Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner – Tenth District
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WTTW's Chicago Tonight: Cook County Pension Reform with Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo & Commissioner Bridget Gainer
December 5, 2012

From WTTW's Chicago Tonight:
"How could Rhode Island's pension reform efforts inform Cook County's solution? Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the architect behind some of the country's boldest pension reform, joins Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer on the December 4th 2012 episode of Chicago Tonight."

Cook County Pension Subcommittee: December 4, 2012 Meeting
December 4, 2012

On December 4 2012, the Cook County Pension Subcommittee was convened by Chairwoman Bridget Gainer. Below is a the official presentation that was delivered at the meeting.

FOX Chicago Sunday: Commissioner Bridget Gainer on Pensions
September 30, 2012

Chicago News and Weather | FOX Chicago News
September 30, 2012

My interview with FOX Chicago Sunday's Mike Flannery and Dane Placko about the challenges we face with public pensions in Cook County. 

OpenPensions.Org - Coordinated Health Care Strategies
August 15, 2012

The Cook County Pension Fund is 57% funded and without changes to benefits or contributions the fund will go bankrupt in 2038 - 26 years. Currently 15,000 retirees receive a County pension, none of whom are eligible for Social Security. County retirees also receive their healthcare from the Pension Fund, paying 50% of the cost both before and after they are eligible for Medicare. The average County pension is $34,000 and number that will grow to approximately $50,000 over the next 20 years. The average retirement age is 62. 

These facts about the pension exist within the context of a difficult economy and a 2013 County budget with growing deficits and need for reductions. 

This requires creative solutions to develop a stable retirement for workers and reliable budget for taxpayers. 

One option to consider is to look at the current balance of benefits between health and retirement. In 2011, Cook County paid almost $500,000,000 for health and retirement benefits for active employees: 
60%, ($304 ,000,000) for health: (medical, vision, dental and pharmaceutical insurance) and 40%, ($195,337,621) for retirement via the statutory contribution to the Pension Fund. This covers the 22,900 employees at a cost of approximately $14,000 per person. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, the average amount that employers provide for major medical and drug coverage is closer to $10,000. There are opportunities to mitigate reductions in pension benefits or tax increases if we change the total benefit package to reflect a 50/50 split between health care and retirement. One way to make this change is to explore an exchange for County employees. 

A healthcare exchange is "a mechanism for organizing the health insurance marketplace to help consumers and businesses shop for coverage in a way that permits easy comparison of available plan options based on price, benefits and services, and quality." Health care insurance exchanges can provide competitive marketplaces for individuals and employers, such as Cook County to directly compare and select health insurance options on the basis of price, quality, and other factors. There are many active healthcare exchanges for retirees and several new and developing exchanges for active employees.

The Cook County Pension Fund Board of Trustees has sole discretion in administering the healthcare plan and setting subsidy amounts for the almost 15,000 retirees. The pension fund provides retirees with a healthcare premium subsidy between 50-55% of total costs, which in 2011 was $46,904,340. This decreases the funded status of the pension fund by over 8% and represents a $1.6 billion unfunded liability. Healthcare costs for retirees have risen at just under 7% per year. 

Using a Cook County health insurance exchange to enable employees and retirees to review a variety of medical health plans and supplemental insurance that may be better suited to each individuals needs has the opportunity to save between $21,000,000 to $80,000,000 annually for the County, of which a portion can be used to bring retirees back into the active group of employees and mitigate the extent of changes to pension benefits.

Additional Resources

OpenPensions.Org - Path to Retirement Security: Participate in the Solution
June 6, 2012

Twitter: @OpenPensions 

As Chairman of the Pension Committee for the Cook County Board, I knew that if we were going to succeed in restoring the solvency of the pension fund, keeping the retirement promise to employees and retirees and protecting taxpayers, it had to be a process that included all of those stake holders. And the basis of the discussion had to be a clear set of facts - where is the fund, how did we get here and what are the options to move forward. This is why I have created OpenPensions.Org

Locator Map of Cook County, Illinois, 1839. Ba...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OpenPensions.Org, provides access to all pension data, analysis of what changes to contributions or benefits would cost and how changes would impact employees. This is the first time that the status of the County's pension, the unfunded liability and possible solutions will be available to all - taxpayers, employees, retirees and the civic and business community. Our Truth in Numbers report details how the Cook County Pension Fund fell from over 90% to less than 60% funded in just 10 years. It also presents a set of solutions that will be the basis of engaging all stakeholders across the County. 

Every person in the County relies on a functioning Court system, the Sheriff's office and other vital services the County provides. If we do not address the growing unfunded liability at the pension fund, future contributions will either cause a crushing increase in property taxes or will crowd out funding for County Services. Neither one of those paths is acceptable. There are over 15,000 County retirees and approximately 23,000 active employees, 30% of which are eligible for a pension today. Without reform the pension fund will be insolvent in 2038 and be unable to pay pension benefits or retiree healthcare. Insolvency is also not an option. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes that can trump starting with the facts, collaborating with labor, retirees, citizens and civic leaders and being willing to make tough decisions to overcome a problem that has been a generation in the making.

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OpenPensions.Org In The News
"Cook County to talk pension reform with workers" - Daily Herald 
By: Eric Peterson, May 15 2012 

"Rescuing Illinois" - Chicago Tribune 
By: Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, May 15 2012 

"Cook County pension fund should hike contributions, says report" - Pensions & Investments Magazine 
By: Kevin Olsen, April 10 2012 

"Cook County Pensions in Very Bad Shape: New Report finds funding gap will grow" - Huffington Post Chicago 
By: Staff Reporter, April 9 2012 

"Cook County Faces Pension Fund Deficit: Report" - NBC Chicago 
By: Lisa Balde, April 9 2012 

"Cook County also faces funding gap, new analysis says" - Chicago Tribune 
By: Hal Dardick April 9 2012 
[continue reading]

Cook County Pension Fund 2011 Financial Reports
May 3, 2012

Financial Reports Show Further Decline in Cook County Pension Funded Status
Underscores Need For Collaborative Discussion for Fair and Sustainable Reforms

CHICAGO - Today, the Cook County Pension Fund released its 2011 financial and actuarial reports showing that the pension funded status is now 57.54%, a 3.2% decrease from the 60.7% 2010 funded status. This continues the declining trend for the Cook County Pension Fund over the last decade which has seen a funded status decrease from 90% in 2000 to its present level of 57.54%.

The decrease in funded status is largely due to a low investment return rate of 1.2%. The Cook County Pension Fund assumes that the fund will receive an investment return rate of 7.5%.  "Without meaningful pension reforms the Cook County Pension fund will not be able to promise a secure retirement for employees and a sustainable system for taxpayers," said Bridget
Gainer, Cook County Commissioner (D-10), chair of the County Subcommittee on Pensions, "Every year that goes by that we do not address the growing unfunded liabilities the more draconian solutions will be needed to find sustainable solutions."

Commissioner Gainer recently launched, an open data pension website for the Cook County Pension Fund as a call to action for retirees, taxpayers and current employees to participate in the pension reform discussion. "In order to find a solution to our pension problem we have to change the way we have the conversation. Workers who rely on a pension from the County should be fully informed and actively involved in the discussions about any changes that will affect their retirement," said Gainer. "The path forward must begin by defining a sustainable level retirement security. It is critical that all stakeholders define the level of benefit required to provide a sustainable retirement and restore pension solvency."

President Preckwinkle created Cook County's first committee dedicated to pension and has partnered with Chairman Gainer and the Cook County Board to advance pension reforms at the County level. "The downward trend of our funding ratio is a stark indication of the urgent need for pension reform at the State level.  We owe it to the employees who have paid into the system and the taxpayers who are frustrated with the status quo to make comprehensive changes that will make the system sustainable. I urge the members of the General Assembly to move swiftly to enact responsible legislation," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

"There is not a one-size fits all solution for pension reform in Illinois. Each fund will need to devise local solution. There are no
shortcuts or quick fixes that can trump collaboration, hard work and the tough decisions that it takes to overcome a problem that has been this long in the making" said Gainer. Without any reform to the Cook County pension system the fund is expected to become insolvent by 2038, jeopardizing the retirements of thousands of county
workers and potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook for a huge bailout.

Cook County Pension Committee Report

Governor Quinn Proposes Bold Plan to Stabilize the Public Pension System
April 20, 2012

"CHICAGO - Governor Pat Quinn today announced a bold plan that secures public workers' retirement while fixing the state's pension problem that has been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement. The proposal is expected to save taxpayers $65 to $85 billion based on current actuarial assumptions. The changes will lead to greater certainty in Illinois' business climate, respond to concerns from ratings' agencies regarding the state's unfunded pension liability and support the continuation of the state's capital plan that is putting hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents back to work. The Governor's proposal follows weeks of discussion by the Governor's pension working group."

  • To learn more, click here.

Cook County Pension Subcommittee: March 1, 2012 Meeting
March 1, 2012

On March 1st 2012, the Cook County Pension Subcommittee was convened by Chairwoman Commissioner Bridget Gainer. Below is a number of resources presented during the subcommittee meeting.


Iran Divestment from Cook County Annuity & Benefit Fund

Cook County Pension Committee: June 29, 2011 Meeting
June 29, 2011

As the Chair of the Pension Sub-Committee, I convened a meeting on June 29th 2011 to discuss the current financial status of the Cook County Pension Fund. The Committee heard testimony from elected officials in Springfield, civic organizations, pension fund members, finance professionals and labor unions. 

PresentationA general overview of the June 29, 2011 meeting. 

Additional Resources 

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