There are no solutions to the vastly underfunded Illinois pension system that will not involve “broadly shared pain,” residents of Evanston and surrounding communities were told Thursday night by 17th District Rep. Daniel Biss at a public forum in Skokie.

On the eve of a special session of the Illinois Legislature to deal with an $83 billion underfunded state pension system,  a standing-room-only crowd packed the Temple Beth Israel on Dempster Street to hear a panel that included Erika Lindley, the executive director of ED-RED, an advocacy group for suburban school districts; Dick Ingram, the executive director of the Teachers’ Retirement System; and Louis Kosiba, executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

From left: Biss, Lindley, Ingram, and Kosiba

Biss, a freshman legislator who is now running for the 9th District Senate seat held by Jeffrey M. Schoenberg of Evanston, made it clear that any solution was likely to shift pension costs from the state to the local school districts (funded largely by property taxes), that teachers and other government employees would probably contribute more to their pensions, and that benefits were unlikely to keep pace with inflation.

Lindley, whose organization represents some 80 school districts, said her members were resigned to the fact that local districts were going to have to assume an increasing share of the employer’s pension costs, but she expressed the hope that the phase-in period would last from 10 to 15 years.

“The longer we can stretch this out, the better,” she said. She also advocated relief from unfunded state mandates that increase the budgets of local school districts.

Lindley: “The longer we can stretch this out, the better.”

Ingram, who runs the Teachers’ Retirement System, noted that in most states the local districts pay the entire share of the employers’ pension contribution, whereas in Illinois, the state assumes that obligation.
“We don’t care where (the money’s) coming from,” he said, “so long as we get it.”

Kosiba said that his fund assumes that its investments will average an annual return of 7.5 percent, although the actual returns vary widely due to ups and downs in the stock market. In 2008, when the market tanked, the fund actually lost nearly 25 percent of its assets. Since 1982, however, the average annual return has been 9.95 percent.

In response to a question from the audience, he said that his board feels that 7.5 percent is a reasonable expectation over the long term.

 Biss had no apologies for his colleagues in the state legislature.

“The State of Illinois has not been a trustworthy actor for a long time,” he said.

“We lied about what stuff costs. We set expectations that we could not meet,” he declared.

Top: Concerned citizens pack the hall at Beth Israel.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. All is not Bliss

    First, let me say the obvious. Bliss stacked the deck with the experts he invited but we expect any politian in Illinois to do that.

    If Bliss is so ashamed of the Democrats in state government why does he stay with the party. I don't see him fighting to get Madigan and Cullerton out of leadership roles or to condemn them. After all, they those two, and Emil Jones before them, are the primary reason we are in this mess. They have blocked any reform in the pension system. They continue to cater to the politians around them and the unions.

    It would probably be in the best interest of taxpayers to vote for Bliss's opponent, whoever that may be.

  2. In support of Daniel Biss

    I think Daniel Biss should be applauded for his leadership in organizing community forums like this, as well as his honesty in discussing the pension situation. 

    Rep. Biss has introduced and co-sponsored bills in the legislature that address the pension funding for the long term.  He is an independent-thinking, reform-oriented Democrat.  I think his intelligence, education, and knowledge of mathematics make him an asset in the legislature. 

    I say this as a long-term Evanston homeowner and parent who also is a long-term employee in the State of Illinois retirement  system. While his ideas about pension reform do not benefit me personally, I appreciate his thoughtful,  honest, and realistic approach to a variety of issues and strongly support his election for State Senator in our district. 


  3. Why change is so hard

    If you want a good illustration why it is so hard to get anything done in the legislature read the new book 'Bailout' by Neil Barofsky. While the book is about the policing of the TARP program and problems with Treasury and to a lesser degree Congress, it does demostrate how everyone wants to protect their turrf even when [it seems and we hope] the have not financial stake/benefit.

    As long as the politicians and bureaucrats want to protect their turf and here in Illinois probably their financial connections, it is very difficult to get anything done.

    1. Ya think so?

      Ya think so.  It's true and Dick Ingram of the teachers system said it best.  We don't care where the money comes from, just so long as we get it.  Guess who's gonna get it for him and from whom it's gonna get gotten from. 

      Dramatic entitlement program and pension reductions need to happen, but it's not gonna come from any Democrat poltician, that is for sure.

  4. Pensions

    I'm otta here! I'm not paying for this corruption! Let the unions, the Democrats, and the illegals pay for it!

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