Illinois Senate passes bill to fully fund Cook County pension fund in 30 years

Cook County Annuity & Benefit Fund, Chicago, would see its two public pension plans return to full funding in 30 years under a bill passed late Tuesday by the Illinois Senate.

The bill was proposed by Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, in April. It now goes to the Illinois House; it’s not known when the House will consider the measure, said Karen Vaughn, spokeswoman for Ms. Preckwinkle.

According to the bill, the retirement age for most county employees would be raised by five years. The current retirement age varies from 50 for police officers to 67 for other employees. Employee contributions would increase by 1.5 to 2 percentage points to 10.5% of pay starting next year.

It was not clear how the county would fund its added contributions needed to reach full funding by 2043. The bill states the county will need to increase its contributions by $147 million a year; according to a news release on the Cook County board website, reforms would “ensure that benefits will automatically adjust to protect county taxpayers if market conditions or other forces negatively impact them in future years.”

The bill would reduce annual cost-of-living increases for current workers to either half the rate of inflation or 2%, whichever is higher, up to the current compounded 3% limit, Ms. Vaughn said. It would freeze all COLAs for current retirees for one year in 2016. If the pension plans’ funded status is below 59%, COLAs would be suspended; if the pension plans move to 100% funded, COLAs would go to a 4% cap.

The County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity & Benefit Fund had a funded status of 56.6% as of the end of 2013; the Forest Preserve District Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity & Benefit Fund had a 59.5% funded status as of Dec. 31.

The two pension funds have a combined $8.7 billion in assets.

Ms. Preckwinkle asked the Illinois General Assembly to take action on the bill before the current legislative session ends on Saturday.

Bridget Gainer, chairwoman of the county board’s pension committee, could not be reached for further details.