Daily Herald
Ideas on how to fix the pension crisis
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 4/28/2010 12:00 AM

Civic watchdogs, unions, taxpayers groups and lawmakers propose several ways to deal with the state's $78 billion debt to public pension systems:

Illinois General Assembly

Reform measure signed April 14 by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Key point: Changes apply only to people not yet hired.

Pro: Lowers future costs by more than $200 billion over decades.

Con: Doesn't touch state's $78 billion debt to the pension system.

• Raises minimum retirement age for teachers, state and university employees, judges and lawmakers from 55 to 67.

• Calculates pension only up to $106,800 of salary.

• Lowers pension percentage for new judges and lawmakers from 85 percent to 60 percent of salary.

• Generally limits pension cost-of-living increases to half of the Consumer Price Index or 3 percent, whichever is lower.

Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

Civic business group

Key point: Would limit benefits tied to future earnings of current employees. No changes for current retirees' benefits.

Pro: Would save an estimated $2 billion a year immediately.

Con: Reduced benefits might keep top employees out of public service, unions say.

• Increase employee contributions by at least 1 percentage point (public school teachers and administrators now pay 9.4 percent.)

• Require retirees to pay more for health care.

• Better yet, replace pensions with a defined contribution plan such as 401(k).

Center for Tax and Budget Accountability

Board includes unions and social advocacy groups.

Key point: Depends on new revenue, not benefit reductions.

Pro: Quickest to pay off state's pension obligation and reduce interest payments.

Con: Would raise taxes significantly.

• Tax services such as dry cleaning and auto repair to raise state revenue.

• Require the state to pay its full pension obligation each year.

• Change the Illinois Constitution to create a progressive income tax, with a higher tax rate for higher incomes.

Illinois Policy Institute

Supports "free market" policy

Key point: Borrow money and rein in spending to pay the pension debt.

Pro: Ultimately designed to balance budget.

Con: Borrowing would merely delay day of reckoning, conservative critics say.

• Borrow $18 billion over the next 15 years to make required annual payments to pension fund.

• Freeze state budget for three years at 2010 levels.

• Limit future state budget increases to inflation rate plus population increase.

• Use projected excess revenue to pay down the pension debt and then pay tax refunds.

• Sell or lease state assets like the tollways.

National Taxpayers United

Conservative taxpayers group

Key point: Would abolish state pensions.

Pro: Would save an estimated $50 billion in coming decades.

Con: Reduces benefits far below other public-sector workers'.

• End pensions for new state hires and replace it with Social Security, Medicare and 401(k) contributions.

• Require current workers to contribute 8 percent more of their income toward pension and health benefits and $250 per month after retirement.

Sources: Illinois General Assembly, Civic Committee, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Illinois Policy Institute, National Taxpayers United of Illinois.