Peoria Journal Star
Changes to public pensions
Monday, April 16, 2012
SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, wants to make it more difficult to hand out pension sweeteners for public employees. So he again is sponsoring a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that requires a supermajority vote of the General Assembly to increase pension benefits for public employees. It likewise requires a supermajority vote of a local governing body if they plan to increase public pensions.
Perhaps you haven't heard much about pension sweetener legislation at the state level. That could be because there hasn't been any. All of the debate and all of the bills in the last few years have been aimed at curtailing costs and cutting back on benefits. A lawmaker could always introduce a bill to increase benefits for some group or another, but it will never be heard of again.
The legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability puts out an annual report on the condition of the state-funded pension systems. Part of that report reviews significant pension legislation from previous years.
Going by that report, pretty much the last thing that could be considered a pension enhancement approved by the General Assembly was the early retirement plan of 2002. Just for the record, that bill passed the Senate on a 55-1 vote and the House on a 113-1 vote. The Madigan amendment wouldn't have stopped it.
In 1997, the General Assembly instituted a flat rate retirement formula for people in the State Employee Retirement System. It passed the House on a 118-0 vote and the Senate by a 58-0 vote. In 1998 the retirement formula was increased for downstate teachers. Out of 177 legislators, five voted against the bill.
In 2000, the legislature adopted the Rule of 85 which said state employees could retire when their combined age and years of service totaled 85. The tally? House 113-2, Senate 58-0.
In 2001, highway maintainers at the Department of Transportation were added to the alternative retirement formula that provides enhanced benefits to people deemed to hold hazardous state jobs. The alternative formula started as a benefit for state police officers. Over the years, other groups were added, such as Illinois Commerce Commission investigators and conservation officers and even state pilots. If adding highway maintainers gave anyone pause, it didn't show up in the vote. House 114-0, Senate 54-2.
The political climate has changed now with pension debt being foremost on people's minds. Enhancing benefits doesn't seem likely under any circumstances.
Still, this is an amendment putting the brakes on pension sweeteners sponsored by Madigan. You have to assume it will sail out of the House and likely the Senate as well. Voters still have to approve it, but all you need to say is it will control public pensions and that should be enough to get it added to the Constitution.
One state magazine bites the dust and another is getting ready to launch.
Outdoors Illinois, the glossy, full-color monthly magazine printed by the Department of Natural Resources, ended with the March issue. Although it had a circulation of 26,000, the magazine ended publication as a money-saving move.
However, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is in the process of launching a new magazine. It is taking offers from vendors "to develop and design an economic development magazine delivering multiple issues in a given year," the bid solicitation said. "Each issue of the magazine will highlight Illinois' strengths, including regional and industry, as well as the state's economic development agenda."
The target audience includes "CEOs, site selectors, tax and real estate consultants and others who influence business attraction/retention in Illinois."
It is up to the vendor to sell ads that will pay for developing and printing the magazine.
Just guessing, but it probably won't revive the print industry.