Illinois pensions

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Updated 12:26 p.m.

Continuing pension problems have earned Illinois another reduction in its credit rating.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services announced Wednesday that it is lowering Illinois' rating a notch. The decision is based on weak funding for government pensions and a "lack of action on reform measures."

Only California has a lower rating from S&P, but the service says the outlook for California is positive. Illinois falls into the "negative outlook" category.

Wallula Junction / Flickr

Since late last year, almost a quarter of Illinois state park superintendents have retired, taking with them in many cases 30 or more years of experience that will be hard to replace.
The loss of that institutional knowledge is one more cost of the state's deep financial crisis. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is among state agencies hit hard by years of budget cuts.

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Building in Midtown fire up to code, fire chief says

City fire officials say a Tuesday night blaze that left an apartment building near Saint Louis University completely uninhabitable does not appear to be suspicious.

Fallout from the recession continues to hobble state finances, particularly in states crippled by pensions they can't afford to pay.

Chief among them is Illinois, which has racked up the largest unfunded liability in the nation. Politicians there pledge to fix it.

It looks like lawmakers won't reach an agreement on how to solve Illinois' grossly underfunded pension problem anytime soon.

Legislative leaders met Thursday to find a compromise on their sticking point of who should pay retirement costs for downstate and suburban school districts.

But talks delved into school funding equality. Leaders say they'll take five weeks to study that before discussing pensions.

Meanwhile the state's $85 billion in unfunded liability continues to grow.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Brian Mackey.

Illinois' pensions systems should get more scrutiny under legislation Governor Pat Quinn signed this afternoon. Illinois will be hiring its first "state actuary."

Until now, Illinois' five state pensions systems have issued their own reports on their financial health.

In the future, an independent "state actuary" will look at the retirement funds for state and university workers, legislators, judges, and public school teachers in the suburbs and downstate.

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SLU researchers study meningitis vaccine

Saint Louis University scientists are conducting a clinical trial of a vaccine for the last remaining strain of meningitis without a vaccine.

The university is recruiting children ages 10 to 12 to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Adolescents are the primary carriers of the bacteria that causes the disease. 

Meningococcal meningitis is a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection. Flu-like symptoms can progress rapidly, and death can occur within hours.

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Ameren, Westinghouse to give more details on nuclear partnership

Missouri regulators will learn more today about a proposal to build small nuclear reactors at Ameren Missouri's Callaway nuclear power plant.

Illinois House of Representatives

Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to debate today a massive overhaul of the state’s pension system.

The measure’s revival was made possible last night by a surprise move from House Speaker Michael Madigan, who calls an overhaul necessary.

Madigan told Illinois Public Radio’s Amanda Vinicky he regrets his role in passing an early retirement package a decade ago that added to the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability – and what he wants to do about it now.

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Brian Mackey contributed reporting from Springfield.

An Illinois state House committee has approved sweeping changes to public employee pensions.

It's one of Gov. Pat Quinn's priorities for the legislative session that ends on Thursday.

Current and retired state and university employees, and public school teachers would face a difficult choice; keep their health care in retirement and have future pay raises count toward their pensions, but a smaller cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), or keep the current 3 percent compounding COLA but lose health care.

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Illinois cities and schools would lose hundreds of millions of dollars under a pension proposal from House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan wants to consider dipping into a tax stream that provides about $1.4 billion for local government. He would use that money to pay state costs for providing pensions for teachers.

A spokesman says the powerful Chicago Democrat is trying to jumpstart discussions about reducing Illinois pension expenses.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Will be updated.

Updated 2:07 p.m. with more information on downstate schools, cause of pension problem.

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to raise the retirement age for Illinois public employees and require them to contribute more money to their retirement funds.

Those are the key parts of what Quinn calls a "bold plan" to shore up state pension systems. They're now about $85 billion short of the money they'll eventually need.

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University of Missouri Curators to consider raising tuition today

The special meeting comes after the governing board postponed consideration of a tuition increase three weeks ago at its regular meeting in Kansas City. This time, the curators will meet by video teleconference along with new university president Tim Wolfe.  


Spring session kicks off today in Illinois

Legislative leaders say budget items are expected to top the agenda in the coming weeks. Those items include the state's troubled pension system and Medicaid costs.

House Deputy Majority leader, Democrat Frank Mautino, says Medicaid reform could end up being more controversial than pensions. Mautino says payment cycles are stretching too long and that cuts have to be made.

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Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law pension reforms aimed at fixing some loopholes in the system.

The law takes effect immediately. It aims to end the practice of so-called double dipping for public employees. In some cases, employees took leaves to work for their unions but continued to build benefits in government pension systems based on union pay.


Mo. Supreme Court to hear arguments in public defender case

A case that could decide how Missouri public defenders deal with case overload will be heard by the state's Supreme Court today. In July 2010 the public defender office in Christian County announced it had reached its case threshold and could take no more cases. The next month a judge assigned an indigent defendant to that office anyway and the public defender system filed suit.

St. Louis University law professor Susan McGraugh says the high court's decision could have a big impact.

St. Louis County website

Dooley admits "missteps"

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley admits that he made missteps over the last few months as Missouri's largest county tried to deal with an unprecedented budget shortfall. Dooley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he made what he called clumsy mistakes, saying the recession is "new territory" for the county.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Sean Crawford used in this report.

Rod Blagojevich has forfeited all his state pension benefits. That's the opinion of Illinois' Attorney General.

The legal opinion likely means Blagojevich won't begin getting checks when he turns 55 this weekend.  The board overseeing the General Assembly Retirement System moved earlier this year to block the payments. 

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Update: Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports via Twitter that the two lobbyists in question - David Piccioli and Steve Preckwinkle - believe the pension reform bill is unconstitutional and are reviewing legal options.

The Illinois General Assembly has sent legislation to Gov. Pat Quinn that would curb pension abuses.

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The Illinois House has voted to crack down on public pension abuses.

Lawmakers voted 111-3 Thursday to prevent public employees who served in union positions from receiving pensions from both the government and the union.

The measure sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross also limits the size of pensions. An employee who takes a leave of absence from his public job to serve in a union post must receive a pension based on his public salary before the leave -- not the higher union salary.