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Barickman Hopes Veto Session Resolves Pension Consolidation Questions

Barickman on the Senate floor
State Senator Jason Barickman says he wants answers to questions about consolidating pension funds to prevent "unintended consequences".

State Sen. Jason Barickman said he's not sure how a proposal to consolidate municipal fire and police pension fund assets will play out next week in Springfield. The General Assembly convenes Oct. 28-30 for its fall veto session.

There are more than 600 such pension plans in Illinois, many of them significantly underfunded. Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, said there are questions how the bill will shape up. He said it is potentially a good move that increases efficiency and buying power.

Barickman said he has not made up his mind yet. Some pension plans are better funded than others.

“What I worry,” Barickman said, “is that the state is going to book some type of benefit savings, slap yourself on the back for a good decision, when you really are blending the good and the bad which potentially makes the good worse and the bad better which could have a lot of unintended consequences as a result.”

Barickman said he has several questions and worries whether "games can be played" with the consolidation. He said he is waiting for a briefing next week.

"What are the assumed investment returns that are a part of one fund versus another and what's the number the state would use once they are consolidated?" Barickman said.

Barickman also said he does not want to hurt a pension plan that as been more responsible than others by making payments. He also said he worries a consolidated plan might still allow municipalities to skip payments or underfund their contributions.

Barickman said another piece of the pension issue is the five large systems that cover state workers, teachers, and university employees, among others.

“I think you have to look at the cost-of-living adjustment that is a part of the pension systems. That’s not something that has not always been in place. The General Assembly over time has increased that cost of living and adjustment and I think that has to be addressed.”  

Barickman said that since Gov. JB Pritzker took office, he has not addressed the bigger pension funds. But he credits the governor for starting with the smaller pension funds. He predicts that there will be no talk on the five state systems until the spring session.

Road Improvements

The Illinois Department of Transportation rolled out a project list for roads and bridges flowing from a gas tax increase and the state capital bill. Barickman’s district will receive half-billion dollars in projects covering six counties stretching from Eureka to the Indiana line including large chunks of Bloomington-Normal. Barickman is in the minority party.

Barickman said he voted for it and thinks it is fair.

“A lot of those dollars go into I-57, 39, 74, 51—and so they’re important for people not just in Central Illinois," Barickman said. "The county roads, the local roads; definitely there’s positive impact but when you spend money on I-39 that helps Bloomington, but it helps Rockford even if the spending is around Bloomington.”

One of the provisions of the capitol bill is that the increase in gas taxes will have a rolling effect based on inflation so that there does not need to be future spikes in a capitol bill every 10 years caused by the political difficulty in passing a capital bill. That means some of the states needs will be addressed annually. Barickman said allowing for automatic adjustments if need be could lead to political calculations on how to divide the money, but there is still merit to the idea. 

“There’s a dysfunction that occurs when you have these spikes in investment,” Barickman said. “That’s not natural, productive, or efficient. So, you get around that through this. The other thing you get around is anytime there is a vote for something like this, it creates an opportunity for wheeling, dealing, and pork.”

He said after the interests of the governor are met with the bill, the dollars will still be there for road improvements based on a priority list developed by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Other Legislation

Barickman said that you never know what might come up at the veto session, but he thinks any marijuana cleanup discussion would be for the spring session.

“I think generally the legislative session may be a lot of noise but no real action,” Barickman said. “The speaker historically doesn’t take up things in the fall veto session unless they’re viewed as necessary. Just based on the conversations I’ve had with my colleagues and watching what’s going on, the pieces moving around, it suggests that there is not going to be much substantive significant legislation put forward, including cannabis.”

Barickman said the original coalition of votes to pass legalized marijuana sales was so complex that considering a trailer bill to fix some elements of the original is a difficult political lift.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.