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New Website Could Help Pressure Lawmakers, Employees To Fix Pensions

U.S. cash (Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. cash (Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) -– A new voice and a new website were added Monday to the effort to avert what appears to be the inevitable collapse of Illinois public employee pension funds.

Not just for state employees, but for city and county workers as well.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine says a report due out next week could be the first step toward a solution.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who heads the Cook County Board’s Pension Oversight Committee, unveiled a new website, with graphs showing what will happen if we do nothing; if we increase taxes, or change benefits for existing employees.

“We know we need to solve this problem,” Gainer says.

Pensions are underfunded to the tune of $5.2 billion on the county level; $14.6 billion for city workers and $75 billion for state employees. The cause primarily is skipped, missed or insufficient payments by employers.

“The state has skipped payments over the years. The employees have made their payments year after year,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, says.

Lawmakers want to union officials to discuss potential sacrifices on the part of public employees.

“They haven’t put anything on the table other than we want you to make sure that you make the payment,” says state House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “That’s a fair request, but there’s more to solving the problem than just that, a lot more.”

Among the ideas: a cut in the automatic annual 3 percent cost-of-living increases; raising the retirement age and increasing the employees’ contribution to their pension benefits. The unions say they’re willing to talk, and so are legislators, which some say is a start.

“We still have quite a bit of apprehension as to how significant the reforms that they’re willing to take up,” says Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation.

One non-starter here, CBS 2 is told, appears to be the push to change the state constitution and unilaterally impose pension benefit cuts on workers.

More likely now is a pledge by the state to pay what it owes when it owes it, and then get employees take less in exchange the assurance they’ll get what they’re owed when they are owed it.