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It’s not a total fix, but Martire’s plan should be incorporated

Thursday, Jan 17, 2013

* Ralph Martire of the pro-union Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has correctly identified the pension funding problem

The vast majority of the unfunded liability is made up of the third contributing factor: debt. Indeed, for more than 40 years. the state used the pension systems like a credit card, borrowing against what it owed them to cover the cost of providing current services, which effectively allowed constituents to consume public services without having to pay the full cost thereof in taxes.

This irresponsible fiscal practice became such a crutch that it was codified into law in 1994 (P.A. 88-0593). That act implemented such aggressive borrowing against pension contributions to fund services that it grew the unfunded liability by more than 350 percent from 1995 to 2010 — by design. Worse, the repayment schedule it created was so back-loaded that it resembles a ski slope, with payments jumping at annual rates no fiscal system could accommodate. Want proof? This year the total pension payment under the ramp is $5.1 billion — more than $3.5 billion of which is debt service. By 2045, that annual payment is scheduled to exceed $17 billion, with all growth being debt service.

* To solve the problem, Martire wants to reamortize that debt. Basically, it’s a refinancing plan

Simply re-amortizing $85 billion of the unfunded liability into flat, annual debt payments of around $6.9 billion each through 2057 does the trick. After inflation, this new, flat, annual payment structure creates a financial obligation for the state that decreases in real terms over time, in place of the dramatically increasing structure under current law. Moreover, because some principal would be front- rather than back-loaded, this re-amortization would cost taxpayers $35 billion less than current law.

This makes a lot of sense on numerous levels. It’s like refinancing a mortgage that had been stupidly rigged with expensive balloon payments.

* However, Wall Street will hate it. Why? Because as soon as you move back the payoff date, the total unfunded liability will skyrocket. And Wall St. is concentrating almost solely right now on that unfunded liability number. If Illinois does this, a big credit rating cut will likely happen.

The Tribune and some big business groups will also hate it. Why? Because it causes no real pain for public employees and retirees. And that’s really what they want.

And others who depend on the state budget will probably hate it, at least in the short term. Why? Because the Martire plan requires a big increase in current pension spending, from $5.1 billion to $6.9 billion. And, remember, the income tax hike is scheduled to sunset two years from now.

* On the other hand, if policy makers could incorporate Martire’s refinancing idea with some other cost-cutting and revenue (requiring higher employee contributions, cost shift, etc.) moves, it might just work.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


92 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:33 pm:

    Martire’s plan makes a lot of sense, bringing stability and predictability to the problem.

    The trick is ensuring those $6.9 billion payments every year. Perhaps the GA could codify that. Revenue could be required to segregate 1/12th payment every month like the state does now with bond service.

    As far as Wall Street is concerned, who cares? They rated the debt high when the GA was stealing from the pension funds, and now they pound you when you try to pay it back.

    Illinois is rated five steps below AAA — yet the spread is just 110 basis points, not exactly Banana Republic stuff. And the real interest cost is as low as anyone can remember.


  2. - Grandson of Man - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:33 pm:

    I remember Mr. Martire discussing this idea on Chicago Tonight or some other TV show. I support this idea, because a reform package incorporating it could do less damage to public employees. I wish that politicians would start giving Mr. Martire’s idea the same consideration as they do those of the Civic Committee.


  3. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:34 pm:

    I’ve always believed that re-doing the ramp was necessary, but only after the funding issues are decided.

    Taxpayers, inlcuding suburban and downstate property tax payers, will need to pay more for pensions. Employees will need to contribute more for pensions. The COLA needs to be amended to end automatic increases. Retirees will need to pay more for healthcare. The hardest part is deciding which of these groups will pay which amounts. That’s where we’re stuck.

    Once that gets figured out, then you can adjust the ramp. Don’t let anyone tell you the pension problem can be solved without more tax money and more money from employees and retirees.

    And no, it isn’t fair. But that’s where we’re at.


  4. - CU Voter - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:37 pm:

    Actually Rich, I’m not sure you’re right on the implications.

    Unfunded liability wouldn’t skyrocket. In fact, if the 6.9 payment is higher than the payment that would otherwise be done, the liability would go down. The attraction to outsiders is that unlike the ‘94 plan, future obligations become more manageable, not less.

    Does the plan say where the money comes from? No reason that the 6.9 billion can’t come in part from pensioners, state workers or local governments.


  5. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:40 pm:

    ===* However, Wall Street will hate it. Why? Because as soon as you move back the payoff date, the total unfunded liability will skyrocket. And Wall St. is concentrating almost solely right now on that unfunded liability number. If Illinois does this, a big credit rating cut will likely happen.
    ===
    I’m not so sure I agree with the above Rich. If the state has a plan to achieve a reasonable funded level by reamortizing its debt repayment to a sustainable level over a clearly stated timeframe, I think the credit rating agencies would look upon that favorably.

    If nothing is done, our credit rating drops due to the unsustainability of the current pension ramp. If Martire’s plan is followed, the state will have taken positive steps to acknowledge and repay the debt it has rung up by using the pensions as a credit card. I think the credit rating agencies would be hard-pressed to ignore those positive steps and state in essence “While we acknowledge the positive steps Illinois has taken to rectify its debt crisis, and even though the pension debt is, in fact, only minimally due today, being instead a long term liability that these steps will drastically reduce in the long term, we are stubbornly and irrationally only looking at the total unfunded liability today, and therefore, reducing Illinois credit rating.”

    I don’t think they can say something like that and retain any amount of credibility…assuming they have much current credibility anyway.


  6. - Ahoy! - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:45 pm:

    We’re in such a deep hole we need to do all three and then some. Martire’s plan makes a lot of sense as long as it’s incorporated into ways to reform the pension system (including fixing Tier 2) in a way that reduces long term liabilities, cut’s general fund spending and finds ways to increase revenue. Personally, I would prefer tax reform such as extending the sales tax to services than the income tax increase.

    Plain and simple, the State needs to make a lot of really hard decisions; there is no one magic bullet.


  7. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    ===Taxpayers, inlcuding suburban and downstate property tax payers, will need to pay more for pensions. Employees will need to contribute more for pensions. The COLA needs to be amended to end automatic increases. Retirees will need to pay more for healthcare. The hardest part is deciding which of these groups will pay which amounts. That’s where we’re stuck.
    ===
    If Martire’s plan offers a credible way to pay the debt back that the state has rung up on the backs of its employees, why do we need to entertain these clearly irresponsible, illegal, immoral and unconstitutional “remedies” at all, much less first?


  8. - Nickypiii - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:49 pm:

    A smart, disciplined approach to start fixing a problem created by the legislature. Penalizing retirees and current workers isn’t fair and won’t pass constitutional muster. Any increase in employee contribution must also have a guarantee that the State’s payments into the system will be made each and every year. Cost shifting must be phased in over time to send teacher pension costs back to the local school districts. The phase in would allow budgeting for increased local costs. This will free up more money for education at the State level. Illinois is at the bottom of the list for educational funding as a percentage of the total cost of education statewide.


  9. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 12:51 pm:

    PublicServant, you have to pass a bill. And you can’t pass a bill unless it is somewhat balanced.


  10. - Fair Share - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:00 pm:

    With all due respect to Martire, because I agree with his explanation of the problem and the proposed solution, it’s not his idea. The “ski slope” or “baloon payment schedule” resulting from the 94 agreement, started to hit the state in earnest in 2007 and 2008 and it was no suprise. Then Gov. Blago proposed a refinancing plan as part of his budgets to ease the slope and extend the payment plan. Madigan quickly rejected the plan and set the stage for the battles that followed as well as the rapidly growing back log of vendor payments. Madigan rejected the plans, not out of any fiscal conservatism (remember he gave RRB a $10 billion pension bond in his first term to enable growth in spending in practically every other category), he rejected the 07 and 08 plans knowing it would cripple the Governor.

    Rich, you have long said, and I agree, the state does not have a spending problem, as measured by size of government and productivity, rather it is and always has been a legacy spending problem created by those who wanted labor peace and pork today paid for by future generations.


  11. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:02 pm:

    I get that Rich. It’s just that I think it is balanced. The taxpayers benefitted through lower taxes these past 5 decades due to the pension borrowing. Now the taxpayers need to pay it back. That seems pretty balanced to me, and Martire’s plan gets us there.

    If I give you $20 towards your bar bill, Rich, and then you come along later and tell me you’re only going to pay me back $15. You somehow think it’s balanced that I eat the $5 plus interest? Only after having too much to drink does that come close to making sense.


  12. - Shemp - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:03 pm:

    First, a $6.9 billion payment is still $1.8 BILLION more than the payment this year. So if the $6.9billion per year pays for the debt, how about the accruing liabilities? How much more is that on top of the $6.9billion?

    There’s nothing bad about re-amortizing the debt, but that doesn’t solve the problem. We still need employee’s to work longer and/or contribute a higher %.

    If it was so easy, why wouldn’t it have been done already?


  13. - but rather - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:04 pm:

    “While we acknowledge the positive steps Illinois has taken to rectify its debt crisis, and even though the pension debt is, in fact, only minimally due today, being instead a long term liability that these steps will drastically reduce in the long term, we are stubbornly and irrationally only looking at the total unfunded liability today, and therefore, reducing Illinois credit rating.”

    ===I don’t think they can say something like that and retain any amount of credibility…assuming they have much current credibility anyway====

    Why bother when they can just say they lowered the rating “for the children”


  14. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    Can we put aside, just for a minute, the taxpayer borrowing from the pension plan argument, the unconstitutional argument, and all the other ad nauseum analogies and try to arrive at some sort of agreement that solves part of this problem. Public employees are going to get hosed eventually one way or another. Working together to find a compromise solution might actually lessen their eventual pain.


  15. - Cassiopeia - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:09 pm:

    I think this plan would be a good part of a balanced approach which will need to have a higher contribution from employees, state gaurantees on making payments and a dedicated new revenue stream to pay down liabilities.

    As to the Tribune and Wall Street —- they don’t seem to be such financial geniuses.


  16. - RetiredStateEmployee - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:12 pm:

    ==If it was so easy, why wouldn’t it have been done already? ==

    Because this is Illinois and the politicians aren’t interested in doing the logic thing, only that which fires up the base and get them re-elected. The middle is at the mercy of the fringes and hence, compromise is lost.


  17. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:15 pm:

    Bill, Martire’s had that plan for years. It’s been ignored. When has the legislature made any attempt to work with and include state retirees, and representatives of current employees in any of the schemes put forward in the past couple of years? It takes two to tango. Invite everyone to the dance.

    But I do agree with you Bill. Let’s get together and talk. Doing nothing is a non starter. Reamortizing the debt per Martire while those discussions occur is a great first step that will show the ratings agencies that we’re serious.


  18. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:17 pm:

    I’m curious about how much per year that 2% additional from state employees would bring in? Anyone have an idea?


  19. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:22 pm:

    P.S,
    Its is about $350 million per point.


  20. - Real Reformer - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:25 pm:

    The big hole in this plan is that there is no way to prevent future borrowing. Level payments are fine so long as you don’t take on more debt, but there must be strict prohibitions on future borrowing and that’s almost impossible to enforce.

    Too little attention has been paid to how the borrowing and skipped payments of the past decade have been the major contributor to the pension systems’ problems today.

    Quinn likes to talk about this as though it’s been a problem for decades, but the truth is, he, Blago, Emil Jones, Madigan and Cullerton have turned a serious problem into a crisis by their actions over the past decade.

    For Martire’s plan to work, you have to have a permanent ban on additional borrowing and that is almost impossible to implement.


  21. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:27 pm:

    So, if the state came to the employees and said you can have a 3% increase in wages and salary if you dedicate 2% more of your paycheck to pensions bringing in approximately 700 million per year for pensions, or…

    you can have a 1% raise…

    I think that might be doable. How’s that for balance Rich?


  22. - Sgtstu - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:29 pm:

    Bill - “Public employees are going to get hosed eventually one way or another.” Public employees have been getting “hosed” every year that the required money was not put into the pensions and borrowed from (and never paid back)by the State. Time for the public to pay up. I disagree with you sir, we are not going to get hosed again. See ya in court !!


  23. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:30 pm:

    Um, good luck with that!


  24. - Endangered Moderate Species - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    I agree with Martire, but as previously stated, we will still need to come up with an additional $5.1B in year one. It makes me sick to think about the kind of debt we are saddling on our kids and grandkids. Every one of us will need to share in the pain including taxpayers and public workers.


  25. - Other - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:39 pm:

    IS the 6.9 billion only for the unfunded liability and not the normal cost? Normal cost for TRS is 8.23% of payroll with the State picking up 6.81% (from the latest TRS annual report), so the TRS normal cost is $630 million give or take. That increases for a while as payroll increases, but at some point, as there are more and more Tier II employees (with a negative normal cost for the State.) Add the other systems…


  26. - Archimedes - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 1:42 pm:

    The $6.9 billion plus the annual Normal Cost of about $1.6 billion = $8.5 billion in pension costs. For 2013-14, it is $6.8 billion (total) using the current law. I think Martire’s plan is still about $2 billion too much for the GA to swallow. Include the cost shift, a reasonable reduction in COLA (down to 2% or 2.5%, not eliminating it per SB1), some reduction in future pension credit - and you could be there.
    Tax retirement income (5% like other income) and you are there - but that will never happen.


  27. - RMD - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:00 pm:

    Enough with the “belly aching” from the public servants. What is being discussed here has significant merit. Everybody has a reason to say “woe is me”, but this attitude will not get it done.


  28. - Did the Math - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:00 pm:

    This is a good idea, but the state will need more that $6.9 billion. If you amortize the $85 billion over 45 years (2012 through 2057) at the rate that the pension systems assume they will earn (something just shy of 8%) you get the $6.9 billion. The state will still need to pay around $2 billion more for the cost of benefits (normal cost). The 6.9 billion did not include new benefit costs on $18.8 billion of payroll. Keep listening to Ralph Martire to see how he would generate additional revenue. [Emphasis added by Rich Miller]


  29. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:01 pm:

    == When has the legislature made any attempt to work with and include state retirees, and representatives of current employees in any of the schemes put forward==
    ==Time for the public to pay up. I disagree with you sir, we are not going to get hosed again. See ya in court !!==

    P.S.,
    I think the second comment is most of the reason why no attempt has been made to include those groups.


  30. - dupage dan - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:02 pm:

    === The trick is ensuring those $6.9 billion payments every year ===

    Also, Illinois gov’t would have to have their paws kept out of the kitty. Since they make the rules, and then ignore them, it’s hard to see them making a rule they can’t break.


  31. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:03 pm:

    Amen, Bill.


  32. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:04 pm:

    Nobody’s belly aching bud, or is that what you call it when someone argues a point? You don’t want to hear reasoned discussion, then move on. Your comment added nothing to this conversation. Congratulations on being inconsequential.


  33. - Meaningless - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:05 pm:

    I’m extremely pleased that Ralph Martire’s plan to reamortize the pension debt is gaining more attention. His plan contributes so much to part of the solution for fixing the problem. Many people have commented that additional revenue would also be needed. There are alot of other brilliant ideas floating around that are very realistic, sound, and moral to create more revenue. One of those ideas put on the table by the We Are One Coalition would be to have current employees contribute 2% more of their paycheck to go along with certain guarantees. The business community needs to do their part and put “more skin in the game” to balance out all the ridiculous benefits they’ve received over the years by stuffing the politicians pockets. The state could also update our sales tax by taxing more services like many other states are already doing. There’s absolutely no reason on earth why a retiree should receive anything less than what was promised through contractual law and constitutionally guaranteed after spending a lifetime planning a retirement based on these promises and protections. It’s outright disgusting and shameful that the “Tribune and some big business groups” would hate Ralph Martire’s plan “becauses it causes no real pain for public employees and retirees.”


  34. - Roadiepig - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:09 pm:

    Martire’s idea has merit, and with employees coughing up another 2% the actual amount needed for “refinancing” could end up below the $6.9 billion figure he came up. Sounds like everyone would have “skin” in this game, which they should since all taxpayers benefited from the skipped payments.

    The Tribbies, bond houses, and CCC of course will never agree to anything close to this because it wouldn’t gut the pensions to the retirees.


  35. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:12 pm:

    Bill, state employees/retirees have a right to be angry. Acknowledge it, quit using language designed to obfuscate the true facts, show leadership by airing/listening to all viewpoints/ideas. Ignoring them belittles those who say they’re just trying to “solve the problem”, enrages a large block of voters, and is what has led to the lack of progress on actually solving the debt problem that plagues us today.


  36. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:25 pm:

    All of the leaders and legislators (not Quinn, maybe, but, who cares) involved have acknowledged the state’s role in the crisis. Sure, you’ve got a right to be angry. Yes, I know what the constitution says. But I’ve been burned enough to know that you’ll all be better with a negotiated settlement rather than a court case. There is a lack of progress because no one, not the legislature, not the employees, not the retirees,not the taxpayers, not anyone wants to put up enough revenue and you won’t solve this problem without a lot more revenue. Judges can”t print money even if you do win in court.


  37. - Rod - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:26 pm:

    I do not think Ralph Martire has ever indicated that additional revenue would not be required to implement his proposal and to continue to provide funding for existing programs. But the reality is last session it was not possible even to get out of committee Rep Golar’s HB6240 which would have restructured $4 billion in short term debt owed to school districts, healthcare providers, universities, units of local government, and State vendors.

    If we can’t do $4 billion is it realistic to think about doing $85 billion? Maybe once the walls are falling in and default is at hand, but by then will the State be able to make annual debt payments of around $6.9 billion?


  38. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:34 pm:

    Everyone keeps saying that public workers must share some of the pain. Why? We paid in what was agreed. It was OUR money that the state used as a credit card. WE (employees) are the victims here. And don’t use one of the extreme examples of a high retirement income. Most of us will receive a modest retirement and with a 3% annual COLA it will barely keep up with inflation over 20 years. Do the math.


  39. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:36 pm:

    ===Why? We paid in what was agreed. ===

    Because money is in short supply. See another post on the blog.

    And, yes, we are well aware that y’all paid in. Not based on any actuarial formulas or anything, but you did pay in. Everyone recognizes this point. Endlessly repeating it will not solve the problem, and there is a problem.


  40. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:41 pm:

    ==The big hole in this plan is that there is no way to prevent future borrowing.==

    No GA can bind a future GA with legislation. They can make it tough to diverge from the plan, but as long as a future GA can get the votes they can override previous decisions.


  41. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:46 pm:

    ==Bill, state employees/retirees have a right to be angry.==

    True enough, but that’s what my kids say. “She did it to me first!”

    The bottom line is that if the public employees want a seat at the table, they will need to set aside their anger and do what they do best, bargain rationally and in good faith. Anger, even when it is justified, gets us nowhere; if anything, it sets us back.


  42. - Archimedes - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:49 pm:

    We have a problem that must be resolved by money -either more of it or spend less. Nothing has happened since GA can’t agree who pays more or gets less.
    A rational starting place is allocating the solution based on the cause. If the State had always paid - we would be 70% funded and have $47.2 billion in unfunded liability (instead of the $94.6 billion we have now). The remaining 30% ($47.2 billion) is caused by asset losses from the recession, demographic assumptions, actuarial changes, and benefit increases. The interest on this is about $3.7 billion a year.
    Going forward, TRS has already cut their interest assumption to 8% from 8.5%.
    It makes sense to cut the COLA by .5% in recognition of future earnings being less (from 3% to 2.5%). This would cut about $7 to $8 billion from the Unfunded Liabiility. The rest of the changes from SB1 impact future benefit credits (they do not reduce earned benefits) and cut another $10 billion or more from the Unfunded Liability.
    Total of $18 billion - reducing the unfunded liability to $29 billion - reducing the interest payment by $1.4 billion. The remaining $29 billion costs about $2.2 billion in interest for the State.


  43. - Ready To Get Out - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:54 pm:

    PCK…tough to bargain at the table when you can’t get a seat at the table.


  44. - Bill - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:55 pm:

    Gimme a break! I give up.


  45. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 2:55 pm:

    ===tough to bargain at the table when you can’t get a seat at the table.===

    And you read these comments and wonder why you can’t get a seat at the table?


  46. - sparky791 - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:01 pm:

    PCK…We are one coalition has asked repeatedly for a seat at the table. And they have shared sacrifice solution. Trouble is they have not been invited. And you wonder why they angry.


  47. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:17 pm:

    ==Because money is in short supply. See another post on the blog. And, yes, we are well aware that y’all paid in. Not based on any actuarial formulas or anything, but you did pay in. Everyone recognizes this point. Endlessly repeating it will not solve the problem, and there is a problem.==

    Any attempt to reduce or diminish benefits is in violation of Article 13 Section 5. Why even propose something that cannot be done because the employees will win it in court?


  48. - Ruby - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:19 pm:

    “For Martire’s plan to work, you have to have a permanent ban on additional borrowing and that is almost impossible to implement.”

    Real Reformer @ 1:215 pm - Your comment reveals the inherent flaw with any plan to fix the pension problem. For any pension funding plan to work you have to have a permanent ban on additional borrowing.


  49. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:20 pm:

    ===Why even propose something that cannot be done because the employees will win it in court?===

    While I tend to agree with you, there are no guarantees when one winds up in court. Ever.


  50. - Happy Returns - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:28 pm:

    “Bill, state employees/retirees have a right to be angry. Acknowledge it, ”

    OK. We have a right to be angry. We’ve been wronged.

    Now what????


  51. - Sgtstu - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:29 pm:

    Amen, Meaningless


  52. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:31 pm:

    ===While I tend to agree with you, there are no guarantees when one winds up in court. Ever.===

    Yes, but case law dictates the contrary. Is it physically responsible to allow something to go to court when case law does not support your position? Also, do you think that a governor who is violating a legal contract (negotiated pay raises) and attempting to welch on a debt owed to his employees (pay raise and retirement) would say something about the credit rating of Illinois?


  53. - Boat Captain - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:31 pm:

    Speaking of court,maybe I missed it in your blog that the court case on the health insurance premium case for retirees with Gordon Maag is scheduled for Feb 20 in a bench trial. Any speculation how that will come out?


  54. - Cook County Commoner - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:31 pm:

    What may be more pernicious than the state (and likely local government pensions as well) using employee pension plans as piggy banks, as pointed out by Mr. Martire, is the feds doing the same thing. Hasn’t Social Security loaned its surplus, while it had one, back to Treaury in exchange for notes which are collected in the “Social Security Lockbox” Al Gore made famous? Now I hear the Treasury is moving money out of the federal employee Thrift Plan (the federal employee pension plan) to delay hitting the federal debt limit. Printing more $$$ isn’t the answer.

    It seems the discussion of state pension insolvency needs to be part of a larger discussion regarding government promises and spending at all levels and retirement/old age financial security for all nationwide.

    The fiscal handwringing and search for rabbits in a hat in Illinois and other states misdirects debate away from what happens in a rapidly aging society whose economy has matured and may not have the resources to fulfill promises not only to government employees but to all citizens.

    Or I may just be naive and what we’re witnessing is the further fragmentation of society into government haves and the rest of us who must pony up.


  55. - Grandson of Man - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:32 pm:

    Meaningless made some very nice statements about balance. I’m willing to compromise and believe that I would gain very important future benefits by doing so, the existence of unions and public employees with decent compensation. This means neither that I am willing to accept all cuts or be
    battered by those who want to impose the harshest cuts possible. I just want to be able to find a common ground on which we can get something done.

    I really like the idea of generating more revenue. Illinois is recovering economically, and now would be the time to help that along with legalizing medical marijuana. It helped Colorado and don’t doubt that it will help us.


  56. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:32 pm:

    fiscally - sorry


  57. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:33 pm:

    –Yes, but case law dictates the contrary. Is it physically responsible to allow something to go to court when case law does not support your position?–

    Say what now?


  58. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:43 pm:

    ===Say what now?===

    Yes, but case law dictates the contrary. Is it FISCALLY (sorry too much beer) responsible to allow something to go to court when case law does not support your position?


  59. - Ruby - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:48 pm:

    Real Reformer @ 1:25 pm
    “For Martire’s plan to work, you have to have a permanent ban on additional borrowing and that is almost impossible to implement.”

    This could be a major reason that the people of Illinois, both state workers and other taxpayers, hesitate to pay more into the pension fund. We know it will just provide more money for the lawmakers to borrow and not pay back.

    However, I do agree with Mr. Martire’s plan as a first step to fiscal sanity for Illinois.


  60. - Anon - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:51 pm:

    I like it! I think most employees are at the point that they will agree to an increase in contributions, as long as it is within reason. My feeling is that as long as Speaker Madigan is in place and the Civic Club keeps pushin’ for pain it may not fly.


  61. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    State Worker, from one (ex-) state worker to another, let me tell you that the great majority of the people paying their share of our pensions don’t get squat in a pension themselves, let alone a 3% COLA.


  62. - redleg - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 3:57 pm:

    “The Tribune and some big business groups will also hate it. Why? Because it causes no real pain for public employees and retirees. And that’s really what they want”.
    As a SURS retiree I am filled with glad emotions knowing that millionaires wish pain upon myself and my peers. I guess vilifying us isn’t enough.


  63. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:00 pm:

    –This could be a major reason that the people of Illinois, both state workers and other taxpayers, hesitate to pay more into the pension fund. We know it will just provide more money for the lawmakers to borrow and not pay back.–

    The borrowing comes from NOT paying to the funds, skipping payments and promising to make the payments later, with interest. Once you pay into the funds, you can’t go grab it back.

    And I really don’t think state workers are hesitant about the GA making annual payments into pension funds.


  64. - Fiercely Independent - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:03 pm:

    I’m a retired State employee, and I would be glad to pay State tax on my pension to help generate some revenue. Is the idea of taxing pensions being given any kind of consideration?


  65. - Grandson of Man - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:06 pm:

    Anon, I can’t speak for most employees but I agree with you about contributions. I’m willing to put up some more revenue, and to me if there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, it’s that ideas like Mr. Martire’s are being talked about. We don’t have to do cuts-only reform, we can implement revenue and other ideas to help ease the cuts. Our national government passed an income tax increase as step one in addressing our massive debt. We have more work to do there too, but at least we started doing something.


  66. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:10 pm:

    - PublicServant - ‘When has the legislature made any attempt to work with and include state retirees, and representatives of current employees in any of the schemes put forward in the past couple of years? Invite everyone to the dance.’

    Great comment. Elsewhere, I posted this last night: “It would be great if some current State employees and retirees could join the discussions at the table. Not that any of the deciders (non-deciders?) would pay any attention or care, but at least we’d be in a position to inject SOMETHING into the dialog. And I have a list of candidates.” Also that: “Unfortunately, our ‘voice at the table’ seems to be a union. And, they appear to be intransigent, accepting NO changes to anything, while Rome (in our case, our pension system) burns.


  67. - Deep South - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:18 pm:

    I still don’t understand why some believe that public employees should be made to foot the bill for this, when all Illinois taxpayers benefited from the raid on pension funds. How does that even begin to make sense….how does it even begin to be fair?


  68. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:20 pm:

    Full Disclosure: I am a member of the CTBA Board of Directors

    By my meatball math numbers, Ralph’s plan works. Take the 6.9, add the normal cost, subtract an increased employee contribution, shift the normal cost for TRS and SURS and you are for all practical purposes right back down to the ‘14 contribution as a flat amount for 45 years, or as Ralph says, an ever-decreasing percent of GRF spending.

    Remember, his 45 years are no more or less arbitrary than the original 50 year plan. Remember we pay a heck of a lot of extra interest over time to do it this way.

    But most of all remember as I’ve been saying since Fortner’s original proposal came out, there are now enough potential tools on the table to deal with this problem without doing anything blatantly unconstitutional.


  69. - John Parnell - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:22 pm:

    Why should the state income from the new casino in Chicago not go to the pension fund? Also, the break given the original 10 boat owners should be rectified by rais the taxes on all the casinos this year. The income has to come from somewhere.


  70. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:23 pm:

    ===Ralph’s plan works. Take the 6.9, add the normal cost, subtract an increased employee contribution, shift the normal cost for TRS and SURS===

    Actually, Steve, that would be a modified Ralph plan.


  71. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:45 pm:

    Rich, and a modified plan of someone’s is where we will probably end up.

    I’m seeing a lot of graveyards and hearing a lot of whistling in terms of what the courts would do if this issue ends up there. As a retiree and annuitant, I would prefer if possible to not put all my eggs in that basket-just one big roll of the dice with very high stakes. A negotiated or agreed settlement would be preferable to me. I would advise current state employees to look at it that way also.


  72. - Ruby - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:48 pm:

    Is it really fair to say there are good reasons an attempt has not been made to include state workers and retirees in pension talks?

    I don’t think so. Illinois state employee unions have agreed to pay 2% more of their income into the state pension fund. In Arizona the lawmakers tried to impose a 2% pension contribution increase on teachers. The Arizona court overturned this law as unconstitutional. This was a generous offer by the Illinois unions. Nevertheless the offer was rejected and belittled. This not a good way to win cooperation.


  73. - State Worker - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 4:54 pm:

    ===I don’t think so. Illinois state employee unions have agreed to pay 2% more of their income into the state pension fund. In Arizona the lawmakers tried to impose a 2% pension contribution increase on teachers. The Arizona court overturned this law as unconstitutional.===

    Since when can the union agree to something that is unconstitutional? The union cannot reduce or diminish pension benefits just as much as the legislature or governor cannot. And, not every retiree or future retiree is a union member.


  74. - Ruby - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:03 pm:

    On the other hand maybe there are good reasons an attempt has not been made to include state workers and retirees in pension talks.


  75. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:13 pm:

    Well count me in with Steve’s modified Martire plan. I think most state workers would go for this. Maybe Steve, at least, could get a seat at the table, and, as the budget expert he is, put some legitimate weight behind the proposal.


  76. - Anyone Remember? - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:24 pm:

    Pot calling kettle

    That’s why it has to be written into the Constitution …


  77. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:24 pm:

    Oh, one more thing Steve. Rich stated that CTBA was “pro-union” and I’m assuming by that he means partisan. I’m not inclined to let that stand unchallenged. What’s your take on the non-partisan claim made by CTBA as compared to say the non-partisan claim made by IPI and John Tilman?


  78. - Ruby - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:25 pm:

    Mr. Martire’s plan will make a good first step to a constitutional and fair way to fix the Illinois pension funding problem.


  79. - wishbone - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:36 pm:

    “On the other hand, if policy makers could incorporate Martire’s refinancing idea with some other cost-cutting and revenue (requiring higher employee contributions, cost shift, etc.) moves, it might just work.”

    This proposal coupled with an across the board 4% cut which spreads the pain equitably to all state programs, followed by a ten year budget freeze makes a lot of sense. On the revenue side a relatively painless 10 cent a gallon gasoline tax hike, and legalized recreational marijuana would add an additional billion annually to the pot (no pun intended).


  80. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:39 pm:

    ===The 6.9 billion did not include new benefit costs on $18.8 billion of payroll.===

    Can someone clarify what these new benefit costs are? I’m not aware of any big boon I’ve received lately. The benefits I’m aware of have been in place for decades.


  81. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:44 pm:

    CTBA certainly has close union ties and receives funding from unions. However, I don’t believe that CTBA is in any way partisan. The Chairman of the Board is a former Republican legislator. More accurately CTBA is progressive. Board members understand the risks, and therefore, impropriety of being seen as an ally of one party or the other. On the other hand, as all of you know, progressive Republicans ain’t necessarily easy to find right now, so my guess is that a majority of the Board are voting Ds.


  82. - illinifan - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 5:57 pm:

    if everyone doesn’t like it then it must be a good compromise. I like Rich’s statement “* On the other hand, if policy makers could incorporate Martire’s refinancing idea with some other cost-cutting and revenue (requiring higher employee contributions, cost shift, etc.) moves, it might just work.” all together this would be a great blend and it might even pass the court challenge.


  83. - Mark - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:08 pm:

    And I know what’s coming. COGFA says it’s not a big problem so it must not be a big problem.


  84. - Angry Chicagoan - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:08 pm:

    It absolutely needs to be communicated to everyone, in detail, exactly what the state of Illinois did to use the pension system as a credit card. It is simply disgraceful. And only with a detailed and thorough accounting that reaches every citizen in this state will we get a final decision that sticks politically. And that, in the end, is the key to solving the problem.

    In the end, the state will have to make painful choices, no matter what. And they will affect everything and everyone; pensioners, income tax payers, property tax payers and so on.


  85. - Mark - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:14 pm:

    And I know what else is coming. TRS benefits were changed for new hires who didn’t work or substitute a day before 1/1/2011. My scenario is for workers retiring in 2011, not beginning their employment in 2011.


  86. - western illinois - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:25 pm:

    I would suggest add sweetners that would help make the extra contributions constitutional-Fix the Teir 2 issues and the low paid very elderly retiree issue too/ Then you are getting consideration in a non coercive way
    Also SURS is somehow paying more than SERS now and I have been told that the COLA has something to do with it so I am sure fixes are possible.
    Here is the big problem-We are not the gov or the GA …though this sort oof deal is one MJM used to be able to work out


  87. - western illinois - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:26 pm:

    Heres one just came to me……less of contrib increase or none if you accept chained CPI


  88. - Norseman - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:42 pm:

    To negotiate a settlement you have to trust that both parties will fulfill their part of the bargain. Public workers and retirees can’t trust that the State of Illinois will honor this “settlement.” It’s all fine and dandy that we have promises that the law will allow folks to sue the state to ensure payment and that this will be all the sacrifice needed, however, the law can be changed by future General Assemblies to enable them to address some new crisis.

    We thought we had an iron clad guarantee in the constitution that our pensions wouldn’t be diminished. Now we hear the refrain that we should understand the State’s poor management requires this constitutional guarantee be ignored or “re-interpreted” to permit reductions in retiree benefits.

    Obviously I would prefer Martire’s plan. Rich and others have eloquently pointed out the challenges to getting it passed and why more sacrifice will be expected of public workers and retirees. IMHO, a Supreme Court ruling will be required to move this issue to some resolution.

    AA - You are so right about the abuses folks have been subjected to by private sector employers. I’ve been bothered by it, especially since my father’s employer reneged on his commitment to provide a pension. It made me angrier after reading the book , “Retirement Heist” by Ellen E Schultz.


  89. - Meaningless - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 6:51 pm:

    This link is basically saying the same thing I tried to express earlier today that must have been deleted.

    http://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-letter-from-president-bruce-strom-of.html#comment-form


  90. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 7:23 pm:

    –On the other hand, as all of you know, progressive Republicans ain’t necessarily easy to find right now, so my guess is that a majority of the Board are voting Ds–

    Progressive has actually morphed into a bad word in some circles that believe the country started going downhill with TR and Wilson, despite all evidence to the contrary.


  91. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 8:40 pm:

    ==That’s why it has to be written into the Constitution …==

    While that would seem to be a good idea…1) It is highly unlikely to happen, and 2) the consequences (both intended and unintended) would probably cause more problems elsewhere.


  92. - What is to be done? - Thursday, Jan 17, 13 @ 8:59 pm:

    The problem is that Quinn (and Rahm and Madigan and everyone else) want pension “reform” before the public discovers that a giant new revenue stream might alleviate (or solve) a certain problem.

    A Chicago casino would draw gambling money from across the state and drag in Indiana gamblers. Quinn and Rahm want control of this money held in a very narrow set of trusted hands. They don’t want the unions and pension funds that have been looted demanding repayment for the past decades worth of excesses, so they push “reform” and cuts while pleading poor, delaying the casino that they want for the money it’ll bring to the connected.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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