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State Worker Retirements Surging Amid Pension Reform Talk

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Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol buillding in Springfield (AP Photo)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – With state lawmakers trying to hash out comprehensive pension reform by the end of the year, Illinois state workers are retiring in record numbers to make sure they preserve their existing benefits.

WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports, since June of last year, some 4,750 rank-and-file state workers have retired, nearly the same number as the previous two years put together.

Timothy Blair, executive director of the State Employees’ Retirement System – one of five state-funded pension systems – told the Chicago Tribune “that’s just a big number.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports

He said the state’s university pension system has seen a rise in retirements, as have suburban and downstate school districts – where teacher pensions are funded by the state.

Workers are hoping to avoid likely coming cuts in pension benefits, but it’s unclear if the strategy would work. Lawmakers have talked about reining in benefits for workers who have already retired, although it’s unclear if that move would be constitutional.

The Illinois Constitution says that the pensions of any government employee in the state “shall not be diminished or impaired,” although some have argued that only means pension changes cannot be applied retroactively, and future pension earnings can be reduced by agreement with the respective labor unions.

The governor and state lawmakers have been working to overhaul the state’s pension systems, as the state’s pension debt threatens to swell to $93 billion by next summer.

Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered lawmakers to return to Springfield on Friday for a special session to deal with pension reform, but the prospects for an agreement by then appear dim. However, both the governor and legislative leaders have previously said they want to come up with a pension reform plan by the end of the year, to avoid a downgrade in the state’s bond rating.

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