Illinois Supreme Court Pension Ruling May Not Affect Chicago Reforms, Say Lawyers

chicago

The City of Chicago filed a brief with the state Supreme Court last week in support of the state’s pension reform law, in part because the city has its own set of pension reforms that could be impacted by the ruling.

But even a ruling overturning the state’s pension law might not affect Chicago’s own reforms, a lawyer for the city said Wednesday.

From Reuters:

Richard Prendergast, an attorney representing Chicago, told Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak that the 2014 law for Chicago’s municipal and laborers’ retirement systems would not automatically be voided if the state’s high court later this year determines a 2013 law enacted for Illinois’ sagging pension system is unconstitutional.

He said the state is basing its defense on the need to invoke its police powers to ensure it can fund essential state services. The city has an additional argument that its law does not unconstitutionally diminish pension benefits because without its cost-saving elements and higher contributions the two pension funds would become insolvent within a matter of years, he explained.

“The one thing that is not contested here is these two pension funds are in the toilet,” Prendergast said at a court hearing on the unions’ request for a preliminary injunction to stop the Chicago pension law.

Chicago’s reforms mandate higher pension contributions from workers and the city, as well as reduced COLAs.

Two lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of those reforms.

 

Photo by bitsorf via Flickr CC License

Illinois Unions Challenging Reform Law Ask Supreme Court to Slow Down

Illinois

When the lawsuit against Illinois’ pension reform law went to the Supreme Court, the Court obliged the state’s request for an expedited process.

The state, win or lose, wants the court’s decision as soon as possible.

But unions and public employees fighting the law are now asking the court to slow down the process. They say they need more time to respond to arguments presented in briefs filed by nearly a dozen groups in support of the law last week.

From Northern Public Radio:

Unions and others fighting to prevent Illinois’ pension law from taking effect are asking the state Supreme Court to ease up on its accelerated timeline.A Sangamon County judge ruled the measure unconstitutional. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed paperwork earlier this month that says the state can use “police powers” to cut pensions.

Ten other groups filed briefs backing Madigan’s position.

John Fitzgerald is an attorney who represents retired public school teachers. He says lawyers need more time to respond to all of those additional arguments.

Fitzgerald says his side is still confident reducing benefits is illegal.

“Although we believe that the arguments raised by the amici need to be evaluated and responded to, we do not believe that any of those arguments have any merit; we do not believe that the amici have raised any arguments that should change the outcome of this case.”

The lawyers are asking for an additional month to file briefs with the court. Currently, the briefs are due Feb. 16.

Questions Surround Bruce Rauner’s Pension Proposal, But Rauner To Be Mum on Specifics Until Court Ruling

Bruce Rauner

Illinois’ pension reform law currently sits in legal limbo. But if the Supreme Court deems it unconstitutional, all eyes will shift to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who will need to propose a new solution to the state’s pension woes.

On the campaign trail, Rauner supported a plan to shift workers into a 401(K)-style plan. He has since softened his stance a bit, but hasn’t offered much in the way of clarification as to the specifics of his plan.

From the Chicago Tribune:

With Rauner taking over, the pension debt remains unsettled. As has been the case on many issues, the Republican has offered general answers about his preferences for dealing with public pensions and how he’ll respond if the new law is struck down.

“We have some very specific thoughts on that, but we’ll be developing those with the General Assembly,” Rauner said during a postelection visit to the Capitol. “We need a comprehensive, fair overhaul of the pension system, and we’ll make that a top priority.”

[…]

Asked recently if the state should begin working on a “Plan B” while the pension law is debated by the state Supreme Court, Rauner said his “preference is probably to wait until the Supreme Court rules, so we have some ground rules for what probably works and what won’t work. I think that’s a smarter way to do it.”

Would Rauner’s 401(k) plan work? Would it be constitutional? What are the specifics? And is that still his plan? From the Chicago Tribune:

In his successful campaign, Rauner spoke generally about wanting to shift public employees from receiving a defined pension benefit into becoming members of a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k)-style system.

Rauner has said public workers should be able to keep the benefits they have already accrued, but, moving forward, go into a defined contribution system. He also has said public safety workers should stay in the current system. And, with 80 percent of public employees not eligible to receive Social Security, Rauner has said he favors some unspecified plan to create a retirement safety net.

But it’s unclear whether Rauner’s concept is constitutional, as he maintains, or how it would address the current unfunded pension liability since payments would go into a new retirement system rather than address the shortfalls in the current system.

“Not only does it not solve the problem, but it makes it worse in the near term,” Dye said. “Whatever the solution is will cost something, and I don’t know how it would be implemented. It’s hard to add (Rauner’s concept) up as a fiscal benefit for the state.”

Illinois is expected to make $6.6 billion in pension payments in fiscal year 2015. The state is saddled with over $100 billion of pension debt.

 

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

Illinois Likely Faces Long Odds on Pension Reform Ruling

Illinois flag

In 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court will decide the legality of the state’s pension overhaul that reduced benefits of public workers.

But if legal challenges to similar laws in other states are any indication, the chances of Illinois’ pension reform being upheld are slim, according to a Reuters analysis.

From Reuters:

Court rulings in Arizona show that Illinois, which has the worst funded pensions of any U.S. state, may not have much chance.

The problem is that Illinois, Arizona and New York states all provided public workers, such as police, teachers and even judges, near iron-clad pension guarantees that were embedded in their state constitutions.

Two Arizona laws enacted in 2011 to increase employees’ pension contributions, restrict certain people from receiving pensions, and institute a new formula for calculating benefit increases, floundered in the face of legal challenges. One law, challenged by teachers, was overturned by a Maricopa County judge in 2012, while another, contested by retired judges, was tossed out by the Arizona Supreme Court in February this year. The courts tied their rulings to constitutional language that membership in public pension systems is a contractual relationship, and retirement benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired.”

Illinois and its Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner are likely to find themselves in similar bind to Arizona where the only answer appears to be a long-shot effort to amend the state constitution.

“There aren’t many options at this point,” said Jean-Pierre Aubry, assistant director of state and local research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, referring to both states. “The (pension) payments need to be made or the constitution needs to be changed.”

Altering the constitution, however, isn’t a practical option. From Reuters:

Altering the Illinois Constitution’s 1970 pension provision would be a massive undertaking, requiring a three-fifths vote of lawmakers in the House and Senate to get it on the ballot. It would then need approval from three-fifths of voters or a majority of individuals actually voting in a general election — not an easy proposition as people often don’t vote on every item on the ballot and given Illinois is a largely Democratic state with activist public unions.

Illinois’ state-level pension systems were collectively 42.9 percent funded as of June 30, 2014.

Video: Update on Illinois Pension Lawsuit

Here’s a discussion with attorney Aaron Maduff, who is representing the State Universities Annuitants Association in their lawsuit against Illinois’ pension reform law. Maduff gives us a recap and update on the high-profile pension lawsuit, and an idea of what we can expect in the coming months.

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

For Bond Buyers, Illinois is “Problem State” Until Pension Limbo Resolved

Illinois map and flagIllinois has been in a state of pension limbo since July, when a state Supreme Court ruling on healthcare premiums hinted that the state’s pension reform law would be struck down by the courts.

Now, bond buyers are watching closely how the Supreme Court rules on the state’s pension reform law – but until then, investors are marred in “uncertainty” and are calling Illinois a “problem state”.

From The Street:

Municipal debt investors are watching the appeals process that will decide whether or not the State of Illinois’ pension reform bill ends up in the wastebasket, which would send the Land of Lincoln back to square one in its attempts to battle its pension funding crisis.

“There’s so much uncertainty there,” Daniel Solender, the lead portfolio manager for municipal bonds at investment manager Lord Abbett & Co., said by phone Wednesday. “It’s hard to know what the right valuation is [for the state’s bonds].”

So far, investors are waiting and watching. Solender noted that there hasn’t been much trading in Illinois’ bonds in response to a Nov. 21 Circuit Court decision that said the reform bill was unconstitutional. If the Illinois Supreme Court upholds that decision, Solender expects a negative effect on the state’s bond values.

“For investors to get comfortable, there has to be some idea of a plan [for pension reform], and there doesn’t seem to be one [now],” he said.

Still, he is confident that Illinois has time to work out its pension issues one way or another.

Solender and other sources are looking optimistically to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, to address the issue. Rauner will replace Pat Quinn, a Democrat, on Jan. 12.

Illinois’ unfunded pension liability has ballooned to $111.2 billion, according to a November report by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The Teachers’ Retirement System accounts for about half of that at $61.6 billion, the report said.

A June 24 report by Standard & Poor’s revealed that Illinois has, by far, the lowest level of pension funding in the country at 40.4% funded, followed by Connecticut (49.1%).

As part of a Dec. 1 panel in New York City that discussed municipal debt restructuring, William A. Brandt Jr., president and CEO of Development Specialists Inc., said that Illinois holds 43% of the public pensions in the U.S. According to Brandt, who is also the chair of the Illinois Finance Authority, those amount to some 652 public pensions.

“Illinois is your problem state,” he warned.

Moody’s gives Illinois’ credit an A3 rating – the lowest of any state.

Illinois Supreme Court Expedites Pension Reform Appeal

Illinois flagThe Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday complied with a request by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to fast track the hearing over the state’s pension reform law, which a lower court found unconstitutional.

From Reuters:

The court ordered public labor unions and retiree groups challenging the law and the state to file their briefs in January and February with oral arguments to be scheduled in March. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had asked the court last week to speed up the appeal process.

The state asked for oral arguments as early as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10 to enable Illinois’ upcoming budget to incorporate about $1 billion in cost-savings under the law, or adequate spending cuts or tax increases to offset those savings.

The pension reform law was supposed to go into effect on June 1 but was put on hold by Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz in May pending his Nov. 21 ruling in five consolidated lawsuits. The state’s new fiscal year begins July 1 and the legislature usually passes a budget by May 31.

The law’s opponents asked the supreme court on Tuesday not to speed up the case.

The law raises retirement ages and suspends COLAs for some workers, and makes state contributions to the pension system enforceable by the Illinois Supreme Court.

“Everybody’s Not Going To Retire At The Same Time”: Actuary Evaluates Former Illinois Governor Edgar’s Pension Comments

 

Illinois map and flag

Last month, former Illinois governor Jim Edgar gave his thoughts on the state’s pension situation. He notably said he didn’t support the state’s pension reform law, and said the following:

“I don’t think also you have to have 100 percent funding in the pension plan. Everybody’s not going to retire at the same time. I think you can keep probably 75, 80 percent is sufficient, but I think what you’ve got to demonstrate to a lot of folks out there who rate the state’s credit and a lot of those things is that the plan will work over a period of time and that they are committed and are going to stick with it.”

Actuary Mary Pat Campbell, who runs the STUMP blog, weighed in on Edgar’s comments. As you’ll see, she is not a fan of Edgar’s pension knowledge. The full post is below.

_________________________________

By Mary Pat Campbell, originally published on STUMP

Seems that not all recent Illinois governors end up in prison, (Quinn isn’t out of the woods yet!) but perhaps they should be jailed for this crap:

“I don’t think also you have to have 100 percent funding in the pension plan. Everybody’s not going to retire at the same time. I think you can keep probably 75, 80 percent is sufficient, but I think what you’ve got to demonstrate to a lot of folks out there who rate the state’s credit and a lot of those things is that the plan will work over a period of time and that they are committed and are going to stick with it. We thought when we put in the provision you had to pay into the pension plan first thing before you did anything else that they would keep paying in. I never thought they would have the nerve to change that, but under (former Gov. Rod) Blagojevich they did and so you’re going to have to find some safeguards to put into the plan, but I think it’s going to take 20, 30 years to get to the level we want to get to, but if we start working toward it and don’t go on any spending spree with the pension plan, I think we can do that.”

First off, we do have an appearance of the 80% canard, but there’s a new lie that’s been creeping in that is pissing me off: “Oh, it’s not a problem right now… it would only be a problem if everybody retired at the same time.”

Let me explain, conceptually, what the pension liability is supposed to represent, and what the unfunded portion represents: it is what people have earned for their PAST service, and is using all sorts of assumptions, such as THE AGE THEY WILL PROBABLY RETIRE.

The actuarial value of the pension, under even the craziest approaches, does not assume everybody retires right now.

Let’s consider your pension value for a person still working: each extra year of service, they’ve earned some more. They are also a year closer to retirement. As long as they keep working and are still alive, the value of their pension increases, under most pension benefit design. Sometimes you’ll see a pension value drop at later ages, but that’s getting persnickety (though it has had some repercussions elsewhere).

The pension valuation is supposed to be a snapshot, indicating what has ALREADY BEEN EARNED. There are approaches that try to capture future salary increases, and tries to make accrual less drastic (as one usually does see huge increases in pension value right before retirement under some approaches).

The main time the pension value would be decreasing for a person is when they’re in retirement, as they’re not accruing more benefits, and each year they’re one year closer to death. The time the pension gets paid out is generally getting shorter. If the pension fund cannot cover retiree benefits, it’s in a really bad condition.

And here’s the deal: some pensions are not able to cover just the current retiree portion of the benefits:

Nobody is any more worried now than they were before the New Jersey Pension Study Commission report came out. Yes, “[t]his problem is dire and will only become much worse if meaningful steps are not taken quickly” but what does that really mean to anyone?

…. Scary Conclusions

1. For retirees there may be about $15 billion to cover $40 billion in liabilities and that’s ONLY for retirees leaving absolutely NOTHING for the 151,669 participants who have not yet started receiving monthly benefits except, for now, the refund of their contributions.

2. There is an equally good chance that Conclusion #1 is overly optimistic

I doubt New Jersey is the only state in that situation. As noted earlier, Kentucky is looking really bad.

And in my recent teaser, I showed a set of graphs I am developing for various pension plans. The ones being shown were for Texas Teachers Retirement System. I will explain them in a later post, and start showing you some truly scary information — using the official numbers from the plans themselves.

But shame on Gov. Edgar for mouthing the same bullshit everybody else does in favor of underfunding the pensions. I have looked at over a decades’ worth of Illinois pension valuations, and for all major funds (except one), they deliberately underfunded by substantial amounts, even in “good” years.

If you’re not going to make contributions when times are good, guess what will happen to the pensions when times are bad?

I guess ex-Gov. Edgar wants to cover his own ass for the pensions being underfunded in the go-go 90s, when he was governor (1991 – 1999). Hey! Everybody was doing it! 80% is good enough!

NO, IT’S NOT.

SHAME.

 

Fast-Tracking of Illinois Pension Case Could Be Blocked

Illinois flag

Last week, Illinois asked the state Supreme Court to expedite the hearing over the state’s pension reform law.

But on Sunday, attorneys representing the state workers and retirees said they could block the attempt to fast track the case. Such a move could drastically change the timeline for the lawsuit’s hearing.

From the Southern Illinoisan:

In a move that could play a significant role in how Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner crafts his first budget this spring, the lawyers say Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s bid to put the case on a fast track is unwarranted.

“We do not believe there is any need to impose an emergency schedule,” said attorney John Fitzgerald, who is among a team of lawyers representing retirees. “We see no need to depart from the rules.”

On Thursday, Madigan asked the high court to move quickly in hearing the case because of the financial ramifications the pension changes will have on the state budget.

[…]

Madigan suggested the court schedule oral arguments for as early as Jan. 22 or no later than mid-March.

Attorneys for the retirees, who say the expedited schedule is unnecessary, have until Tuesday to file their objections to the motion.

Without the expedited schedule, the deadline for filing the first significant set of records in the case wouldn’t occur until the final week of January.

After that, the typical court schedule calls for both sides in the lawsuit to trade paperwork for nearly three months. Once that is completed, the high court would then schedule oral arguments.

Under that scenario, the court could hear the case as early as May. If they miss the May docket, the next time the judges are scheduled to hear oral arguments is September.

Following the argument phase, the court could take months to issue a ruling. In a similar case regarding health insurance costs, the court took nearly 10 months to overturn the state’s attempt to force retirees to pay a portion of their pensions toward that expense.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled last month that the law was unconstitutional.