State and county lawmakers from Evanston spoke out on issues ranging from cutting health benefits for retired state workers to closing the county courthouse in Skokie at the Evanston Chamber of Commerce annual legislative breakfast this morning at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Chamber and business leaders pose with county and state officials at the breakfast. From left: State Rep. Daniel Biss, Chamber Executive Director Jonathan Perman, Chamber President Steve Hagerty, State Rep. Robyn Gabel, County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza and State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg.

Some highlights from remarks by lawmakers at the session:

Asked about the state supreme court’s decision to keep Rahm Emanuel on the Chicago mayoral ballot, County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he believes that was the right decision and that the appellate court that knocked Emanuel off the ballot had erred in its decision, because the state has had a clear rule about residency since shortly after the Civil War.

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg — commenting on a decision by the state court of appeals this week to toss out a state capital spending law — said he believes the legislature should go back to work and reconstruct the financing plan. The court had ruled that the legislation violated a constitutional provision against including legislation dealing with multiple topics in a single bill.

Schoenberg said the video gambling component of the package may end up coming out of the program as it’s reconsidered.

State Rep. Robyn Gabel said she thinks it will be very difficult to put the package back together in the legislature, and she hopes that the state supreme court will overturn the appeals court’s decision.

She says representatives have just spent a couple weeks getting beat up in their home districts over their decision to raise the state income tax — and so more tax provisions will be hard to pass.

State Rep. Daniel Biss said there was no way to fix the state’s budget problems without new revenue, but said lawmakers can’t address the problem on the revenue side alone. He says there will still have to be quite substantial cuts in state spending.

He says just “cutting waste” won’t be sufficient — the state will need to make cuts that are likely to be painful.

Schoenberg called for “a fundamental change in the culture” of Springfield. He says the state’s tax structure relies disproportionately on sales and income taxes.

He said Medicaid and retirement benefits for state workers will have to be trimmed.

He says Julie Hamos — a former state representative from Evanston who is now director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services —  has helped craft a new law that will cut $750 million in Medicaid costs.

Schoenberg said he’s now proposing that state contributions to state retiree health benefits be cut — and means tested so that higher-income retirees pay more for their health coverage.

He says early retirees from the state are going on to have second careers while the state picks up the full tab for their health care.

Schoenberg says the legislature will hire an independent benefits consultant to advise on what the appropriate benefits structure should be.

Biss says it’s a very attractive, common-sense idea and suggests the means testing idea could be expanded to pension benefits.

But he says the obstacle that reform ideas keep running into is the constitutional protection for state worker benefits.

Gabel says there is growing support in the legislature for pension reform. She suggests there will have to be negotiations with the unions to come up with an acceptable solution.

Suffredin says the structure of pensions in Cook County is very different from at the state. He says county pensions are much better funded than the state’s. But county officials will be negotiating with its unions about pension reforms.

He says that as a result of recent changes by the state, new hires in the county sheriff’s department would have to work to age 67 to receive full pension benefits — far longer than local police who, under state law have separate pension plans.

He says the county board president’s new budget to be released Tuesday will include a rollback of the last half percent of the recent sales tax increase.

He says the sheriff is proposing to close the Skokie court house. He says the cost to Evanston of having court sessions moved to the next nearest court house — in Rolling Meadows — would be substantial, so he hopes Evanston residents will oppose it.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Thank you to attendees

    Thank you all, chamber members, business owners and residents for attending The Evanston Chamber of Commerce Annual Legislative Breakfast.  It’s not often that all or most of our legislators that represent Evanston Locally, State and Federally can be in one room at one time accessible by the public.  If you are interested in how the Chamber may be of assistance to your business needs, please contact the office 847-328-1500 or one of our 570 members. 

    Also thank you to our legislators that take the time to make themselves available to their constituents.

    This event is held annually and is open to the public for free, thanks to our current sponsors  AT&T and University Health Systems.

    Thank you, Dan Mennemeyer
    Chamber Board Member

  2. Schoenberg’s recommendation re: state retiree health care

    At the Evanston Chamber’s Legislative Breakfast, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg described a list of options that should be considered for reining in the cost of state worker retiree pensions, and were reported in this Evanston Now story. The description of all but one of the options was accurately described. However, he did not suggest that retiree health care benefits should be reduced; rather he said that  the cost of health care insurance premiums should be partially paid by the retiree, based on a "needs test." Currently most state worker retirees do not pay any portion of the premium, regardless of their total annual income. Yet early retirees, particularly, are now working at other jobs. They would still have the same health care insurance, but would be required to pay some portion of their insurance premium like most other employees if they have total household income above a certain level. Makes sense to me, and I am one of the univerity retirees.

  3. Should these people be smiling?

    Did anyone read Sunday’s Tribune how union school superintendents and really any government union employee can retire in Illinois, collect a pension, then simply cross state lines and get another job while collecting a cushy pension?

    State Sen.Schoenberg states the problem when he said at the Chamber meeting  "early retirees from the state are going on to have second careers while the state picks up the full tab for their health care." And what is Schoenberg’s solution? Why the "cost of health care insurance premiums should be partially paid by the retiree, based on a "needs test." Oh that’ll solve the pension mess. 

    Hey Schoenberg, Gabel and Biss I have a better idea with a simpler solution.  STOP PAYING THE PENSION IF A GOVERNMENT UNION RETIREE GOES BACK TO WORK!!!!!!!

    A retired government union employee in Illinois can NOT collect their pension if they get another job in Illinois but they can if they get a job in another state. Well, just amend that rule where they can”t collect their pension if they get a job ANYWHERE. 

    The pension system is unsustainable and rife with abuse – the padding, spiking and double dipping goes practically unchecked. Government union employees can collect up to 75 percent of their last salary for the rest of their lives and get a yearly raise guaranteed while in retirement. They can retire as early as age 55 and their healthcare benefits are practically free. 

    Although I really like Schoenberg’s proposal to cut PACE, his proposal to have the government union retiree pay more for their healthcare premium is silly, absurd, insulting and only a drop in the bucket. It’s as if these politicians just are not listening to the voting public, and even bipartisan groups and leading economists who say massive reforms to the current government union pension system must be enacted immediately. Some suggest switching it to a 401k plan. Others say bankruptcy is imminent. I say voting out Democrats.

    There hasn’t been one state program yet cut from the budget and I understand that no union employees working for the state have been laid off. The only growth industry in Illinois during this severe and ongoing Recession is government.

    Schoenberg, Biss and Gabel are part of the Democrat machine that feeds off the campaign support of powerful and well-organized unions in Illinois. Most union support go to Democrat candidates. I bet you will find that these politicians received union campaign donations. Schoenberg’s plan would hardly put a dent into the pension tsunami coming soon to a tax bill near you. Did anyone even ask him how much money his proposal would save?

    Did anyone at the Chamber ask Schoenberg, Biss or Gabel anything about how they agreed to such a high number when they voted to increase business income taxes by 48 percent? Was that even discussed? In a state facing a severe deficit and high unemployment the answer is to raise taxes? Is there a government model that shows raising taxes on people and businesses lead to a healthier economy? Evanston business owners must be very concerned. The business income tax hike should have been the key issue of discussion at the Chamber meeting.

    EVERY REPUBLICAN in Springfield voted AGAINST the 68 percent tax hike on individuals and a 48 percent tax hike on businesses. Didn’t look like there were any Republican politicians at the meeting.

    It’s a safe bet that Robyn Gabel won’t run unopposed in her next general election.


    1. Not quite right

      "Government union employees can collect up to 75 percent of their last salary for the rest of their lives and get a yearly raise guaranteed while in retirement. They can retire as early as age 55 and their healthcare benefits are practically free."

      As a recent, former government  (non-union) employee I do get to take advantage of my employer’s group healthcare plan. I was a member of the plan for 24 years.  My health coverage now costs a bit more than "practically free."  It now costs me about $7,200 per year as an individual.  That is the full cost of the coverage.  And I get whatever escalator is used every year for the cost. The cost is not means tested. I pay the full cost of the plan, with no subsidy other than being able to take advantage of a group plan.


  4. A no brainer for pension improvement

    First of all, the union retirement age should be the same as private—66+ and benefits increase as they get closer to 66+—not full at 55 !

    Police and firemen complain about the danger of their work [granted] and toll it takes on their health.  For the health, certainly not as much as football players but they don’t get pensions.  Many get MBAs and law degrees while playing and plan for post ‘retirement’—which could  be in a couple of years. 

    Teachers also assume they can retire early and take other jobs—burnout. 

    Private business does not give tenure or promise of life-time employment—surely that would cause faster burnout.  They should be able to take early retirement—but at scaled rates which accelerate as they get closer to 66+.  Unless unions realize their people will have to have several job changes and prepare for them [schooling, retraining], they will be left behind as the public wakes-up to this ‘special class.’   Even the politicians will one day have to wake-up since the union membership coffers will no longer be able to assure their re-election—this realization will certainly come before their conscience wakes-up to it.

    Under no circumstances should give pay bumps and promotions granted just before retirement to boost pension.

    1. pension

       "Police and firemen complain about the danger of their work [granted] and toll it takes on their health. For the health, certainly not as much as football players but they don’t get pensions. Many get MBAs and law degrees while playing and plan for post ‘retirement’—which could be in a couple of years. ‘

       You are making stuff up.  The NFL does have a pension plan.  And comparing firemen and cops (public employees), with football players ( entertainers, working for private companies) is not valid.

    2. A no brainer for pension improvement

      If you are going to compare the police and fire jobs with football, don’t just pick and choose the points you want to compare. Although your example of pensions is not valid, I’m pretty sure the majority of police and fire employees would gladly trade their pensions for the salaries the players make. In 2010, USA Today put the average salary for a NFL player at $1.8 million a year. We can also use your argument for retirement age. I’m sure ticket sales for NFL games would sky rocket if the players played until they were 65! You too could be a member of this "special class". The police and fire departments hire on a regular basis, feel free to stop by city hall and grab an application!

      1. Pension reform

        Any pension NFL players get, and as I recall they were saying how small it was, is not going to based on assuming it will have to last them for the rest of their life after the NFL—i.e. it is assumed they will find new work.

        Police and firemen may not want or be able to work past 60 or even 55 on the same work they had at 20 but they should be able to move into other public service jobs or have also prepared themself for completely different work [like pro-ball players prepare for law and business which is not a continuation of their pro-ball work]. 

        Even teachers who burn-out should be able to prepare for other jobs.  

        The NFL does not promise life time employment.   Private industry does not promise life time employment.  Government and school employees have to come to the same realization for their life until at least 65.

  5. State pensions

    I just wish people who make comments about state pensions were better informed, and that includes the state senator and state reps!  There are different levels of state pay, pensions and health care.  The teachers are at one level, the General Assembly another, and then there are all the state employees who work in different departments as staffers.

    As a retired state of Illinois employee I can tell you that I pay for my health insurance and I pay deductibles.  I worked until I was 71 years old in order to secure my very, very small pension and medical benefits.

    It is my understanding that everyone who worked for the state for 20 or more years does receive virtually no cost medical coverage upon retirement.  Because I worked for the state for only 13 consecutive years, I do indeed pay a premium for my medical coverage, plus I pay a deductible.  Everyone who wants dental coverage pays for it no matter how many years they worked for the state.  The cost is low but so are the dental benefits.  If you have an expensive dental bill for around $1400, the state will pay about  $500.

    State workers and retirees have a choice of 2 plans (in the Chicago area).  If an employee chooses an HMO, it is, of course, much cheaper.  Because I chose the quality care plan to have more choices, I pay more.  And, of course, there are some medical procedures not covered in the plan.

    Like everything in this world, the average state worker is really not living on some kind of gravy train.  It is usually the pay and benefits at the upper levels that are causing the spending problems.  As an example: school superintendents are grossly overpaid and can move from school district to school district, picking up lucrative pension packages at each stop.

    We all like to blame the other guy/gal for this financial mess.  Just remember, this is a world wide monetary crisis that includes countries that have very little input with public sector employees.  There is a lot of blame to go around all over.  And Chamber members,  the state workers that you like to vilify are also consumers.

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