All four legislative members of Gov. Pat Quinn's pension working group join us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm with their predictions for the upcoming special session.
We spoke with Representatives Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) and Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) for their expectations on reform during the special session.
Has the working group made any progress since the session ended?
Rep. Sanger: We had a lot of questions when we left. The working group met a couple days after the session ended in June with the leaders. There was a project for the governor’s office, they had to prove the school districts could handle the cost shift burden. But we found all sorts of errors in the report, in terms of what the districts had on hand.
They overestimated the cash-on-hand, in your opinion?
Rep. Sanger: Oh, god, yeah, they overestimated the cost on hand. He gave us a snapshot from when the property taxes hit the books, but you have to use that over the whole year, and they get state aid twice a year. So the reality is there’s no extra cash. That money needs to last a long time.
So that was the main discussion during your June meeting?
Rep. Sanger: That was basically it, just about this cost-shift. The other piece of information we need in hand is that the bill adjusts COLAs [cost of living adjustments]—how much does that move the needle on the unfunded liability? We went from a situation in April where we would save $60 billion with the governor’s initial bill, and from what I’m hearing, the Senate bill will save $10 billion. So we have a weaker bill.
Is there any value in passing this now, and the other three later?
Rep. Sanger: It saves $10 billion, but it still has an inherent unfunded liability going forward because we have more benefits going out than we have funds coming in. It’s not strong enough. My preference is to get a bill that will sustain everything going forward, fully funded in 30 years. If we don’t do it all at once, we’ll repeat 1995, when we had a funding schedule that future shifted most of the payments. I would rather see true reform put in place.
If the Senate pension bill comes to the House, would you support it?
Rep. Nekritz: I’m still giving that some thought. I’d like to do something comprehensive. I want to see where the momentum is to get something done. I think it will be challenging to get the super majority.
The main obstacle at the end of the regular session was the cost-shift provision. Is that something you see that has to be in the bill?
Rep. Nekritz: I voted for it both ways, so I’m open to it either way. I feel strongly we need to get something done. I’d prefer it with the cost shift, because I feel that’s real pension reform. You don’t have real reform with the disincentives we have. But, if that’s not possible, then I’m open to other items.
Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said earlier this week that nothing will get done unless there’s a framework or proposal on the table before the session starts. Have you heard any plans among leadership to develop that framework, and are you involved with it?
Rep. Nekritz: It feels to me that right now, if we devote the next two and a half weeks to hammering out a solution, we could do it. But it would require a lot of focus. I’m not aware of any plans for the working group to meet right now.
Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin) said on Chicago Tonight on Monday that the working group needed Assembly leadership to tell them what could "pass muster." Is that how the working group functioned?
Rep. Nekritz: I have chafed for years under the leadership telling me what can pass muster. That’s not the way I prefer to proceed.