The pension crisis in Chicago and Illinois
An ongoing Tribune investigation finds that political dealmaking contributed to a financial crisis in Chicago and Illinois pension funds, threatening the retirement of public employees and potentially putting taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars.
December 4, 2013
— Illinois lawmakers narrowly approved a historic, sweeping overhaul of government worker pension systems Tuesday, overcoming years of political and philosophical differences in an attempt to address one of the state's most pressing financial problems.
8:22 AM EST, December 4, 2013
For Gov. Pat Quinn, putting pen to paper on a bill to salvage the nation's worst-funded state employee pension system will be a signature moment both literally and politically.
6:46 PM EST, November 27, 2013
Top Illinois legislators said today they’ve reached agreement on a plan to deal with the state’s worst-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability and expect to vote on it next week.
4:46 PM EDT, October 23, 2013
Mayor Rahm Emanuel today unveiled a nearly $7 billion budget for 2014, but also focused on a year from now and warned what will happen if the city doesn't fix its pension system by then.
7:54 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
A key member of a legislative panel charged with finding a way to fill Illinois' worst-in-the-nation unfunded pension liability said Sunday that she believes it is "very likely" a plan to change state retirement benefits could be agreed upon to present to lawmakers next month.
7:57 AM EDT, October 21, 2013
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Sunday that the state's massive public employee pension debt is not a "crisis," but instead an issue being pushed by business-backed groups seeking lower income taxes at the expense of retiree benefits.
7:05 PM EDT, October 4, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn said today that a request by Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland for millions of dollars in tax incentives to stay in Illinois should not be considered until lawmakers first reform the state's highly indebted public employee pension system.
7:14 PM EDT, September 22, 2013
Illinois' crushing public pension crisis has been literally decades in the making, but the present stalemate in Springfield over how to resolve it can be traced in great measure to a single point in time: July 21, 1970.
8:15 AM EDT, July 24, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Generous health care and pensions will go by the wayside for future political appointees overseeing the Chicago area's local bus and train service, but the current officeholders will get to keep the benefits until they are reappointed to new terms.
8:49 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn hinted Tuesday that he may summon lawmakers back to Springfield again this summer to take up public employee pension reform, saying next month's State Fair would provide an ideal time for legislators to work on the issue while also having a little fun.
September 19, 2010
State Sen. Terry Link compares it to winning the lottery.
5:44 PM EDT, June 19, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- The General Assembly is in special session today to form a conference committee of lawmakers who will try to come up with a way to break a stalemate on government worker pension reform.
1:26 PM EDT, June 18, 2013
Unable to round up enough Senate votes for a sweeping measure to overhaul the state’s public employee pension system, Gov. Pat Quinn has backed off in favor of a plan to a form a committee designed to forge a compromise on the hot-button issue.
2:29 PM EDT, June 14, 2013
A frustrated Gov. Pat Quinn has once again changed strategies in his effort to get a pension reform bill on his desk as he acknowledged Friday he’s “prepared to do whatever necessary” to try to break a deadlock between his fellow Democratic leaders.
8:40 PM EDT, June 12, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday tried to increase the pressure on fellow Democrats in the Senate to get behind his version of pension reform and abandon their own as they head into Gov. Pat Quinn’s special session next week.
1:01 AM EDT, June 4, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Democrat William Daley says he is “stunned” the state failed to address the pension crisis in the spring session and indicated the legislative meltdown is moving him closer to announcing a decision on whether to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 primary.
5:06 PM EDT, June 7, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he'll meet with Democratic legislative leaders Monday to try to find compromise on changes to a public employee pension system that's approaching $100 billion in debt.
2:23 PM EDT, June 10, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn offered a compromise suggestion today on how to break the impasse on pension reform: combine the dueling plans into one bill and let the courts sort it out.
5:23 PM EDT, June 6, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn today called lawmakers back into special session June 19 to deal with the public employee pension shortfall after another rating agency downgraded Illinois' credit rating.
4:48 PM EDT, June 3, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- A major investor ratings service further lowered Illinois' worst-in-the-nation credit rating today following lawmakers' inability to agree on money-saving reforms to the public employee pension system.
8:28 AM EDT, May 31, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois Senate tonight overwhelmingly defeated a major overhaul of the state's heavily indebted government worker pension systems, throwing into question whether cost-saving reforms will be approved before Friday night’s adjournment deadline.
10:46 PM EDT, May 31, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- A plan to allow Mayor Rahm Emanuel to skip a large chunk of Chicago Public Schools pension payments for two years failed today after Gov. Pat Quinn vowed to veto it unless lawmakers also approve comprehensive government worker pension.
8:08 AM EDT, May 29, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — New estimates released Tuesday indicate House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension reform proposal would save more money over the next three decades than had been expected.
8:25 AM EST, November 30, 2011
The wife of fugitive Eddie Hicks took the Fifth Amendment at a police pension board hearing Tuesday, refusing to answer trustees' questions about the whereabouts of the former Chicago police officer.
September 23, 2012
— A former lobbyist for a powerful teachers union is reaping a $100,000-a-year state pension thanks to wide-ranging retirement legislation sponsored nearly six years ago by her former boss, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and his legislative allies.
10:57 PM EDT, June 18, 2012
Gov. Pat Quinn acknowledged Monday what most others in state government have said for weeks: It's unlikely that he and legislative leaders will strike a deal on public employee pension reform by his June 30 deadline.
October 30, 2012
Pension reform in Illinois got a rare legislative victory when the General Assembly moved to close loopholes that allowed labor leaders to land six-figure public pensions based on their much higher union salaries.
July 31, 2010
As the economy was taking a historic nosedive, parks officials in Highland Park were paying three of their executives far more — $435,203 in one case — than anyone in similar posts across the suburbs, the Tribune has found.
9:39 PM EDT, August 2, 2010
Two Illinois lawmakers on Monday called for hearings to look into local government pension practices after learning how officials with the Park District of Highland Park intentionally used large bonuses to hike the pension of a district executive by more than $50,000.
7:15 AM EDT, May 21, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday put a finer point on a notion he's been pushing this spring: no gambling expansion will happen without comprehensive changes to fix a greatly underfunded government worker pension system.
April 10, 2011
To thank Bill Maio for his years of public service, his former colleagues on the DuPage County Board named a street after him.
6:00 PM EDT, May 9, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Senate President John Cullerton today sent his version of pension reform to the House, setting up a high-profile clash with the rival plan Speaker Michael Madigan already pushed through the House.
8:20 AM EDT, May 7, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Senate President John Cullerton on Monday rolled out his latest proposal aimed at fixing the state's heavily indebted pension system, striking a deal with unions just days after House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed through a plan that's tougher on government workers.
9:16 PM EDT, May 2, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House today approved a far-reaching pension reform plan pushed by Speaker Michael Madigan that is headed for an uncertain fate in the Senate.
5:07 PM EDT, March 20, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois Senate defeated a comprehensive overhaul of the state's broken pension system today, instead passing a plan to make changes to only the teacher pension system.
4:04 PM EST, February 27, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — The top House Republican and a key House Democrat unveiled a pension proposal today that would require state workers, teachers and others under state retirement plans to work longer, chip in more from their paychecks and scales back cost-of-living increases.
5:33 PM EST, February 20, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — A top House Democrat on Wednesday suggested a new plan to fix the state’s massively indebted retirement system: make the temporary income tax hike permanent, have state workers and teachers chip in more toward their pension and raise the retirement age for full benefits to 67.
3:07 PM EST, January 11, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — One of the nation's leading credit-rating firms put Illinois on a negative watch list today because Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers failed to address the overwhelming public pension debt in the just-completed lame-duck session.
10:57 PM EST, March 6, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn chastised lawmakers for failing to pass cost-cutting changes to the government worker retirement system, then dangled the possibility that he'd drop his long-running opposition to a major gambling expansion to get a pension deal done.
5:56 PM EST, January 15, 2013
Efforts by the legislature to expand casino gambling to Chicago and other locations is a secondary issue behind attempts to deal with the state’s unfunded pension liability, Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday.
8:09 AM EST, January 7, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — With time running short in the lame-duck session, state lawmakers on Sunday dropped hot-button issues dealing with guns and marijuana but kept alive hopes of reforming pensions and giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
4:51 PM EST, January 7, 2013
The Illinois House adjourned for the day without voting on a major government worker pension overhaul, casting grave doubt on the reform plan's fate.
5:51 PM EST, January 8, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois House adjourned this afternoon without even voting on Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's desperation pension reform plan.
5:04 PM EST, December 27, 2012
Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday that he remains confident lawmakers can reach a deal to reform the state’s government employee pension system by his Jan. 9 deadline, despite the fact House and Senate leaders can’t even agree on which days to come to work.
2:01 PM EST, January 4, 2013
Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative leaders plan to meet Saturday to try to come up with a compromise to fix financially broken government worker pension systems as the clock ticks down toward the end of the lame-duck session.
10:17 PM EDT, October 1, 2012
Absent significant pension system reforms, it would cost the city an extra $1.5 billion a year beginning in 2016 to start the process of restoring financial health to its pension funds, aldermen were warned Monday.
2:26 PM EST, December 19, 2012
A coalition of public employee unions issued a report today blasting state legislation to address their vastly underfunded pension systems and offering instead to make increased worker contributions if lawmakers raised $2 billion by ending tax benefits to corporations and imposing new taxes.
8:38 PM EST, December 4, 2012
SPRINGFIELD - As state government leaders struggle to reach agreement on pension reform, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is floating a plan that's a mix of new and old ideas to try to break the logjam.
July 8, 2012
For decades, state lawmakers have drawn criticism when they leave the Legislature and take another government gig with a fat salary that greatly boosts their public pensions, but soon the state might be on the hook for less of those retirement costs for a small group of veteran legislators.
November 30, 2012
A Chicago ophthalmologist who was the focus of a 2009 Tribune watchdog story was indicted by a federal grand jury this month on charges he defrauded his employees' pension benefit plan of more than $180,000.
September 25, 2012
Gail Purkey wasn't employed by the state of Illinois long enough during the 1980s to earn a state pension. Her stint with House Speaker Michael Madigan's legislative staff, plus her time at the Illinois Arts Council, an agency chaired by Madigan's wife, Shirley, totaled less than seven years. Then she left public employment for a job with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a statewide group that includes the Chicago Teachers Union.
11:51 AM EDT, October 10, 2012
Mayor Rahm Emanuel today unveiled a new budget that he says doesn't include new tax, fine or fee increases but contains a warning about the financial havoc the city's looming government worker pension problem could wreak.
3:05 PM EDT, August 16, 2012
SPRINGFIELD --- Republicans leaders today wasted no time laying the blame for the state's financial woes at the feet of powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan and his fellow Democrats, saying that now is the time to act like adults and pass sorely needed pension reforms.
1:32 PM EDT, May 3, 2012
Illinois voters this fall will be asked whether to make it tougher for state and local governments to sweeten public employee pensions under a proposal lawmakers approved today.
September 25, 2012
In the face of repeated red flags, school board members hiked the pay of a south suburban superintendent and fattened his pension to among the more lucrative in the state, the Tribune has found.
7:02 PM EDT, September 13, 2012
Don’t expect a vote on a plan to overhaul the state’s government worker pension program until after the new year, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton indicated Thursday.
6:11 PM EDT, August 17, 2012
State lawmakers adjourned a one-day special session today without approving even a scaled-back version of pension reform.
10:15 PM EDT, July 31, 2012
When lawmakers left the Statehouse at the end of May, the problem of fixing the nation's most underfunded state public employee pension system was left unresolved amid myriad political concerns and divides.
8:36 PM EDT, October 9, 2012
Fearing cuts to the pension benefits of its “ordinary” members, the Chicago Teachers Union filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday that goes after a state law passed in January that was intended to crackdown on public pension abuses.
9:47 PM EDT, March 20, 2013
— State lawmakers continued to dance around the question of how to fix the state's heavily indebted government worker pension system Wednesday, with the latest two-step unfolding in the Illinois Senate.
May 9, 2012
Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the rare step of traveling to the Capitol to make a personal pitch for an overhaul of city government worker pensions, saying costs are out of control and the "day of reckoning has arrived."
May 4, 2012
Illinois voters this fall will be asked whether to make it tougher for state and local governments to sweeten public employee pensions under a measure lawmakers approved Thursday.
7:35 AM EDT, May 2, 2012
Two years into his reign as Chicago's longest-serving mayor, Richard M. Daley took advantage of the state's convoluted pension system to significantly increase his potential payout while saving $400,000 in contributions.
May 2, 2012
Former Chicago MayorRichard M. Daleywasn't the only city official to take advantage of little-known provisions in the state's pension code. His adviser Timothy Degnan made the same moves.
8:29 AM EDT, May 1, 2012
Retired members of the City Council stand to reap millions, thanks to a quietly engineered pension boost in 1991 early in the Daley administration.
April 22, 2012
As Gov. Pat Quinn seeks to overhaul Illinois' public employee pension system, one of the more politically tricky elements also happens to be the one he's talking about the least.
April 21, 2012
Gov. Pat Quinn wants to fix Illinois' debt-ridden public pension system by getting government employees to work longer, pay more toward their retirement and accept less in benefits.
March 30, 2012
A local government that gives an ex-lawmaker a fat paycheck would have to pick up the costs of any automatic increase in his state pension under a proposal the House passed overwhelmingly.
January 15, 2012
At the CTA, the liberal use of overtime pay poses a runaway problem that sharply increases the agency's pension payments and could lead to fare hikes and service cuts.
January 11, 2012
Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday sought to ease concerns about a recent downgrade in the state's bond rating that cemented Illinois as the state with the nation's worst credit rating, saying he will push for major pension reforms this year to try to reverse it.
10:19 PM EST, January 4, 2012
Sweeping reforms are aimed at curbing public pension abuses by union officials revealed by a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation.
3:01 AM EST, December 17, 2011
Illinois State University opens retirement system to private education groups, Special Olympics.
3:01 AM EST, December 17, 2011
Workers for unions, an alumni association, university foundations manage to qualify.
12:43 AM EST, December 16, 2011
Springfield politics have wreaked havoc on the state's retirement code, which is riddled with giveaways, funding flaws, excessive borrowing and pension holidays.
December 16, 2011
All it took for former state Rep. Robert Molaro to nearly double his public pension was spending one month as an aide to Ald. Ed Burke, the powerful chairman of the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee.
8:16 AM EST, December 8, 2011
Federal authorities have begun a criminal investigation into how nearly a dozen union officials became eligible for inflated city pensions, according to subpoenas obtained by the Tribune and WGN-TV through an open-records request.
7:41 AM EST, November 30, 2011
State lawmakers took a strong stand Tuesday against union leaders fattening their public pensions, overwhelmingly sending the governor a measure that would close a series of loopholes in response to a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation.
November 27, 2011
Teachers' political director also received perk that allowed him to be a sub for a day and get a pension.
10:29 PM EST, November 8, 2011
A major overhaul of the way Illinois government handles pension benefits for current workers won a key victory, but its fate remains uncertain because of heavy union resistance.
October 27, 2011
State lawmakers have advanced reform legislation aimed at thwarting lucrative pension abuses by some labor leaders.
11:07 PM EDT, October 24, 2011
House lawmakers attacked union pension abuses in response to Tribune/WGN-TV investigations, including one that exposed how two lobbyists got public teacher pensions for a single day of substitute teaching.
1:16 AM EDT, October 22, 2011
Two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience were allowed to count their years as union employees toward a state teacher pension once they served a single day of subbing in 2007, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation has found.
8:50 PM EDT, October 12, 2011
Less than 24 hours after the Tribune reported that at least eight union officials eligible for a city pension also stand to receive one or more union pensions for the same period of work, a House leader filed legislation that would limit them to just the one.
1:09 PM EDT, October 12, 2011
At least eight Chicago labor leaders who are eligible for inflated city pensions also stand to receive union pensions covering the same work period, thanks to a charitable interpretation of state law by officials representing two city pension funds.
October 12, 2011
The laborers union ousted James Capasso Jr. after he tried to get a pension he didn't deserve, but he kept his job running a billion-dollar pension fund.
11:33 PM EDT, October 3, 2011
The head of one of the largest labor unions in Chicago resigned Monday in the wake of reports that he had been receiving a six-figure city pension while participating in a second pension plan.
September 23, 2011
House Republican Leader Tom Cross is moving to halt a perk that has allowed Chicago union leaders to reap inflated retirement benefits from ailing city pension funds.
10:00 PM EDT, September 21, 2011
For former labor leader Dennis Gannon, the keys to securing a public pension were one day on the city payroll and some help from the Daley administration.
September 21, 2011
All it took to give nearly two dozen labor leaders from Chicago a windfall worth millions was a few tweaks to a handful of sentences in the state's lengthy pension code.
11:26 PM EDT, September 12, 2011
After labor leaders were forced to give up union pensions because they already were getting lucrative city pensions, their lawyer attempted to tap into union funds for retirement benefits again.
September 1, 2011
Thomas Villanova isn't the only official from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who participated in a city pension and a union pension at the same time, in violation of state law.
11:09 PM EDT, September 1, 2011
Every month, Thomas Villanova gets a $9,000 reminder of how lucrative it can be to serve as a union leader in Chicago.
1:06 AM EST, February 10, 2011
The Civic Federation releases a report showing the unfunded liabilities for 10 city and county pension funds grew sixfold from 2000 to 2009, with shortfalls now totaling nearly $23 billion, or $11,000 per Chicago resident.
10:58 PM EST, February 8, 2011
The funds, already reeling financially, were shortchanged more than $24 million over a three-year period, according to the Chicago's inspector general's office.
9:28 PM EST, December 2, 2010
After decades of making retirement promises they weren't fully paying for, Chicago and many suburbs could be forced to set aside more money under sweeping changes to police and firefighter pensions headed to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.
11:40 PM EST, November 17, 2010
Aside from the risks inherent in private equity and real estate investments, some pension experts have raised concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding these bets.
11:40 PM EST, November 17, 2010
Trustees of Chicago's failing public pension funds have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into highly speculative investments that not only have failed to realize outsize returns but also saddled them with underperforming, long-term assets that can't be sold off.
11:46 PM EST, November 16, 2010
With some city pension funding levels dropping below 40 percent, a question arises that seemed unthinkable just a decade ago: If a pension fund runs out of money, who pays for the retirement security promised to city workers?
9:33 PM EST, November 16, 2010
Chicago's public pension funds are teetering on the brink of insolvency in large part because city officials and union leaders repeatedly exploited the system, draining away billions of dollars.
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