’s major pension funds could affect reform efforts this summer.
The Teachers Retirement System, the largest state-run public pension system, is recalculating the amount of money it makes on its investments. If the figure is lower than the current expected rate of return of 8.5 percent, the system’s unfunded liability would increase.
Furthermore, if the recalculated rate of return is less than 7.75 percent, the unfunded liability will continue to grow yearly, a state budget expert said.
TRS has an unfunded liability of $44 billion, or 55 percent unfunded, meaning it only has enough assets on hand to cover 45 percent of the cost of current and future pensions.
TRS recalculates its expected rate of return every five years. The latest recommendation to change the rate could come as soon as the system’s June 21-22 board meeting. TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek said no decision has been made, and no options have been presented to board members.
A panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday recommended that the state House pursue disciplinary action against indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith.
Members of the six-person House Special Investigative Committee, formed to examine a federal bribery charge against Smith, a Chicago Democrat, said their probe is complete, and reasonable grounds exist to pursue discipline against him.
The punishment, if any, could be reprimand, censure or expulsion. A new House committee will meet within the next 30 days to begin deliberating what should happen to Smith, who faces a federal charge of accepting a $7,000 bribe.
The new bipartisan Select Committee on Discipline will be headed by state Reps. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, and Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. It will have 12 members, or “jurors,” who will be appointed from the House — six from each party. Lang and Durkin will “try” the case, and the jurors will hear the case.
Any recommendation of punishment must go before the full House for a vote. A two-thirds majority is required for punishment to be handed down.
“Personally, it saddens me that we’re here today, not only personally, but on behalf of the institution — to go through this process with one of our members. I wish it were otherwise, but these are the cards we were dealt,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, chairwoman of the Special Investigative Committee.
A $2.5-million settlement check from the Illinois State Police to former death row inmate Randy Steidl must be in hand by June 15, according to records in a civil rights lawsuit pending in federal court.
State police spokeswoman Monique Bond could not verify whether the agency anticipates any problems getting the settlement money to Steidl by the deadline.
“All I can confirm at this time is that the settlement has been approved,” Bond said.
The settlement was approved in October, but the General Assembly had to appropriate the funds, which will come from the fiscal 2013 budget.
Steidl, who turned 60 last year, spent more than 17 years in prison — 12 on death row — for the 1986 killings of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads in their Paris, Ill., home. The two were stabbed to death and their house set on fire.
The settlement with the state police, if it goes through, means the agency will be dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit, which is still pending against other defendants, such as the former Edgar County state’s attorney and the City of Paris.
Steidl's attorney Flint Taylor, who works for the People’s Law Office in Chicago, said the state has agreed to pay the settlement by June 15.
“We’re hopeful that’s going to happen. We’re in contact with the lawyers for the state, and they’re making every effort to comply,” he said.
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