Analysis: little savings in union-backed pension overhaul proposal

May 22, 2013

A state pension overhaul backed by government employee unions may save only half of what advocates had promised.  That underscores an ongoing battle between the House and Senate over pensions, with only ten days left in the legislative session.  IPR'S Amanda Vinicky reports. 

There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.  That's a fancy word that *basically* means "debt." It's a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget. And the House and Senate have different plans on how to drive that number down.

Senate President John Cullerton says his union-backed plan which is kinder to employees and retirees and gives them retirement options  will cut about $10 billion dollars off that unfunded liability. But a new analysis that uses numbers from the pension systems themselves says immediate savings would be as little as $5 billion.

House Democrats' leader on pensions, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, tried to steer away from stirring up conflict.

"For us, it's always been about the math.  So we wanted to get the math out there."

But she says the House pension plan is a more "affordable" approach. A spokeswoman for Cullerton didn't dispute the numbers, but called the information incomplete.