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The other pension bomb

Monday, Mar 18, 2019

* Illinois News Network

State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, held a hearing in Springfield to get testimony from various pension boards for police, fire, local government employees and teachers.

The issues, he said, could lead the state’s Tier II pensions to be found by the federal government to be insufficient for retirees. He equated it to a “landmine.”

“If that happens, it could create an instant and massive debt to the state of Illinois,” Martwick said.

* Hoo boy

The concern, however, is that Illinois teachers do not participate in Social Security. Federal law allows state and municipal governments to do that, as long as the benefits they pay out are at least equal to what Social Security pays, a law known as the “safe harbor” provision.

But Andrew Bodewes, TRS’ legislative director, told the panel that because of the small cost-of-living increases built into Tier 2, those pensions soon are likely to fail to meet the federal adequacy test.

“So that means once the Tier 2 teachers are retiring, each and every school district will have to perform a test on that member to see if they get a benefit at least as good as Social Security,” he said. “And if they don’t, they (the school districts) will have to enroll in Social Security. They’ll have to enroll going backwards.”

That means school districts would have to make as much as 10 years’ worth of back payments into Social Security.

And that bomb could start detonating in two short years.

The future always has a nasty habit of arriving.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

75 Comments
  1. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:41 pm:

    Could it be fixed before the bomb with a cola that matches social security


  2. - Anon - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:42 pm:

    Nothing to see here.

    All we need from jb is another flowery speech and all the can kicking will be alright.


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    Um, wasn’t the point of Tier II to save on retirement benefits?

    Didn’t someone double-check the arithmetic before proceeding?


  4. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    == Didn’t someone double-check the arithmetic before proceeding? ==

    They knew it … but didn’t let it get in the way of *doing something* about the pension ‘crisis’.


  5. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:47 pm:

    That would be yes and no.The formula probably passes but the cola does not. I knew it was coming because the first potential retiree can sue.


  6. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:50 pm:

    A lot of the Tier II savings came from the stiff the retiree AAI / delayed / half COLA. The rest of the savings came from increased employee contributions.


  7. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:52 pm:

    –A lot of the Tier II savings came from the stiff the retiree AAI / delayed / half COLA. The rest of the savings came from increased employee contributions.–

    Those can be adjusted legislatively to avoid this Social Security trap, correct?


  8. - Steve - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    Since Illinois politicians and voters don’t want to change the pension clause in the state constitution, taxes will have to go higher. Many private sector workers will have to have a diminished standard of living to pay off the pensions.


  9. - Davos - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    =The rest of the savings came from increased employee contributions.=

    PA 96-889 did not increase employee contributions for Tier 2 members, Tier 2 members contribute at the same rates as Tier 1 members.


  10. - Joe M - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:54 pm:

    Tier 2 State University Employees (SURS) will be in the same predicament.


  11. - Honeybear - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:57 pm:

    I get mad at this crap.
    All so that the privileged don’t have to pay for or contribute to the retirement security of public servants.
    That’s really what this is. The malignantly callous don’t care about those who serve the state or our children in this case.
    They just want to make up for what EDGE removed>
    They just want to make up for what EZ took out.
    They just want to make up for the grift.

    So they take it out of loyal workers and teachers who serve the public good.

    But that’s what the callousness of privilege does
    It allows you
    not to feel
    not to care
    not to understand

    What you’re doing to someone else.
    It’s okay to the privileged
    because they are insulated and deadened
    from the pain they cause.
    It’s just numbers
    It’s just balance sheets
    It’s just data

    NO NO NO NO NO
    These are people, Illinoisans
    Who are teaching our children
    My children, your children

    And you are doing it by choice
    And yes, Madigan did it by choice
    Governors did it by choice
    Legislators did it by choice.
    It’s done.
    But instead of taking responsibility
    so many want to blame the victim
    and close their ears
    shut their eyes
    To what they are doing to another.
    But they sure know how to scream blame
    at those we should be lauding and thanking
    for years of teaching our precious children


  12. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:02 pm:

    == Those can be adjusted legislatively to avoid this Social Security trap, correct? ==

    Yes, but then a good amount of the savings evaporate.


  13. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    To the pensions trolls this is about social security exemptions that is the federal government. Google it.
    Yes it can be fixed legislatively but it won’t save as much as hoped…teir 2 that is …This isn’t a debt of the retirement systems but the state and school districts and universities. Fun times for property taxes. And fun when they send the bill to WIU or Chicago State.


  14. - AndyIllini - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:05 pm:

    Just to make sure I ubderstand, the benefits paid have to be >/= Social Security?

    So if an employee contributes 9% of their salary to the pension, and gets the same benefit as someone else, who contributed 6.2% of their salary to Social Securty then, it passes the test?

    Basically I’m asking if Teir 2 can be a worse deal for employees than SS, even if it passes the test.


  15. - truthteller - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:06 pm:

    How much mnoney do the local school districts contribute to the TRS? Just wondering because its my understanding they dont at all, just the teacher’s contribution goes to TRS and the rest is paid by the state taxpayers except Chicago who’s local taxpayers pay for their teacher’s pensions as well as all the downstate ones.


  16. - Juice - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    Not a billionaire, that’s not quite right.

    As the article states, the Safe Harbor provision requires the pension plan to pay out at least as much as social security would. The part of tier II that is at some point going to be problematic is the tier II pensionable salary cap. When that was enacted, it was set at the social security maximum, but only grows at half of the rate of inflation, whereas the social security maximum grows with inflation. So TRS members whose salary fall within that gap are the ones going to be impacted. (Current social security maximum is $132,900.)


  17. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    This may be the “other” pension bomb, but taking the solutions to the “main” pension bomb put forth by IPI or the Trib ed board or the GOP risks this same problem of violating federal law (in addition to being unconstitutional).


  18. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    –Since Illinois politicians and voters don’t want to change the pension clause in the state constitution, taxes will have to go higher–

    You’re really missing the point on this one. No matter what any pension clause says, you have to at least provide Social Security-level benefits.

    Either you pay it with the pension, or you pay it through employer Social Security contributions.


  19. - Joe M - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    ==And fun when they send the bill to WIU or Chicago State.==

    No, The State pays the employer’s portion of SURS, not the state universities. So the State Government in Springfield will get that bill.


  20. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    == Those can be adjusted legislatively to avoid this Social Security trap, correct? ==

    Yes, but then a good amount of the savings evaporate.–

    I’m confused — were they presuming pension contributions could be less than what Social Security contributions would be?


  21. - Steve - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    - wordslinger -

    I’m not trying to upset anyone. I’m just making the point that taxes will have to go higher unless cuts come from somewhere to help pay for increased costs.


  22. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    The state does pay for the universities and school districts but according to the hearing the feds place the liability with the immediate employer.


  23. - Joe M - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    ==Either you pay it with the pension, or you pay it through employer Social Security contributions. ==

    And Social Security doesn’t accept IOU’s, partial, or skipped payments either. I used to work for a boss that got behind in his withholding taxes for his employees. He ended up in the federal penitentiary in Marian.


  24. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    “Since Illinois politicians and voters don’t want to change the pension clause in the state constitution”

    Steve, wrong “easy” solution. That has nothing to do with the Pension Clause.


  25. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    It’s the benefits that would be too low word. But if we correct it teir 2 will not save as much as hoped because more might be paid out
    If inflation remains low it won’t be as bad.


  26. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:17 pm:

    They get Madigan on not paying the payroll taxes.


  27. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    And, state law allows allow of the cost of Social Security to be passed directly into the tax levy without regard to property tax caps. This would allow K-12 and community colleges to immediately cover the cost via an automatic levy increase that would not require a decrease in other funds to stay under a cap, nor would it require a referendum.

    ———-

    (40 ILCS 5/21-110) (from Ch. 108 1/2, par. 21-110)
    Sec. 21-110. Tax levy. The governing body of any political subdivision with the power to levy taxes is hereby authorized and empowered to increase its annual tax levy above the limitation now or hereafter otherwise authorized by law, by the amount necessary to meet the cost of participation in the Federal Social Security Insurance Program, including any share of the cost of participation of an instrumentality or entity described in subsection (b) or (c) of Section 21-102.8 for which the political subdivision is responsible, without regard to whether such participation is mandatory or optional, and without regard to whether the political subdivision has otherwise come under the provisions of this Article for purposes of participation in the Federal Social Security Insurance Program.
    (Source: P.A. 87-11.)


  28. - muon - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:23 pm:

    A buyout into a self-managed plan that decouples from the Tier II pension is another tool that may help. There are already SMP plan members in SURS without a liability under the safe harbor, so there’s a model in the Illinois systems for how that could work.

    The cost would be fixed by the buyout and Social Security might only have to be paid going forward if the individual is still employed. The cost of the Social Security, if needed, at that point can be taken from the employee and employer contributions into the SMP.

    As long as the buyout/SMP is kept as an option that was always available to the employee, then the benefit would always be convertible into a plan that consisted of Social Security with an IRA.


  29. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:23 pm:

    == PA 96-889 did not increase employee contributions for Tier 2 members, Tier 2 members contribute at the same rates as Tier 1 members. ==

    You are correct. For some reason my memory had it that the contribution rate went up.


  30. - Polpen - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:26 pm:

    The problem is not the COLA or other aspects of Tier II. The problem is the wage base growing at half of CPI. This is essentially the amount of salary that the pension applies too. This is also where the bulk load of “savings” associated with Tier II comes from. The fundamental problem is that Tier II was an attempt to make someone else (new employees) pay for decades of underfunding. The structure of Tier II created a negative normal cost. Essentially, Tier II teachers pay more than the cost of their benefit. The excess contributions go towards the unfunded contribution. Essentially, if the state hired enough teachers, they would become 100% funded. The feds don’t let you run a 400,000 forced Ponzi scheme though, and that’s the problem.


  31. - Polpen - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    Sorry, 400,000 person”


  32. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    == This isn’t a debt of the retirement systems but the state and school districts and universities. ==

    It will be a State debt because the State set up the retirement system. The only way it becomes a local debt is if the State doesn’t fix it and the teachers are forced into SS … then the district (and the teachers) will have to start paying SS contributions.


  33. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:29 pm:

    Raising the cola for Tier 2 would take away some of the savings, but not all. Tier 2 still has to work longer before vesting and before being eligible to retire.


  34. - DuPage Moderate - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:29 pm:

    Is this Rauner’s fault too?

    We’re going to run out of people and things to tax.


  35. - Ron - In Texas - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:32 pm:

    @AndyIllini

    Not exactly, but close. remember an employee may pay 6.2% to Soc Sec, but the employer matches that, so basically 12.5%. Just trying to get the math right. As an employer… I see it all the cash that goes out.


  36. - Chicagonk - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    At what point will Tier 2 employees outnumber Tier 1 employees? I have to imagine that unions will start coming under pressure from their members to focus on changing contracts to provide more support to Tier 2 employees even if it is at the expense of Tier 1 employees.


  37. - City Zen - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    8 years or so of using faulty Tier 2 “savings” numbers in all our pension liability calculations. Makes me wonder what JB’s re-amortization plan looks like under a more generous Tier 2 structure.

    We have decades of history in Illinois to show that pension benefits are always enhanced at some point. It was a fool’s errand to assume Tier 2 was going to remain as-is for 30 years.


  38. - sulla - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:38 pm:

    Honeybear,

    We’ve been over this.

    Look at the latest EDGE program annual report (2017 year is the one I’m looking at). Between 2001-2016, there has been a grand total of $674 million in EDGE credits redeemed in Illinois. That works out to about $42 million or so per year on average.

    $42 million equates to less than .4% of the roughly $11 billion Illinois contributes towards pensions each year.

    Find. Another. Scapegoat.


  39. - Anon - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:40 pm:

    ===taxes will have to go higher.===

    Our we could just start taxing federally taxed retirement.


  40. - Back to the Mountains - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:52 pm:

    Setting aside the political fight associated with this–has the state ever done an analysis looking at whether it would be cheaper to transition onto Social Security?


  41. - Old Illini - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:58 pm:

    The other reason for Social Security is Medicare.
    I have 30 years in industry plus a SURS pension, so I have Medicare.
    Medicare is a big deal.


  42. - City Zen - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    ==How much mnoney do the local school districts contribute to the TRS?==

    0.58% + whatever penalties they incurred by exceeding the pension spiking limits.


  43. - Harry - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    This is real, it’s been known since early 2011, and could easily be fixed whenever the Gen’l Assembly wants to–tho the fix would increase future liabilities and therefore current contributions (which is probably why it hasn’t already been done).


  44. - Steward As Well.... - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:02 pm:

    Chicagonk 2:37pm Nope.


  45. - Phenomynous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:07 pm:

    IIRC, all that would need to be done to fix the issue is to tie the pensionable salary cap to the salary cap of social security and it solves the problem. No need to adjust AAI’s, or multipliers.

    This change would cost the state some money, but I’m not sure would be THAT significant. It’s not like you are lifting the salary cap entirely, or compounding the AAI.


  46. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:09 pm:

    Chicagonk - what we will do is to push for tier 2 to become fair - not devour each other as the Tronclodytes hope for.


  47. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:10 pm:

    == Medicare is a big deal. ==

    Yes. These days non-coordinated retirees can buy Part A but that wasn’t always true. Part of the reason the State Retiree health insurance used to be a really big deal.


  48. - Earnest - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:15 pm:

    Not sure I’d call it a time bomb, but something to be monitored and adjustments to be made when necessary. I don’t think this is the oldest discussion we had on this, but from 2015:

    https://capitolfax.com/2015/07/02/the-tier-2-difference/#comment-12130092


  49. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:19 pm:

    –We have decades of history in Illinois to show that pension benefits are always enhanced at some point. It was a fool’s errand to assume Tier 2 was going to remain as-is for 30 years.–

    How is it “enhancement” if you aren’t even covering the federally required Social Security nut? There’s no getting away from that.


  50. - California Guy - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:19 pm:

    Why can’t this be solved by the State and local govt’s switching all Tier 2 employees to start paying Social Security?

    Also, when I worked in local gov in Illinois, I paid social security - I was also on Tier 2. I remember something about muni’s given the option back in the 80’s of paying into SS or not. The City I worked for did in fact pay into it.


  51. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:22 pm:

    California Guy, the Tier 2 contributions are needed to help fund Tier 1. If you put Tier 2 wholly into SS, the state will have to pay even more for Tier 1.


  52. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:30 pm:

    ==I’m just making the point that taxes will have to go higher unless cuts come from somewhere to help pay for increased costs. ==

    The problem is that there is no “unless” alternative in the pension arena. Decreases in pension funding has led to decreasing benefits which will end up with teachers and others in Social Security which means a bill from the Feds.


  53. - Morty - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:39 pm:

    ‘Why can’t this be solved by the State and local govt’s switching all Tier 2 employees to start paying Social Security?’

    You could- but property taxes to cover the district’s end would explode.

    And that’s not including any increases in compensation for the staff.


  54. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:49 pm:

    == Also, when I worked in local gov in Illinois, I paid social security - I was also on Tier 2. I remember something about muni’s given the option back in the 80’s of paying into SS or not. The City I worked for did in fact pay into it. ==

    A lot of government employees are coordinated, ie, they pay into both a government retirement fund and SS. Some are non-coordinated. While there are a number of groups / job titles that don’t pay into SS, just a government pension program, the biggest bunch of non-coordinated employees are the teachers. Putting teachers into SS would be a big hit on school budgets / local property taxes.


  55. - Admiral Stockdale - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:00 pm:

    Apologies, forgot the rules - but are we allowed to call it a ‘crisis’ now or is that term still frowned upon…


  56. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:01 pm:

    RNUG - and SERS and a lot of the coordinated employees are a tiny portion of the overall pension debt - right?

    What a mess. Be careful what you wish for.


  57. - Anon Y - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:03 pm:

    Without the numbers it’s not real. As think about what is being said TRS members whose salary fall within that gap are the ones going to be impacted. (Current social security maximum is $132,900.) So the issue is for members above the gap. How many are there? And what’s that cost and instead why not change it to be an increase to match the SSI cost of living increase instead of TRS trying to get it back to the 3% or higher?


  58. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:33 pm:

    Mission Control: we have a problem.

    Looks like there will be no property tax relief in the near future. In fact, it could even mean higher rates. Yikes. I’d hate to be governor.


  59. - anon2 - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:52 pm:

    This one is not Rauner’s fault. He wasn’t elected yet when they General Assembly passed tier II with a bipartisan vote and Gov. Quinn signed it. It is the four tops at the time and other proponents who are responsible.


  60. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 4:58 pm:

    == RNUG - and SERS and a lot of the coordinated employees are a tiny portion of the overall pension debt - right? ==

    Yep. SERS (mostly coordinated) is about 25%, SURS is about 25%, TRS is almost 50%, and GARS & JRS are 1% rounding errors.


  61. - City Zen - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 5:06 pm:

    What if we give Tier 2 employees the tollways instead?


  62. - thoughts matter - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 5:41 pm:

    As Rich said- this was known when it was passed in 2010. It’s been discussed in this blog over and over. It’s amazing that no one that can do anything about it paid attention until now.
    This is what happens when people pass things in the dark of night within 24 hours ( if not this particular case, There are still plenty of other cases to point to).


  63. - lostintranslation - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 8:20 pm:

    2019 Tier 2 wage cap for GARS & JRS $122,547

    2019 Tier 2 wage cap for Retirement Systems and Pension Funds other than those established under Article 2 and Article 18 of the Illinois Pension Code $114,951.83

    https://insurance.illinois.gov/Applications/Pension/Default.aspx


  64. - CaptJulie - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 8:34 pm:

    We downstate teachers are beginning to hear rumors of another 5×5 early retirement option. Can anyone Speak to the validity of this? Thanks


  65. - thoughts matter - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:26 pm:

    Captjulie …. it’s HB2910… but it comes with some not so nice caveats.


  66. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:48 pm:

    –Is this Rauner’s fault too?–

    Still Raunerbot Whiners workin’ it? For what? Does he have some gift cards left over from some bust out or somethin’.

    Geez, never thought I’d see when constant whinin’ by men was a thing in some circles.

    Haven’t you ever seen any John Wayne or Gary Cooper movies?


  67. - tier2 teacher - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:03 pm:

    re: switching to SS
    At one point, (possibly here?) there was an analysis of what it would cost districts if teachers switched to SS. I remember being shocked at the increase in payments-has anyone talked about the numbers for that (assuming that somehow we support current pension contributions).


  68. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 12:07 am:

    ==Either you pay it with the pension, or you pay it through employer Social Security contributions. ==

    And Social Security doesn’t accept IOU’s, partial, or skipped payments either.–

    FICA don’t play. You’re late on a quarterly, you’re more likely to get a visit than a letter.


  69. - lost in the weeds - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 1:38 am:

    So if the pension does not meet the SS required amount, what happens? I see comment that the 10 years missed FICA has to be made up. Employer plus employee? Does employee have to pay the missed FICA? I looked and find nothing on it.


  70. - Not Really Suprising - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 8:11 am:

    This wasn’t an oversight. This was warned of by the pension policy gurus back at the time of the change. I am a member of SURS and I do not pay social security (not my choice, it is simply not collected/remitted by my university) so I have been waiting for this issue to percolate to the top. I have often wondered when folks joke about the state pensions being bankrupt by the time employees my age can retire - then where does that leave me? I will not have social security for even a small monthly stipend. For this reason, I have a private IRA account on the side that I contribute to…but many of the paycheck to paycheck civil service folks are likely unable to have that option or luxury. You shouldn’t be able to skirt social security because of a promised benefit of at least equal value and then not provide that benefit of at least equal value. That’s the whole point of the rule.


  71. - Downstate Dreamer - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 8:19 am:

    I’m a Tier II employee working for a state agency and I’ve been into FICA since I started working for the state. I worked in the private sector for 25 years before that, so I assume I’m covered…well, as much as anyone can assume the future of state pensions and Social Security.


  72. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 8:27 am:

    Downstate Dreamer - read up on the windfall provision. I’m not an expert, seek an expert for real advice, but you are not as safe as you think. You might need to cash out of the state system to get your SS.


  73. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 9:36 am:

    Thanks ThoughtsMatter. That IMO. Was really helpful


  74. - thoughts matter - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 10:33 am:

    Windfall provision applies only to service not covered by social security. So it applies to Illinois teachers. It applies to some government workers. However the ‘coordinated’ ones that have always had social security taken out of their government paycheck are not affected.

    Anonymous - I can’t tell if you are seriously thanking me or being sarcastic. Since you didn’t pick a name, I can’t relate this thank you to any previous post you’ve made to help me correctly interpret it.


  75. - eyeball - Tuesday, Mar 19, 19 @ 1:25 pm:

    so this is the pension cost shift


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