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Preckwinkle calls on pension board to offer solutions
County Board president asks members to consider higher employee contributions

Friday, March 09, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

With talk of pension reform swirling throughout Illinois government, Cook County Board PresidentToni Preckwinkle on Thursday asked a county retirement panel to come up with ways to put its fund on more solid financial footing.

Preckwinkle did not offer her own suggestions to better fund the county pension system, instead telling Retirement Board members that all options must be on the table. That includes retirement health care costs, cost-of-living adjustments and asking the county and its employees to contribute more, Preckwinkle said.

"I ask that the solutions you present include all stakeholders involved, let me say that again, all stakeholders," Preckwinkle told the pension board. "That means not just the employer, but employees of the pension board, as any viable solution will require a shared approach."

But the county pension board cannot change the formula used to fund the pension system. Any adjustments would have to be made in the state Legislature. The pension board is made up of seven members elected by county employees and retirees, one Preckwinkle appointee and one appointee of the county treasurer.

Retirement Board member Clem Balanoff, a former state lawmaker who was elected by county employees, said the group has always taken seriously its responsibility to adequately pay for county employees' pensions. And he pointed out that a funding level over 60 percent makes Cook County's pension healthier than many across the state.

"I think what the president was doing with her appearance (Thursday) was to let us know that everybody needs to be involved in working on this," Balanoff said.

The pension issue is a hot one this year as the debt of the state retirement systems has grown to more than $80 billion and a catch-up payment plan has taken an ever-increasing toll on Illinois' annual budget.

Gov. Pat Quinn has impaneled a task force to recommend ways to fix the state's pensions, and Preckwinkle asked the County Board to prepare some suggestions that can be part of that discussion this spring.


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