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Cook County pension woes worsen

Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Crain's Chicago Business
by Paul Merrion

Solvency of Cook County's pension funds deteriorated in the last fiscal year, according to a new report, and county commissioners are pressing anew for reforms.

The county's main Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund saw its pension debt grow to $6.79 billion, up $969.5 million last year and an increase of $1.6 billion in the gap between assets and liabilities since 2010. The plan is only 53.5 percent funded, down from 57.5 percent in fiscal 2011, and the fund is projected to be insolvent by 2034.

A smaller fund for forest preserve workers will be insolvent by 2031, with only 56.7 percent of the assets needed to cover future benefits, down from 61.6 percent last year, according to the actuarial report released last week.

The county has been negotiating pension reform with its unions for more than a year without resolution as state lawmakers continue to grapple with the issue.

"Without meaningful pension reforms, the Cook County pension fund will not be able to promise a secure retirement for employees and a sustainable system for taxpayers," Commissioner Bridget Gainer, chair of the county's subcommittee on pensions, said in a statement. "Every year that goes by that we do not address the growing unfunded liabilities, the more draconian solutions will be needed to find sustainable solutions."

Ms. Gainer said she and Commissioner Joan Murphy, who chairs the Labor Relations Committee, will introduce resolutions at today's county board meeting calling for hearings on the fund's finances and the impact that pension reforms pending in Springfield would have on the funds if the county adopted similar measures.

If statewide reform is enacted, it wouldn't apply to the county, but it could create a template for the county to follow to make its retirement system more solvent. But county officials haven't calculated how much of their pension problem would be reduced by adopting their own versions of the various pending state reform proposals.

"Does one of these bills meet 90 percent of our problem? It would be helpful in our negotiations with labor" to know that, Ms. Gainer said in an interview this morning. "We want to solve this problem now, not for the next decade but the next two generations.


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