CHICAGO – Cook County, Illinois Chief Financial Officer Ivan Samstein is resigning to take the CFO post at the University of Chicago.
The university announced Wednesday Samstein was appointed vice president and chief financial officer. His hiring followed a national search. He starts June 26.
Samstein will assume responsibility for strategic financial planning and provide oversight of the university’s financial analysis and functions, information technology, and human resources.
“Ivan will work to ensure that ongoing analysis, discipline and appropriate organization best support and serve the ambitious academic mission and priorities of the university,” university president Robert Zimmer said in a statement. “He will work closely with the provost and me, as well as with deans, officers and the board of trustees.”
Samstein, a veteran of the Army National Guard who served in Afghanistan, joined the nation's second-most-populous county as deputy CFO in 2012 and a year later took over the top post. His duties included managing the development of a $5 billion budget, capital spending and debt issuance at the county that incorporates Chicago.
Samstein moved to the public sector after spending seven years in public finance banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He made the leap to banking after five years as an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.
“The University of Chicago is not only one of the world’s leading academic institutions, but is also an anchor for the greater Chicago economy and has an active commitment to that role. That is one of the things that attracted me to this position,” Samstein said in the statement.
Samstein was not immediately available to comment directly. A public finance source said Samstein considered the move a tough choice because he loved working for the county but the university position offered him an exciting opportunity.
Samstein leaves as the county is facing pension problems similar to those in Chicago and other Illinois-based local governments. It has a plan to shore up the fund. Despite some erosion, Cook County's ratings remain more solid than Chicago's, in the single A to low double-A category.
The county is setting aside sales tax revenue from a rate hike to fund higher pension payments but it needs state approval to cement the funding changes aimed at saving the fund from looming insolvency. Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the needed legislation last year as he presses for support for state reforms, so the county will need to try again.
Samstein leaves as the county’s burden of subsidizing its health system has eased as more of the system’s users are now insured due to federal healthcare reform. Clouds loom, however, should Congress and the Trump administration succeed in repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act with a plan that raises the level of uninsured and/or cuts Medicaid.
The county has $3.5 billion of outstanding debt, largely general obligations. The unfunded liabilities of the county's pension fund were $5.9 billion in 2015, with the funded ratio at 60.2%. The total net pension liability as reported under new accounting standards rose was $15.3 billion.
The county has not named a replacement. Board President Toni Preckwinkle praised Samstein’s tenure.
“Ivan has been a critical member of our senior management team for more than five years, and I have relied greatly on his advice and counsel,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. Under his leadership, the county adopted a three-year financial plan and helped set in motion the plan for additional pension contributions.
“The University of Chicago is a world-class institution, and I have no doubt that Ivan will provide great value in his new position,” she added.
Preckwinkle and the county health system’s chief executive officer Jay Shannon warned Thursday after House passage of the ACA replacement legislation that 40% of health plan members are at risk of losing coverage. Before the ACA, less than half county patients were insured compared to 70% now. The county stands to lose at least $300 million annually with the possibility that the figure could run as high as $800 million.
“Cook County’s health fund allocation has decreased by more than $380 million in the past several years, largely due to the ACA. Without these funds or an increase in local or state revenues, our mission to care for all is at risk,” a statement from the two read. “Make no mistake, this vote is guaranteed to result in more uninsured in Cook County requiring hospitals to make difficult decisions such as cutting service, laying off staff or worse, closing their doors.”