The struggle to patch up Illinois’ imperiled pension system

By Evan Garcia

Last December, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed an overhaul of the state’s pension system into law to gradually remedy the state’s $110 billion shortfall in public pension payments – the highest deficit of its kind in the United States. Quinn’s legislation increased the retirement age for government workers 45 and younger while decreasing the annual 3 percent cost-of-living increases applied to retirees’ benefits. Legislators projected that Quinn’s pension reform would lower the pension deficit to $21 billion by 2044.

Labor unions immediately sued, arguing the law violated the Illinois Constitution, and Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz agreed. Specifically, Belz pointed to a clause in the state constitution that dictates state pension benefits “not be diminished or impaired.” Belz’s ruling threw Quinn’s progress on pensions into limbo. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, hoping to overturn the judgment, is appealing the case to the state’s supreme court.

But if the higher court affirms the unconstitutionality of Quinn’s law, the Illinois legislature will find itself between a rock and a hard place. The obvious question facing lawmakers: How can Illinois dig itself out of this hole?

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Mayoral candidate Garcia calls for investment in poor neighborhoods

By Evan Garcia

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia speaks to an attendee after a discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks to an attendee after a discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia reiterated his commitment to Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods at a panel discussion Thursday.

“You can’t have a thriving part of the city and one that is desolate, hurting and hopeless,” Garcia said. “Not everyone can be healthy and secure in a city that has that kind of dichotomy.”

Garcia, who ran unopposed last week for his second term as 7th District Cook County Commissioner, linked the challenges of the city’s most disinvested neighborhoods to the rest of Chicago. The aspiring mayor said violence is mobile and threatens everyone.

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Ordinance safeguarding SROs approved by City Council

Activist Alexandra Keels attended the City Council meeting to support the passing of the Single-Room Occupancy Preservation Ordinance.
Activist Alexandra Keels attended the City Council meeting to support passage of the Single-Room Occupancy Preservation Ordinance.

By Evan Garcia

A law passed by the Chicago City Council Wednesday will make it harder for owners of single-room-occupancy units to convert their properties to market-rate apartments.

SROs provide low-rent housing for Chicagoans earning little income. Advocates say these apartments keep the city’s elderly, disabled and fixed-income recipients from ending up on the streets, but they have been disappearing at a rapid rate.

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Scenes from Governor-elect Bruce Rauner’s election party

By Evan Garcia

Rauner emphasized the need for a "booming economy to provide the resources for the future of our children" during his acceptance speech.
Rauner emphasized the need for a “booming economy to provide the resources for the future of our children” during his acceptance speech.

Bruce Rauner woke up Wednesday as Illinois’ next governor. The night before, his campaign held an election party in the International Ballroom of the Hilton Chicago.

The event was flanked by members of the media as supporters and staffers danced the night away. Gubernatorial polls published Sunday showed Rauner in a dead heat with Governor Pat Quinn, but backers had no doubt that Rauner would win. They crescendoed to rapturous applause once the earliest call in Rauner’s favor came in just after 8 p.m. by NBC.

Supporters came from all walks of life. From investment executives to homemakers, they were there to cheer on their Republican businessman-turned-politician. While their candidate didn’t offer specifics on how to tackle the state’s challenges, they left around midnight with the hope of a fresh start.

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Republican Rauner beats Quinn for Illinois governor

By Evan Garcia

Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner speaks to supporters at the Hilton in Chicago after winning the election.
Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner speaks to supporters at the Hilton in Chicago after winning the election.

Bruce Rauner has been elected Illinois’ next governor. After nearly all the votes had been counted, the businessman who promised to “shake up Springfield”  won with just over 50 percent of the vote. He defeated Gov. Pat Quinn who received 45 percent. Libertarian Chad Grimm came away with 3 percent of the vote.

“This is an opportunity to come together on a bipartisan basis to solve the problems and challenges facing the families of Illinois,” Rauner told a ballroom full of raucous supporters. “This is our time.”

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Emanuel pushes reform of job applications for felons

By Evan Garcia

The ordinance was proposed Wednesday to the Chicago City Council.
The ordinance was proposed Wednesday to the Chicago City Council.

Starting in January, nearly all employers in Illinois will have to remove questions relating to an applicant’s criminal background from their job applications.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing to extend this law to include Chicago companies with fewer than 15 employees. He proposed the ordinance to City Council Wednesday.

Gov. Pat Quinn approved the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act last July, which applies to private companies with 15 or more employees.

Employers will no longer be able to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history on job applications.

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