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*** UPDATED x3 - Firefighters support - Pritzker disses IPPFA - ILFOP expresses “strong concerns” *** Pritzker task force favors first responder pension asset consolidation, but stops short of recommending pension benefit administration consolidation

Thursday, Oct 10, 2019

* The full study is here, but this is the executive summary

Of the financial challenges facing the State of Illinois, perhaps the most critical to state and local governments’ overall long-term financial health is the long-standing challenge of our unfunded pension liabilities and the ever-increasing burdens that places on local property taxes. Illinois has more than 660 funds, the second-highest number of pension plans of any state in the country.

Within the constellation of pensions in Illinois, roughly 650 of them are suburban and downstate police and fire plans, most of which face headwinds in large part caused by the relatively small size of each plan. Because many are so small, they are unable to gain access to investment opportunities that provide the highest returns and competitive investment fees. Collectively these pension plans today earn significantly lower investment returns than larger pension plans. For example, suburban and downstate police and fire plans generated on average 2 percentage points less annually over the past 10 years than the statewide municipal employees’ fund. In addition, these numerous small funds pay substantially higher expenses to manage their assets and administer benefits. The sheer number of plans and the extraordinarily modest asset levels relative to other plans exacerbate both of these challenges.

Not only does this negatively impact the funding level of police and fire pension plans, but local taxpayers are left with the burden of paying taxes to make up for these lower investment returns, forcing most municipalities to rely on a never-ending cycle of increasing local property taxes or cutting services to meet their pension obligations.

To help solve the police and fire pension funding problem and relieve the burden on taxpayers, Governor Pritzker announced the creation of the Pension Consolidation Feasibility Task Force on February 11, 2019, to explore and make recommendations for consolidation of pension funds in order to achieve the greatest value for employees, retirees, and taxpayers. Members of the task force include municipalities, labor unions, former elected officials and financial experts.

After eight months of data collection, analysis, and many meetings, the Task Force recommends the State take the following actions:

STEP 1: Consolidate suburban & downstate police & fire pension plan assets.

The single most impactful step that the State can take to address the underfunding of downstate and suburban police and fire pension funds is to consolidate the plans’ investment assets. This step is immediately actionable and beneficial to the health of the plans, retirees, and taxpayers. Analysis by the Department of Insurance estimates that if the more than $14 billion of suburban and downstate police and fire plans were to achieve investment returns similar to the other larger Illinois plans over the next five years, they would collectively generate an additional $820 million to $2.5 billion in investment returns alone. If they were to achieve comparable returns over the remaining 20 years on their statutory ramp to 90% funded status, they would create an additional $3.6 to $12.7 billion in investment returns alone.

To achieve this consolidation, the Task Force recommends that the State create two new funds, one for municipal police beneficiaries and one for municipal fire beneficiaries, to pool the assets of the roughly 650 downstate and suburban police and fire funds and manage those assets. Each fund would be governed by a board with equal representation of employees and employers. Each local pension plan would maintain an individual and separate account within the new consolidated funds, such that no assets or liabilities are shifted from one plan to another. Each of the two consolidated funds will be held in independent trusts, separate from the State Treasury, with sole governance provided by their respective boards.

With up to $1 million a day in lost investment returns to the pension plans, the Task Force recommends there be legislation passed by the General Assembly in the fall of 2019 that will achieve this consolidation.

In addition, the Task Force recommends other statutory changes to ensure the State is compliant with the safe harbor standard of the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Code, thereby avoiding substantial and sudden future costs to municipalities resulting from non-compliance.

STEP 2: Review consolidation of suburban/downstate police & fire pension plan benefit administration; review of other state and local plans to determine advantages of consolidation

Downstate and suburban police and fire funds face further financial challenges beyond just the underperformance of investment returns and high cost of administering assets of these systems that consolidation will address. Therefore, the Task Force recognizes there may be additional advantages to consolidating the benefit administration of these plans. However, because such action requires further discussion with those who would be affected by such a change, it is the recommendation of the Task Force that it should continue to review the advantages and challenges of consolidating benefit administration, and to make potential recommendations to the Governor on this issue.

Additionally, there are 15 other pension systems in Illinois outside of suburban and downstate police and fire that bear significant financial burdens. Unlike suburban and downstate police and fire plans these funds are larger funds, and consolidation would not achieve material improvement of their investment returns. Because the current financial pressures on these systems are so significant, especially for the City of Chicago, it is recommended that the Task Force to continue to review the potential advantages of consolidation of these larger systems and to make recommendations to the Governor on this issue.

Remember, the end game here is 60-30-1. The firefighters in particular have a huge amount of Statehouse clout, but so do other players. One step at a time.

I’ll post react if it comes in.

…Adding… From the governor’s office…

“Under the current arrangement, Illinois’ suburban and downstate police and firefighter pension funds are underperforming by nearly one million dollars per day. That’s not just a missed opportunity – that’s a hole these funds are digging deeper every year – and then municipalities have to ask taxpayers to fill the hole,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We’ll be proposing legislation this fall to consolidate the assets of the 649 suburban and downstate pension funds into two statewide funds. This consolidation will improve the financial health of the plans and help secure the future for the retired workers who rely on them – and it will alleviate some of the property tax burden plaguing homeowners and renters across our state.”

*** UPDATE 1 *** ILFOP…

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) today expressed strong concerns about the recommendations contained within the Governor’s Committee on Pension Consolidation Report. FOP members had initially been optimistic that the committee would propose a process that would reduce fees, increase investment returns and better guarantee retirement security for law enforcement officers, their widows and orphans. However, the committee’s recommendations fail to accomplish these critical things.

“Law enforcement officers were not allowed to participate, provide feedback or be shown that this was anything other than an attempt to grab officers’ money,” said FOP Labor Council Executive Director Shawn Roselieb,who noted that the committee’s meetings were not open to the public. “Officers have paid their own money into these police pension funds every working day of their lives.”

The report recommends that the consolidated police pension fund be governed by a board where only 50 percent of the trustees are law enforcement officers. Illinois’ 16 current public employee retirement funds, including the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, are constituted of governing boards with a majority of members of the fund.

“No one is more concerned with the proper administration of public safety pensions than our 36,000 members,” Roselieb said. “But this committee thinks downstate police officers are the only public employees who are just not smart or sophisticated enough to manage their own money.”

The State of Illinois’ “worst in the nation” track record of managing public pensions is also cause for concern among working and retired law enforcement officers.

“Illinois police officers are not inclined to believe the state when it says it’s going to responsibly manage their money,” said FOP State Lodge President Chris Southwood. “This problem is at the heart of the FOP’s concern. Any consolidation must contain a firewall between police officers’ money and the people responsible for the pension system debacle in this state.”

Roselieb and Southwood urged members of the Illinois General Assembly to actively seek input from law enforcement officers and the general public on any pension consolidation proposal, something that the Committee on Pension Consolidation did not do when formulating its report.

“We applaud Governor Pritzker for taking on this tough subject,” Southwood said. “But the committee’s secret deliberations and their attempt to diminish future public input on the pension fund’s governance are not the right way to reach a good solution.”

*** UPDATE 2 *** Gov. Pritzker was asked today about opposition from the Illinois Public Pension Fund Association, which represents the 600+ local pension fund administrators and conducts training sessions. His response…

These are the folks who run the junkets. The recent one cost about $8 million to the taxpayers to send people to Lake Geneva on a retreat.

I realize that this is going to disrupt their business model, but frankly we have to do better for the taxpayers of this state.

*** UPDATE 3 *** From Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois President Pat Devaney…

We support the recommendations of the task force.

Oh, man, that’s huge. That does more for the prospects of passing this thing than just about anything else.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

44 Comments »
  1. - Steve - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    How many communities want to merge pension funds ? That pretty heavy lifting.


  2. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 1:55 pm:

    Another move they could make that would have some value is to move oversight from DOI to a more appropriate agency. Pensions don’t fit there, and like much of state government that division suffers from poor funding and staffing. They should correct that historical accident.


  3. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    == “But this committee thinks downstate police officers are the only public employees who are just not smart or sophisticated enough to manage their own money.”==

    Has Roselieb seen the numbers for the East St Louis pension funds? That isn’t what the committee is saying, but if it was, they wouldn’t exactly be wrong . Some are in great shape, but many downstate police and fire funds are in mediocre-to-terrible financial positions


  4. - The Captain - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:16 pm:

    If this investment consolidation makes sense for downstate police and fire funds doesn’t it also make sense for the 5 state pension funds?


  5. - Original Rambler - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:21 pm:

    It’s not “their own money” unless the officers are funding it at 100%. The citizenry have a financial stake in this issue. I don’t like the idea of officers having the votes to make pension decisions for their fellow officers. Central administration is a good idea.


  6. - Ben L. - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:31 pm:

    Has there been any discussion of encouraging/requiring pension funds (consolidated or not) to shift from actively managed investments to an indexing strategy? CalPERS has saved a ton of money on management fees since shifting to indexing 5-6 years ago.


  7. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:32 pm:

    “Headwinds caused by a relatively small size of each plan?” Um no. 1995 pension reform created funding structure designed to cause liabilities to grow until the very end of the 90% funded by 2040 idea. That’s when the heavy lifting would occur. No plan was ever required to contribute the actuarial required amount, only the statutory amount. There is a big difference.


  8. - Nick Name - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:36 pm:

    ===These are the folks who run the junkets.===

    Ouch.


  9. - Amalia - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:42 pm:

    that junket comment is spot on. some are very invested (ha) in having a position and getting things that they believe should come with it. sent to a training session, they skip the training and golf. asked to bring back training materials for others? what materials. this is true of far too many out of office events in all sorts of disciplines.


  10. - Polpen - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:43 pm:

    It should be telling that when the only police officer on the Committee expressed concerns he was kicked off and never received a copy of the report but was included as a task force member despite never voting for anything. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.


  11. - Nova - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:53 pm:

    AFFI’s support is important, but not surprising as they were on the task force. The downstate funds were not part of the discussion.


  12. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 2:57 pm:

    I’m not a big fan of consolidation, but this just makes too much sense. There’s no need for two pension boards per community.


  13. - Smalls - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:11 pm:

    Just Me, AFFI is the union that represents most of the firefighters in Illinois.


  14. - Shemp - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:22 pm:

    Steve, very few municipalities are going to object if this stays in “Each local pension plan would maintain an individual and separate account within the new consolidated funds, such that no assets or liabilities are shifted from one plan to another.”

    From the Illinois Municipal League today:
    “This plan is the result of a true collaborative effort to find a solution to one of the state’s most pressing problems. Consolidating the investments of these pension funds will serve as a win-win for both pensioners and their communities by stabilizing pension funds and easing the financial burden on taxpayers. Lawmakers must now take action to make this proposal law,” said Brad Cole, Illinois Municipal League Executive Director, who served on the consolidation task force.


  15. - Shemp - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:23 pm:

    IML’s press release here: https://legislative.iml.org/file.cfm?key=17424


  16. - Steve - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:32 pm:

    - Shemp -

    I hope you are right. Although, the state legislature has the power to pretty much do what they want.


  17. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:36 pm:

    ===We support the recommendations of the task force.===

    “Why didn’t they say more?”

    They don’t need to say more. They said it all right there.

    Having AFFI on board, a crew I respect a great deal, not only for who they represent but because that crew is one of the elite groups in the State House, this gives the recommendations and the Governor not only a fighting chance, but instant credibility to the process.

    So few words, but the weight of those words make them far more important than any gibberish for or against this.

    It’s no snark, huge props to AFFI for who they are, and also for their position.

    Congrats to the Governor’s Crew. Wow. You have my complete attention on this matter. Well done.


  18. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:40 pm:

    Short report light on details.

    In the past changes like this required an agreement by all the stakeholders including employee and employer groups.
    If all the employee groups agree then it should pass.

    Some Gov. J.B. statements seemed suspicious. For example, one note pointed out the public safety pension funds are funded at a higher level than just about every other state fund. What are the public safety folks doing that the funds run out of Springfield are not doing?

    Also JBP’s assertion that some group spent $8,000,000 in an out of state conference seems ludicrous. Where does that number come from? If a 1000 folks went then they would be responsible for spending $8,000 a person over a few days. I understand the “need” to spin facts, but this seems like a “whopper”.

    Why is it necessary to pass this in the veto session? When you are taking control of billions of dollars from folks shouldn’t the Governor give the interested parties a chance to all participate in a discussion on this?

    Again, if all the public safety groups are on board then go ahead. After all, it is their retirement money.


  19. - Shemp - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:47 pm:

    Firefighters union can support because there is one across the State. They can afford to be real and understand that the financial health of cities is important to ensuring pension funds get paid and new/future members can still be hired. Because there are several police union orgs (FOP, MAP, PBA etc, they all have to fight to make the biggest P.R. stink to make it look like they are fighting for the officers so they can win over/retain more locals. They want the fight even if it means reduced financial stability for the employers (municipalities) which jeopardizes the number of officers a city might employ. Short term thinking. They also don’t want State administration because when it comes to making pension calls on disability and such, it’s easier to win locally when the board is more than half your current and former coworkers and you’re arguing with a board that rarely gets cases and knows all the legal ins and outs that are required. A statewide administration would buffer some of that and provide more resources to battle the questionable cases… not that anyone has ever tried to game a public pension system before….


  20. - DarkDante - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:50 pm:

    ==some group spent $8,000,000 in an out of state conference seems ludicrous==

    It is ludicrous, but it was just reported recently.

    https://wgntv.com/2019/10/03/illinois-pension-conference-cost-taxpayers-at-least-8-million/


  21. - Smalls - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:55 pm:

    == In the past changes like this required an agreement by all the stakeholders including employee and employer groups. ==

    Maybe that is why we have some of the worst funded pensions in the nation. Time for leadership on smart ideas.


  22. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    I guess if the Governor said it it must be true.
    Right?


  23. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:06 pm:

    If Bruce Rauner would have suggested consolidating billions of dollars in union members retirement funds so his investment firm buddies could get easier access to the cash I bet the capitol fax brain trust would have reacted much differently that they did today.


  24. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:09 pm:

    ===If Bruce Rauner would have suggested consolidating billions of dollars in union members retirement funds so his investment firm buddies could get easier access to the cash I bet the capitol fax brain trust would have reacted much differently that they did today.===

    … but Bruce Rauner suggested that Illinois should end prevailing wage and collective bargaining, to not only alienate labor, but attempt to dismantle labor.

    Good times.


  25. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:12 pm:

    Can anybody guess which plan has always had a contribution enforcement mechanism?

    Average Fire and Police Funded Ratio = 55%
    Illinois Teachers = 41%
    SURS = 43%
    SERS = 36%
    JRS = 36%
    GARS = 15%
    IMRF = 90%


  26. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:12 pm:

    If you’re defending a quitter who asked four people to take his place due to his own failures as governor to try to make this move of consolidation in pensions… you’re probably doing it wrong, lol


  27. - Fixer - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:14 pm:

    Back to the Future, it’s been shown here pretty recently that they spent that much. Anything you have that can refute the actual reports?


  28. - Bourbon Street - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 4:48 pm:

    Re: UPDATE x2: Sometimes a little “plain speaking” ala Harry Truman is refreshing. Good response by Pritzker.


  29. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 5:20 pm:

    I know the Lake Geneva area pretty well. Spending $8000.00
    Per person would be a very hard number to reach.
    The Governor is saying each attendee spent $8000 each over a couple of days. That seems impossible to me.


  30. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:02 pm:

    == The State of Illinois’ “worst in the nation” track record of managing public pensions … ==

    The State people managing THE FUNDS THEY WERE GIVEN have done a pretty decent job over the years.

    It would be more accurate to say:

    The State of Illinois’ “worst in the nation” track record of MAKING CONTRIBUTIONS to public pensions


  31. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:06 pm:

    == doesn’t it also make sense for the 5 state pension funds? ==

    Effectively speaking there are 3 sets of management at the State level.

    SRS oversees SERS, GARS and JRS. TRs is separate, as is SURS.


  32. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:09 pm:

    == “Headwinds caused by a relatively small size of each plan?” Um no. 1995 pension reform created funding structure designed to cause liabilities to grow until the very end of the 90% funded by 2040 idea. ==

    Mixing apples and oranges. The Edgar Ramp only affected the 5 State level plans.


  33. - Steve Polite - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:13 pm:

    @Back to the Future, the governor didn’t make up the $8,000,000 figure. Mark Maxwell at WCIA reported on it based on information from the Illinois Municipal League. The IML said that was the estimated cost.


  34. - South Side Sam - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:19 pm:

    How dare anyone considering goring the FOP’s Lake Geneva OX………


  35. - My thoughts - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:21 pm:

    Did Pritzker get caught speeding to this meeting with his boat on Lake Genva…lol. ?


  36. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:23 pm:

    == If Bruce Rauner would have suggested consolidating billions of dollars in union members retirement funds … ==

    Rauner generated better than average returns with the State money his firm was given to invest. No complaint about his financial performance. But quite a few people had moral misgivings about his bust-out methods …


  37. - RNUG - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:29 pm:

    == Can anybody guess which plan has always had a contribution enforcement mechanism? … ==

    And in 1975 the unions, based on the 1970 Pension Clause, tried to get the courts to force the State to contribute to the State level pension funds; we all know how that turned out.

    Like most political entities, The State House and Senate were much better at governing others (IMRF) than themselves (TRS, SURS, SERS, JRS & GARS).


  38. - yinn - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 6:44 pm:

    Pat Devaney is a member of the task force. He not only understands the situation better than the average bear, he explains it very well.


  39. - Anonymous - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 7:00 pm:

    The IPPFA conference has always been a junket. There’s no reason for an Illinois association to hold a conference in Lake Geneva. According to the reports, 3,000 people attended this conference which works out to $2,600 per person. That includes registration, hotel for 3-4 nights, food, travel expenses, and probably the cost of their salaries since the current law requires that they be allowed to attend while on duty.


  40. - Cadillac - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 8:03 pm:

    === Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 3:36 pm:

    Congrats to the Governor’s Crew. Wow. You have my complete attention on this matter. Well done. ===

    Seriously?

    You need to get out more.


  41. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 8:06 pm:

    Aw - Cadillac -, lol

    You have a thought about AFFI on board or how big it is or are you just bored and decided the lone comment you make today has to be about me?

    I’m more worried for you.


  42. - Pension Board Member - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 8:22 pm:

    I feel this is a bold step but one I support. I do not attend IPPFA Conference but it should be pointed out that not all attendees are pension board members. There are many financial types, lawyers and other assorted interested parties that also attend.


  43. - Blue Dog Dem - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 9:25 pm:

    I applaud JB and associates for this activity.


  44. - anon - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 9:55 pm:

    I most appreciate that the most responsible municipalities are not punished. The IMRF model of individual accounts for each jurisdiction makes it fair. For it 100%.

    JB was right on about IPPFA.


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