Bruce Rauner Named Most Important Player in U.S. Pensions

Bruce Rauner

Institutional Investor magazine has released its list of the 40 most influential people in U.S. pensions. Topping the list is the man who now governs a state with one of the worst pension problems in the country: Bruce Rauner.

From Institutional Investor:

Republican Bruce Rauner, the victor over Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in the recent Illinois gubernatorial race, may regret he ever wished to win elective office. Rauner, onetime chairman of Chicago private equity firm GTCR, has had no real profile on retirement policy but finds himself staring at what may be the most serious pension mess among the states.

As of June 30, 2014, Illinois’s pension debt had reached $111 billion; Moody’s Investors Service reported in September that the state’s three-year average pension liability over revenue was 258 percent, five times the median percentage for all 50 states.

In 2013, Quinn persuaded the legislature to pass a bill raising the retirement age and cutting cost-of-living increases for beneficiaries. But the Illinois constitution holds that pensions cannot be “diminished,” and a coalition of public employee unions sued. And on November 21, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz found the law unconstitutional, declaring, “Protection against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is absolute and without exception.”

Depending on various appeals, Rauner, 57, could try to implement his campaign agenda for pensions, which includes capping the current program and shifting members to a defined contribution plan — though he has begun to talk of just shifting new employees to avoid legal problems. Rauner has said he’d seek to keep benefits from rising faster than inflation and would eliminate employees’ ability to receive large pay hikes before retirement to beef up their pensions.

The odds of pushing these reforms through a Democratic-controlled state senate remain long, made worse by allegations that Rauner (and separately, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel [No. 4]) accepted contributions from executives affiliated with firms that manage Illinois pension plans. Rauner has not publicly responded to the allegations.

The ranking clearly reflects not what Rauner has already done, but the power he will have in the coming years. If the Illinois Supreme Court strikes down the state’s pension reform law, lawmakers will have to start from scratch – and Rauner will be at the helm.

 

Photo By Steven Vance [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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