Pension Committee Considering Adding 401(k) Option

Oct 11, 2013

Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, sits on the pension conference committee. "There's some concern over ... frankly whether pension systems should get in the business of the market... and philosophically do we really want to go down this road when there's members of these systems that believe all we need to do is make our payment, rightfully so," he says of defined contribution plans.

With an eye toward reaching an agreement in time for the upcoming veto session, legislators on a special pension committee met Friday in Chicago. The conversations focused on giving state employees and teachers a new style of retirement plan.

In the private sector, employees' retirement is usually in the form of a 401-k. That's not so for public sector workers, including in Illinois, who get "defined benefit" pension plans. That means they're guaranteed a certain payout, based on a formula that takes into account things like how many years they worked in government, and their salaries.

Illinois legislators are considering giving government workers another option, something akin to a 401(k).

Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, says no decisions were made.

"We just sort of had an informational briefing about the way these things work," he says.

Conservatives say a 401(k)-type plan could save the state money; others like it because it gives workers more control over their pension investments.

But those plans are also subject to market forces. Because most state workers do not get Social Security it could leave them without any guaranteed retirement.

State university employees already have a defined contribution plan as a pension option.