Pension concerns cause Illinois mayors to call for reform

As Chicago deals with its pension problem, mayors from other municipalities in Illinois raise awareness about their financial woes.
April 21, 2014 3:41:25 PM PDT
As Chicago deals with its pension problem, mayors from other municipalities in Illinois raise awareness about their financial woes.

Twenty-eight Illinois mayors and village presidents from Chicago suburbs and downstate jurisdictions - all with serious pension debt - spoke in Chicago on Monday.

They threatened to raise property taxes or cut services if they don't get some relief, and told state lawmakers "don't forget about us."

The group filed into the Thompson Center media room on Monday to complain about the benefits they are forced by state law to pay their retired police officers and firefighters.

"We love and care for our first responders. We want to take care of them. But there's a reality that's hitting us hard right now," Lynwood Village President Eugene Williams said.

Retiring after 30 years of service, suburban and downstate cops and firefighters receive a pension at 75 percent of their final salary, with 3 percent annual cost of living increases.

"Three percent compounded annually pretty soon leaves you to one of those stories where someone who's ten years out of retirement is making more than they did during their final year of service," Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully said.

Mayor Tully says in 2008, his Downers Grove government spent $2.16 million on public safety pensions. This year the budget line is $4.77 million, an increase of 120% in six years.

"The payouts are absolutely, geometrically unsustainable," Tully said.

The International Association of Firefighters and Illinois Fraternal Order of Police blame the recession, fund mismanagement the failure of some local governments to pay their share.

"No matter how many they say it, there are no facts to support the claim that benefits are have driven this problem," Illinois Firefighters Union President Pat Devaney said.

"We cannot make those pension payments down the road," Palos Hills Mayor Gerals Bennett said.

Some of the mayors said the pension debt in their suburbs, towns and smaller cities is actually worse than in the city of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for a property tax increase.

"There are more than 660 pension funds out there. We all need help," Northbrook Mayor Sandi Frum said. "Not just Chicago, we need help as well."

Just as they must do for Chicago, state lawmakers must change the rules for pension reform to happen in smaller cities and suburbs.

These are just much smaller versions of what's happening in Illinois and Chicago. But the consequences to property taxpayers in some areas actually could be more severe.

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