Commissioner Proposes Fixes for Cook County Pension Funding

April 9, 2012 ( - Cook County, Illinois' pension fund will go broke in 26 years without major changes, according to a new analysis.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, chairwoman of the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ pension oversight panel said even if the county fund generally is in better shape than the state and city pension funds, that doesn’t mean the county can continue to ignore a funding gap that grew to $5.2 billion by the end of 2010, according to The Chicago Tribune. That amount is seven times the size of the deficit a decade earlier, before a 2003 early retirement plan, rising health care costs, higher life expectancies and fund investment downturns.  

Gainer’s report offers potential solutions, including having employees pay 9.5% — 1% more than currently — of their annual wages into the fund, which also would trigger a relatively modest $15 million increase in the county government’s annual payment. The report also proposes lower annual cost-of-living increases, a higher retirement age, slightly less credit for future years worked and basing the pension payments on a percentage of each employee’s highest consecutive eight years of salary, rather than the current four.   

The Chicago Tribune reports Gainer hopes the analysis, and a web site she plans to launch, will result in a well-thought-out effort to repair the fund that could be ready to present to state lawmakers in time for their post-election November session.  

Gainer met with union leaders to discuss the pension reform effort and said she plans to start meeting soon with rank-and-file employees.

“You know, this isn’t something that is going to be done to county employees,” Gainer said, according to the newspaper. “It’s something that is going to be done with county employees.”