Municipal retirement fund sets good example for state

 
 
Published: 5/25/2008 12:05 AM | Updated: 5/25/2008 12:18 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Not all Illinois pension funds are in serious financial trouble.

Officials at the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund tout the news wherever they can. They're not part of the underfunded state system -- and yes, their system for the past two years has been 100-percent funded.

That means the system roughly has all the money needed to cover all their members' earned benefits if they retired today. The five funds for state employees, in comparison, have a $42 billion combined debt and are only 63-percent funded.

How did they do it? IMRF officials say it's a combination of good planning and wise investing.

The fund has 84,000 retirees and 174,000 active members serving in local government throughout Illinois. It covers everyone from city, village and county workers to firefighters and police officers whose communities don't have local funds.

It was created in 1941 with five employers and $5,000 in assets. Today, it serves nearly 3,000 government bodies and has more than $24 billion in assets. Retirees each receive about $750 a month in average benefits.

Louis Kosiba, IMRF's executive director, credits smart investments and a diverse portfolio with helping to keep cash coming in. About two-thirds of the fund's money comes from investments, with the rest from employers and employees.

But early on, Kosiba said, the fund made a long-term plan to ensure it was as close to fully funded as possible -- and stuck to it. The state funds racked up a big debt because lawmakers for many years didn't put in enough money to cover retiree costs, spending that money on other needs.

"There's no one to blame," Kosiba said. "People want government that runs efficiently. Sometimes you just have to make a choice."

Kosiba said IMRF is committed to ensure both employees and employers pay what's expected of them each year to cover benefit costs. He said the state could slowly dig out of its hole if it made the same commitment.

"We've always had the funding goal," Kosiba said. "Once the momentum gets going, it really works out well."