Preckwinkle tries again on Cook County pension changes
To tell the truth the resolutions to reestablish the city employees pension plan is up for grabs. To date nothing sound has been put on the table as a doable sustainable plan. However Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has put forth her best efforts to revive a plan to overhaul government worker pensions, with supporters arguing the proposal is vastly different from changes to state retirement benefits recently struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Preckwinkle’s proposal stand to cut benefits and raise retirement ages but also guarantee health care benefits for workers at retirement. It calls for the county to put almost $147 million more a year into the pension fund, yet there’s no specifics about how she’ll fund that increase. In fact she sounds very politician like, “all options are on the table.”
According to one internal county document, if the County Board chooses to foot the bill with a property tax increase, the average homeowner would pay up to $65 more a year starting in 2017, when Preckwinkle sought the same legislation last year. Unfortunately the measure was approved by the Senate last year but stalled in the House. It is now on schedule to be heard by a panel of House lawmakers next week.
Lawmakers have been challenged with how to cut pension costs after the Supreme Court ruled that a 2013 law that cut state worker retirement benefits violated a clause in the Illinois Constitution that says such benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”
It’s rumored that Cook County plan may get around that restriction using a theory in contract law called “consideration.” Under that theory, benefits can be scaled back, but only if workers agree to the changes and are given something in return.
Preckwinkle backs a proposal supported by some labor unions and carries the promise the county would pay more into the system in exchange for a change in benefits. In addition the plan provides a first-time guarantee of health insurance subsidies for retirees and a hedge against inflation in cost-of-living increases, county officials said.
In summary the proposal on the table has a different structure than the law denied by the high court and appears to be worth passing.
Under the proposal, current county employees would see their retirement contributions increased to 10.5 percent of their annual pay by 2016 — up either 2 percentage points or 1.5 percentage points, depending on the employee.
Future retirees, but not current ones, would get less in yearly cost-of-living bumps. Instead of 3 percent a year compounded increases, they would receive either half the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is higher, with a limit of 4 percent. But unlike earlier state and city pension changes, the county adjustments would remain compounded, allowing pension checks to rise more quickly over time.
County workers also would have to work longer before they could retire. In most cases, retirement ages would be raised by five years.
The proposed changes would not apply to employees who started working for the county after 2010 because they already pay more and get less when it comes to retirement.