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RNUG: Vallas’ plan “appears to make Chicago’s pension problem manageable”

Friday, Jan 18, 2019

* Paul Vallas announced his pension plan yesterday. It’s long, but worth a read

While there is much talk of a “grand compromise” to be reached with labor, state and local governments and the business community to amend the Constitution to address the City’s pension funding needs, it is unlikely to happen even if Governor-elect Pritzker had not voiced his opposition to such an amendment. As for the talk of changing the benefits for new employees who would not be protected by the Constitution, that has already been done. Employees hired after 2010 became Tier 2 pension participants at far lower benefits. Tier 2 employees contribute much more than what it takes to pay their own benefits and are, in fact, subsidizing Tier 1 retirees. This, in itself, could create future legal problems. It is highly unlikely there would be support for a further diminishing of new employee future pension benefits. I oppose any changes to new and old employee benefits.

The underlying pension funding problem is in large part the result of inequities in State funding which discriminated against Chicago Teachers and the City’s irresponsible decision to secure, through State legislation, a “Pension Holiday,” that allowed it to skip payments to all City-funded pension systems. The Police, Fire, Municipal Employees, and Laborers were all victimized by the pension holiday. The City also secured a pension holiday for the Chicago Teachers Retirement System. It is ironic that the leadership of a number of unions’ leadership has orchestrated the endorsements of candidates who supported the underfunding of the systems. […]

The plan includes supporting a legislative agenda that protects the statutory local government share of any increase in the State Income Tax that Governor Pritzker and the legislature enact, restores the illegal diversion of Corporate Personal Property Tax revenues that occurred during the previous administration, and phases in, over ten years, full State funding equity for the Chicago Teachers Retirement System. The first two items are things every municipality and county will be supporting and could be phased in over the next four years during the pension ramp-up. […]

I have identified a number of specific budget areas where I believe the growth in City non-pension spending could be reduced over the next five years to provide the balance of what is needed to meet the City’s pension obligations. These areas include overtime, contractual services, worker’s compensation, healthcare, and more. Just a five percent reduction in base spending over the next five years would enable the City to meet the balance of the pension funding ramp up. By 2023, the State mandated annual increases in pension contributions will be much more moderate and financially manageable - not only as a result of the almost doubling of contributions, but because of the increasing numbers of Tier 2 employees in the system.

While some have advocated for the earmark of revenues from a City Casino or a tax on cannabis to fund pensions, I would be cautious about making pension funding contingent on uncertain and unproven revenue sources that would at very best provide barely a fourth of what would be needed to meet the City’s pension funding obligations. Furthermore, we have been waiting for casinos for years and, even if finally approved, the full the revenue impact would be uncertain and not immediate. Funding for pensions should not be tied to unreliable revenue sources. Pension funding should be in the form of a “direct intercept” in the budget of the actuarial determined annual amount needed to ensure the system’s pension funds are on a 30-year full funding schedule.

As a contingency against delays or partial success in implementing the Springfield agenda and a hedge against unanticipated expenditure increases the City could consider issuing a Pension Obligation Bond financed through the revenue windfall from expiring TIFs. This would protect the City’s existing revenue base from further securitization, while providing a substantial increase in the amount invested in the retirement systems, thereby significantly reducing the increase in the annual contribution.

A Citywide TIF would be created to capture the revenue from expiring TIFs, the revenues of which could be dedicated to pension funding. The City would have the flexibility of using the revenues to immediately finance the POB to immediately improve the health of the system the unfunded [MG1] Even if the TIF was not used to finance a POB, the dedication of future TIF revenues would have a positive impact in the calculation of the long-term unfunded liability. Given the City’s direct funding of the Chicago Teachers Retirement System, the Pension TIF could earmark all but the County’s share of the revenue from expiring TIF’s.

Resolving the pension funding issue must also include reforming pension fund investment practices. This involves creating a Pension Investment Board of local investment professionals and taking the pay-to-play politics out of investment decisions. Often politicized and all too often lacking in real investment expertise, pension fund investments have historically produced disappointing returns and have sometimes been scandalous. There should be a consolation of pension investments for cost efficiencies and to ensure the highest rate of return.

Although data from the pension funds are hard to compare because returns vary across time periods, it is not unreasonable to think that if all the big pension funds in Illinois paid fees and produced investment returns that were achieved by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), which is 90% funded, the additional earnings would approach $1 billion statewide. If you had a board of Chicago’s most accomplished local investment professionals making investment decisions, do you think that Robert Vanecko and his investment strategy would have been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars in substandard investment strategy that cost the police pension $54 million?

With the City’s pension funding issue addressed and the City’s commitment to its public employees met, the City’s “non-pension” expenditure obligations needed to fund City services could be secured through natural revenue growth allowing property taxes to be permanently capped for homeowners, landlords and businesses, at no more than 5% or the rate of inflation whichever is less. F could be frozen, and fines reduced to no more than the cost of the license or dedicated to neighborhood infrastructure improvements, and services and ees ticket. Additional revenues from a casino, sports betting and video poker could be proceeds from the tax on cannabis could be dedicated to rebuilding the critically needed social service infrastructure in poor communities like mental health and wellness, health care, legal aid, family counseling, drug and opioid addiction.

* I asked our resident pension expert (and 2018 Golden Horseshoe Award winner) RNUG to take a look at it…

Some interesting items in it.

First observation is he’s counting on significant State money, about half of all the money needed. Admittedly not in the form of a direct bailout so much as trying to regain various revenue sharing the State previously clawed back. The political calculation of doing this for the entire state is smart.

Not sure what he means by Full State Equity for Chicago Teacher’s Retirement System unless he means either trying to undo the former deal giving Chicago control over it or looking for the State to take over those pension payments or just looking to get the State to kick in more money with Chicago still having control over it. Not sure about the politics, so it will depend on if Vallas can round up the votes in the GA. Think this is a harder challenge than increasing revenue sharing.

Interesting approach to grabbing expired TIF funds and either using them directly or as a payment stream for Pension Obligation Bonds. Was definitely looking for unused / dormant sources of cash.

And the 5% operating cut seems reasonable; you can usually find that amount of waste / fraud / abuse.

And he isn’t counting on the State actions by having a plan to cover at least half of what is needed. Smart and flexible planning.

Got to give Vallas (or his advisors) credit for some serious thought and creative out of the box thinking. His proposed plan appears to make Chicago’s pension problem manageable.

I don’t really follow Chicago politics per se, but I’m going to guess he may, if mayor, be able to get 75% of what he wants … and that would be huge.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

47 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:36 pm:

    Kudos to Vallas for finally acknowledging the reality of Tier 2. Give me a comprehensive matching 401(k) if you want, because the current deal is rubbish.


  2. - Sue - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:45 pm:

    Anon- tier 1 would collapse in less then 20 years if tier 2 and tier 3 were diverted into 401k type plans. It may be a ponzi like scheme but the tier 2 contributions are needed to support tier 1


  3. - lake county democrat - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    –These areas include overtime, contractual services, worker’s compensation, healthcare, and more. Just a five percent reduction in base spending over the next five years would enable the City to meet the balance of the pension funding ramp up. –

    I wonder if he has specifics in mind or if this is, to use Rich’s phrase, “magic beans” (which if it is, I wouldn’t immediately dismiss - the federal budget largely absorbed a smaller squestration without many people noticing, the CTA managed to avoid most of their “doom and gloom” scenarios, and I’d hardly be shocked if there’s not that much to be gained in efficiencies or more.


  4. - I Miss Bentohs - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:47 pm:

    I appreciate that a politician is taking fiscal and thinking about it instead of spouting political jibberish (of course, as we recently read about the fiscally responsible gov of yore, he was not re-elected).

    I also like whay he says about Tier 1 and Tier 2. When people are talking about raises, pay, etc. that need s to be factored in more often. And yes unions, you too need to make that distinction.


  5. - Excessively Rabid - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    Straight talk, I like it. If I still lived in Chicago, I might vote for him.


  6. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    This seems very reasonable. I will vote for Vallas in the first round now.

    Anyone but Prekwinkle I’m the runoff.


  7. - Tommydanger - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    Are expiring TIF funds considered surplus and if so, are they required to be returned to the taxing jurisdictions involved?

    Do they have the status of GF monies that can be spent without restrictions?

    Generally speaking, the use of TIF funds for purposes unrelated to the TIF district itself is a no-no.


  8. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    Sue, what is Tier 3?


  9. - JS Mill - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:00 pm:

    =Sue, what is Tier 3?=

    Go easy on Sue, she took a fastball to the noggin apparently.


  10. - Tommydanger - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:02 pm:

    Not sure as to the legality of a new city-wide TIF district. While parts of the city can surely be considered and classified as blighted, I’m less certain that the city as a whole could be considered blighted or even predominantly so.


  11. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:03 pm:

    Tommy, can’t you just change the TIF law? Seems that’s what Vallas is proposing.


  12. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:03 pm:

    TIFs don’t have to be in blighted areas. Parts of downtown are in TIFs.


  13. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    ===I’m less certain that the city as a whole could be considered blighted===

    The pension funds are pretty blighted…


  14. - Cannon649 - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    75% is better than any other plan todate.
    Looks like their is alot of positives here.


  15. - Roman - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    Vallas has consistently produced the most detailed and thoughtful issues statements/position papers in the field — and I suspect he is writing them himself.


  16. - Office - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    Don’t most tiffs end up getting renewed? How many actually expire? How many of the elite building owners and developers are going to be willing to give up their incentives? .


  17. - Tommydanger - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:11 pm:

    Interesting article by Alderwoman Leslie Hairston. Its somewhat dated, and perhaps the TIF laws have subsequently changed, but it is an interesting and informative read

    https://www.isba.org/committees/women/newsletter/2008/10/anoverviewoftifdistricts


  18. - Sue - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    There is a tier 3 under the statute waiting to be implemented


  19. - City Zen - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    “The City also secured a pension holiday for the Chicago Teachers Retirement System.”

    What’s important to note is that during those pension holidays, the would-be pension deposits were used for operating expenses, namely salary increases. This was specifically noted in numerous publications while this was happening. That’s how Daley bought labor peace.

    “Tier 2 employees contribute much more than what it takes to pay their own benefits…This, in itself, could create future legal problems.”

    So Vallas admits Tier 2 benefits will probably be enhanced some date, which means every actuarial and re-amortization assumption is highly inaccurate.

    I assume Mayor Mendoza will implement this?


  20. - Klaus VonBulow - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    How many TIFFs have actually expired? Most TIFFs downstate are renewed. I don’t see the elite building owners and contractors giving up their corporate entitlement.


  21. - A Jack - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:17 pm:

    I like the idea of a PIB which includes investment professionals for the Chicago pension systems. I hope that Pritzker can attract some better investment talent to the ISBI who currently don’t have my confidence in them at all. Under Rauner they seem to have gone down a passive investment path, which I doubt has the returns or the risk management of active investment. Sure, the fees are lower. But when the indexes head lower, there is no one to slam on the brakes to stop loses for pension assets.


  22. - chi - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:17 pm:

    Why divert the TIF money? I don’t see the difference between that and eliminating the TIF and using the property tax revenue to fund the pensions? He wants to spend property tax revenue on pensions in lieu of infrastructure improvements. Nothing magic about the TIF’s.

    Why don’t we all cut the 5% in waste and fraud from all budgets? Such a novel idea. I wish I’d thought of it.

    And are the investment returns of the city funds any worse than its benchmarks or similarly situated funds elsewhere? It’s insulting to pretend those (unpaid) trustees don’t already rely on highly skilled and professional investment consultants to guide their portfolios. It’s also insulting to pretend graft, back-scratching, etc. would go away because you give all control to “accomplished local investment professionals,” as if they’re somehow immune from greed or bad decision-making or political influence of one sort or another.


  23. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    This guy should have been the nominee for guv instead of Blago, what a difference he would have made.


  24. - Occam - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    Can someone explain how TIF funds can be diverted to pay the annual debt service payments on newly issued Pension Obligation Bonds?


  25. - Deferred Liability - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    The PPRT diversion to community colleges was used as the easiest way to repay general funds for the IDOR error in diversion rate calculation before FY 16. I do agree that the use of these receipts in this manner is not at all what was envisioned when the initial diversions for administration of the tax was authorized. However, ending the diversion for CC’s means you need to find $100M to pay for the hole this leaves in their operating grants. Not an insurmountable problem, but it results in additional pressure on the already strained budget. A comprehensive plan would address both sides of the ledger.


  26. - Klaus VonBulow - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:20 pm:

    Furthermore, the perpetual TIFF funds would drain properly tax dollars from the school districts.


  27. - Deadbeat Conservative - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:21 pm:

    =His proposed plan appears to make Chicago’s pension problem manageable.=

    What fun is THAT? What would all of the Ruanerites and others have to rave about then?


  28. - qualified someone nobody sent - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:22 pm:

    Vallas idea of using expiring TIFS to fund POBs is the most likely fix to keep up with increasing Pension required contributions of the City. It would seem to create enough room to STOP borrowing to make the annual budget going forward. Long term solutions should be the goal in lieu of the last 20 years of asset selling, pension holidays, smoke and mirrors and borrowing.


  29. - My Button is Broke... - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:22 pm:

    Tier 3 for the state is waiting on the systems to get everything in place (it was passed with the July 2017 tax increase). Tier 3 for the City and County requires them to pass an ordinance to adopt the Tier 3 benefits. Tier 3 is a hybrid plan. A smaller defined benefit that is supposed to be similar to Social Security and then a defined contribution portion. It does fix the Tier 2 problem.


  30. - statehoss - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:23 pm:

    26,000 votes!

    That’s all that separated us from Gov. Vallas (or at least nominee Vallas) instead of Prisoner 29044717, er, I mean, Gov. Blagojevich.

    Think of how much better state finances would be today if he’d won. And how much more trust there would be in Illinois government from all sides.

    You’ve probably mentioned it elsewhere, Rich, but Vallas spent time in Springfield before CPS - leading the independent budget analysis agency (can’t remember its proper name right now, but probably someone can.)


  31. - Thomas Paine - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    Wait just one red minute here…

    Wasn’t it Vallas who used the Pension Holiday to divert money to the CPS operating budget so he could claim he was running the district at a surplus, something he now brags about on the campaign trail?

    If so, He needs to be called out and come clean.


  32. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:32 pm:

    I’ve got a new horse in the Mayor’s race. I have to say this is a breath of fresh air to have a candidate put forth a substantive plan to deal with one of the most pressing issues facing the city. The other candidate are on notice. This is what the votors want to see and what they deserve so that they’re able to properly vet a candidate. Don’t take any cheap shots at Vallus’ plan unless you’re willing to put forth you’re own detailed plan.


  33. - The Original Name/Nickname/Anon - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:33 pm:

    Chicago Municipal and Laborers’ Fund do have a Tier 3 plan in place since mid-2017 (Tier 2 members had the option to join). It is higher contribution than Tier 2 (maybe 11% instead of 8%) but earlier retirement age (65 instead of 67)


  34. - The Original Name/Nickname/Anon - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:35 pm:

    == Tier 3 for the City and County requires them to pass an ordinance to adopt the Tier 3 benefits==

    This is true for the County and also some of the other City plans like Chicago Park and Chicago Teachers


  35. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:39 pm:

    Klaus, it appears you don’t know much about Chicago TIFs. They take no money from any other taxing authority. CPS loses no funds to TIF. And most TIF goes to things people in Chicago seem to want, schools, libraries, affordable housing, community centers and parks.

    And TIFs do expire. I believe one of Chicagos’s largest and well funded is about to expire.


  36. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:40 pm:

    Vallas is definitely my top choice now. In the runoff it will be anyone but Prekwinkle.


  37. - Deferred Liability - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:51 pm:

    ==Klaus, it appears you don’t know much about Chicago TIFs. They take no money from any other taxing authority.==

    Anon, I don’t think you understand what Klaus is saying. You are correct that the creation of a TIF is a net positive to school district revenues in the long term. But, the point of a TIF is to create more EAV than would otherwise be generated without the TIF. When it expires, that EAV is rolled off as new EAV and is available then to be taxed by local taxing districts (e.g. school districts) at the levy rate. If instead of allowing that EAV to roll off, or extending the TIF to generate additional EAV, you siphon it for another purpose, you are taking revenue away from school districts (because the EAV is indefinitely inaccessible and is not being stimulated through TIF capex).


  38. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 2:59 pm:

    There is no revenue taken from CPS in Chicago by TIFs. You could say it’s an added tax though.


  39. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    But, we would probably pay it anyway, because people want their schools, parks, community centers, etc.


  40. - Tommydanger - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 3:05 pm:

    Unless Chicago TIFs are different than TIFs around the state, there is a baseline EAV established with the creation of the TIF district for all properties within the boundaries of the district. As redevelopment occurs within the TIF district, the City is allowed to capture the property tax generated from the increase in the EAV above and beyond the base value of the EAV when the district was created. They are allowed to capture, retain and spend not only City portion of the increment in the growth of property taxes generated within the district, but also the increment that would otherwise be sent to all other taxing jurisdictions levying taxes that apply to the properties within the district.

    Sometimes a city may make provisions (separate intergovernmental agreements) for returning to a taxing jurisdiction some or all of the taxes that the city is allowed to retain that would otherwise have gone to that jurisdiction absent the TIF district.

    The whole point of a TIF district is the ability to use other taxing jurisdictions property tax revenue generated from the growth of the EAV within the TIF boundaries to further redevelopment within the TIF district. The use of only the City’s portion of the property tax bill would be insufficient to be able to spur the type of redevlopment associated with most TIF districts.


  41. - A 400lb. Guy on a bed - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 3:09 pm:

    Advice to Vallas: let the IPI run your campaign, it worked so well for Rauner.


  42. - Back to the Mountains - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 3:40 pm:

    The TIF Act would need to be amended to allow TIF funds to be dedicated to pensions. Section 3(q) of the Act defines what categories are permissible for the purposes of TIF. There’s also restrictions on using TIF funds for administrative expenses of the municipality, which the pension debt likely would qualify as.

    If I understood it correctly, they were going to use the money left over at the expiration of the TIF, which they can’t do under current statute, either. They could use their share of what’s left to pay off pension debt, but you’d need a statute change in order to use all of the surplus.


  43. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 3:51 pm:

    While TIFs are in effect and valuation is frozen, taxing districts still get their revenue because other taxpayers pay more than they would otherwise. When the TIF expires and the new assessed values within the TIF take effect, taxpayers would get a break, as money is no longer diverted to the TIF. Vallas’ plan extends that higher taxation, but in a way that taxpayers won’t notice. So it’s clever, but it’s not free.


  44. - Deferred Liabilith - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 4:15 pm:

    ==There is no revenue taken from CPS in Chicago by TIFs. You could say it’s an added tax though.=

    If you’re not going to fully read my response then please refrain from responding. I agree that TIFs do not take revenue from school districts. In fact, they generate additional revenue when they expire by enhancing EAV. If you don’t allow them to expire then you don’t get to tax the enhanced EAV. The point is to generate growth and expire. Four parts: create TIF, use TIF revenues for capex, capex spurs additional EAV growth, then ALLOW TIF TO EXPIRE and taxing districts to capitalize on EAV. If additional EAV growth is needed/obtainable, then you renew the TIF. PV is proposing not allowing the TIF to expire, and also not using TIF receipts for cap ex or surplus. Therefore, school districts would be worse off under PVs plan than if the TIFs were expired (and capitalize and the enhanced new EAV) or renewed and used for capex and/or surplus. He’s proposing neither.


  45. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 4:20 pm:

    >>hile TIFs are in effect and valuation is frozen, taxing districts still get their revenue because other taxpayers pay more than they would otherwise.


  46. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 4:23 pm:

    Dedicating TIF funds to pay for CPS pensions hurts CPS? That’s an interesting view of this.


  47. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 18, 19 @ 4:27 pm:

    Anonymous 3:51, that’s correct. Of course when was the last time RE taxes went down in Illinois?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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