Fitch: Lawsuit Against Chicago Pension Cuts Expected; Emblematic of Reform Difficulty


Chicago unions and public employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block pension changes coming in 2015 that would reduce future COLA increases and require workers to pay more toward their retirement.

In a newly released commentary, rating agency Fitch says the lawsuit was expected. But it also demonstrates the difficulty of making changes to pension benefits in a state that protects them fiercely.

From Fitch:

Tuesday’s legal challenge to Chicago’s recent pension reform plan was expected and underscores the difficulty the city faces in its efforts to put its pension plans on firmer footing. Illinois affords particularly strong legal protection to pension benefits.

If the litigation succeeds and changes to the cost of living adjustments (COLAs) and employee contributions are struck down (and no replacement legislation is passed), the city would likely revert back to the lower, statutorily based payments, as annual payments on an actuarially sound basis would rise dramatically. These increases would occur in the context of a statutorily required $538 million increase in contributions for the city’s other two pension systems (police and fire) in 2016. The city has not yet said how the increased pension costs will be accommodated, but Fitch Ratings believes they threaten to crowd out other governmental priorities and remain a formidable challenge to the city’s financial equilibrium.

The city benefits from a strong local economy and enjoys broad home rule authority to raise revenues. However, increasing pension costs are a common problem among Chicago-area governments and funding these increases will likely place a considerable stacked burden on the area’s resource base.


If the new plan is upheld, it would require significant payment increases from the city, approximately half of which are expected to be funded by increased property taxes and half by budgetary savings. The city plans to gradually increase its revenues for pension payments, which may include property taxes, by $50 million (approximately 6%) annually for five years before reaching the target increment of $250 million in the fifth year.

According to Fitch, Chicago’s pension plans carry a collective funding ratio of 35 percent.


Photo by bitsorf via Flickr CC LIcense

Unions Sue Over Chicago Pension Cuts


Chicago unions and public employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block pension changes coming in 2015 that would reduce future COLA increases and require workers to pay more toward their retirement.

From the International Business Times:

The law in question is scheduled to take effect in the new year and will slash pension benefits for workers and retirees in Chicago’s Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund and Board of Trustees of the Municipal Employee’s Annuity and Benefit Fund, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, argued Public Act 98-0641 violates a provision and “straightforward promise” in the Illinois Constitution that forbids the diminishment or impairment of public employee retirement benefits. The lawsuit stated that the pension reform law, which was enacted in June, unlawfully reduces pension benefits for the plaintiffs and all others who chose a public-service career.

“Unless this court strikes down and enjoins implementation of the Act, Plaintiffs and thousands of other current and retired City of Chicago and Chicago Board of Education employees will be harmed and the trust that all Illinois citizens place in the inviolability of their Constitution will be breached,” the lawsuit stated.

The plaintiffs, comprised of 12 current and former workers and four unions, requested the court declare Public Act 98-0641 entirely “unconstitutional, void and unenforceable.” Current retirees will suffer immediately, while the same “injustice” awaits current public workers when they retire, according to the lawsuit.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the law was created with the support of many unions and is both constitutional and necessary to ensure 61,000 city workers and retirees receive pensions. “Without this reform, these two funds will run out of money in just a matter of years, which is why we must defend this law to protect the future of our workers, retirees, and taxpayers,” Emanuel said in a statement.

At the end of 2012, the city’s six pension funds were collectively 50 percent funded.


Photo by bitsorf via Flickr CC LIcense