CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn amped up the pressure on lawmakers to overhaul Illinois' pension systems and warned on Sunday of massive future budget cuts for school districts as a consequence.
The Chicago Democrat supports a plan to make suburban Chicago and downstate school districts pay their own retirement costs, which the state currently pays; Chicago pays its own pension costs. But Republicans have largely objected to the shifting plan, claiming that it will burden cash-strapped local schools and increase property taxes.
Quinn has called an Aug. 17 special session for lawmakers to deal with pensions, saying the job can be accomplished in one day from existing legislation that's pending. On Sunday, his budget office released figures claiming that Illinois' unfunded pension liability is increasing so fast — $12.6 million a day — that it'll cost school districts more in the long run because lawmakers will have to slash education funding to pay increasing retirement costs.
According to the study, suburban and downstate schools districts would pay $49 million in new pension costs for the 2014 fiscal year with shifting costs over time. Without a pension overhaul, those same districts would see their budgets slashed by $152 million.
"Illinois cannot continue down this path at the expense of our children," Quinn said in a statement. "We must enact comprehensive pension reform that eliminates the unfunded liability to repair our pension system and give the next generation the education they deserve."
Legislators failed to come up with a plan to address pensions during their spring session earlier in the year. Top lawmakers had been meeting over the summer to find a compromise, but negotiations weren't successful and delved into talks about the equity of school funding.
Quinn announced the special session to the surprise of top legislative leaders who had asked for more time to study the issue. Republican leaders did not immediately have a response to the study on Sunday.
Illinois faces at least $83 billion in unfunded liability between its five pension systems. Credit rating agencies have threatened to lower the state's rating unless lawmakers ease the strain on the budget. Also, a national study earlier in the year ranked Illinois as the worst at funding its pension systems.
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