SPRINGFIELD - Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed a bill reforming the overburdened Cook County pension system - an effort that the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle admitted she didn't know how it would be funded. Only saying the county would be "very creative," the funds wouldn't be needed until 2017, she said.
But Cook County's chief financial officer paints a grim future for the county's pension system.
“While it’s better than some of the other local funds . . . amongst public pension plans nationally it’s still considered very, very highly stressed,” said Ivan Samstein, who added that the county’s credit rating could be downgraded this summer if no action is taken. “The county pension plan is so stressed right now that basically it’s at the point of no return.”
The legislation that passed the Senate makes several key changes, the Chicago Tribune reports:
- Current county employees would see their retirement contributions increased to 10.5 percent of their annual pay by 2016 — up either 2 percentage points or 1.5 percentage points, depending on the employee.
- Future retirees, but not current ones, would get less in yearly cost-of-living bumps. Instead of 3 percent a year compounded increases, they would receive either half the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is higher, with a limit of 4 percent. But unlike the state and city pension changes, the county adjustments would remain compounded, allowing pension checks to rise more quickly over time.
- Those already retired would be hit with a one-year cost-of-living freeze in 2016, and future retirees would not start getting those annual bumps until as long as two years after retirement. In most cases, it would take nearly 35 years on the job, instead of 33 ½ years, to earn a full pension.
- County workers also would have to work longer before they could retire. In most cases, retirement ages would be raised by five years. Sheriff's deputies with 20 to 30 years on the job could not get benefits until age 62, compared with 50 today. Those changes would be phased in over the next four to 10 years.
The bill now moves to the Illinois House for a vote this week. More on the proposed changes HERE.