|Saying police and firefighter pensions are taking up too much of municipalities' tax money, a group of municipal leaders, organizations, and lawmakers are calling for major changes to such pensions.
The group Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities says it's frustrated that towns, cities, and counties bear the costs of pension sweeteners ordered by state lawmakers. The group points out that public safety employees can retire at age 50 with a pension of 75 percent of their final income. The group says that's a point that should be re-considered, although it's not in its official plan. It is calling for a two-tiered system so costs for new employees are lower.
Naperville Mayor George Pradel, who's a retired police officer, says he sees both sides of the issue. "When I was a police officer, I thought the city had deep pockets. But as the mayor, I know now the difficulty facing cities having to fund these pension systems."
Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin is also a member of the coalition. He said, "The legislature passes and mandates what the municipalities have to pay. We have absolutely no say in anything about the benefits that come down to our own employees." Davlin, however, recently approved a three percent pay hike for his outgoing police chief, Ralph Caldwell, which will increase the former chief's pension payout. The mayor says he made the offer to encourage Caldwell to retire earlier than planned, and Davlin claims Caldwell's retirement will save the city about $100,000.
The organization maintains that the problem affects each and every municipality. The group's five planks:
* Enroll all new public safety workers into a modified system that costs less for taxpayers (details not decided, coalition wants a study to determine that)
* Increase workers' contributions from the current average of just less than 10 percent
* Consolidate existing systems (640 currently) into a pooled system that could be less expensive
* Eliminate the 2030 deadline for full funding for a 30-year rolling approach (as used for non-public safety municipal employees)
* Require super-majority vote of state lawmakers to sweeten pension benefits.
The Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois is opposed to the plan. Legislative representative Eddy Crews says the sweeteners added by state lawmakers are not the major drivers of increased pension costs. He says that according to state government reports, 77 cents of every dollar that increased in unfunded liability was due to factors other then benefit modifications. He says the pensions systems that cover cops and firefighters were negotiated more than a decade ago to include smaller government payments back then, and increasing payments over time. Crews says his group backs legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago) to help even-out payments, but doesn't think this group will even consider it.
According to the pension fairness group, pension costs for the following municipalities increased by these amounts from FY 04 - 08:
Arlington Heights $1,783,215 52.4%
Bellwood $1,013,035 278.3%
Champaign $2,483,397 65.5%
Springfield $4,568,996 65.8%
Wilmette $ 913,350 57.3%
State Rep. Karen May ( D-Highland Park ) and Sen. Pam Altoff (R-McHenry) say they'll carry legislation that reflect the pension fairness group's proposed changes.
(Illinois Radio Network)