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Pension Town Hall Meeting Stirs Debate

Illinois' state pension debt is currently at $95 billion — citizens discussed their ideas of how to fix that at Monday's meeting.

Passions were high at Monday night's town hall meeting on current state pension proposals. Panelists at the meeting, which was held at the Wilmette Community Center, included Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview), Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston). 

The meeting, which was so packed that it had to be split up in to two rooms to make room for everyone, was held to discuss the Senate Bill 35 (SB35) and House Bill 98 (HB98), which both aim to end the "long, bitter impasse over pension reform at the state Capitol by combining what has been proposed by business, labor, legislators and civic groups with some new ideas," according to a hand-out passed out before the meeting began.

. The low rating is, in large part, due to the state's pension debt, which is at $95 billion. 

The bill would aim to reduce the state's pension debt to $67 billion. Some attendees, however, felt that the cuts would be unfair to teachers, as public schools, universities and colleges would be accountable for paying for a larger percent of teacher's pensions out of their own budgets, and the state would pay less per the pensions. 

Sonja Dziedzic and Cindy Davies, both art teachers in District 64 in Park Ridge, attended the meeting. 

"It's just the same thing over and over again," Dziedzic said. 

Both women agreed that they would like to see the government hold corporations more accountable when it comes to paying taxes. 

"We're in a state of emergency," Biss said, when asked if the bill was worth the risk. "What can you do in that context? The truth is, we don't know. ... But it's necessary to try something, even if you're not sure if it's going to work." 

Panelists agreed that those with an opinion should contact their local representatives and senators to tell them what they think should be done to fix the pension system. 

john t. thomas February 05, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Seems to me that our legislators are ignoring a basic tenet. The assembly is the body who mandated the pension rates, retirement age and other details of the bankrupt system. Why can not they have just a smidgeon of courage and change whatever paramenters are need to (long term correct the problem. To throw the hot potato into local laps who are powerless to change parameters is so arrogant as to be stupid. Somehow a touch of sanity has ruled the IMRF sustem so our local mucicipal employees have little to worry about. Why can't the assembly do the same workable ssytem for the badly underfunded other employees?
Jason Hays February 06, 2013 at 02:56 AM
IMRF is appropriately funded because municipalities are LEGALLY BOUND to make all required pension contributions. If the city fails to make its payments, then the IMRF fund removes the payments from state-level funding that the city would otherwise have received. This effectively eliminates the temptation for cities to take "pension holidays" and squander those funds dedicated to long-term obligations for short-term "feel good" projects. Similar "iron-clad" funding needs to be in place for the 5 statewide pension funds. The lack of reliable contributions is what caused the pension "crisis" in the first place.
Deadcatbounce February 06, 2013 at 03:35 AM
You forgot over 30 years of pension enhancements Jason as another reason for the pension crisis. IMRF pension does not have an enhancement problem. Also having schools spike salaries and the state on the hook for the pension is a big problem.
Danni February 06, 2013 at 05:25 AM
John T. Thomas-agree with your assessment of the stupidity of Biss-however, either it was election fraud that won him the seat, or too many also stupid voters that placed in the seat-which is it, do you think?
Wire Points February 06, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Jason, also IMFR is by no means fully funded -- roughly 80% last time Iooked based on their official numbers. But all those official numbers are phone and new accounting standards will soon force them to come clean. And the popular notion that being 80% funded is OK is a complete "myth" according to the American Society of Actuaries: http://www.actuary.org/files/80%25_Funding_IB_FINAL071912.pdf

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