Mayor pushes for pension reform in Springfield

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl joined a coalition of mayors and business leaders from across the state in Springfield today to press state lawmakers for police and fire pension reform.

Mayor Tisdahl, speaking at a Springfield news conference today.

“Public safety pension reform is the top legislative priority of municipalities across the state," Tisdahl said. "Unless we reform the system to curb escalating pension costs, our towns are going to go broke." 

The noon press conference at the State Capitol was held by the Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities Coalition.

The group’s members say they support Senate Bill 3538, introduced late last week. They say it would help stabilize pension costs for future state employees. But they see that bill as only a first step in the right direction.

The coalition says a comprehensive reform package for future public safety employees would:

  • Increase the normal retirement age to 60 from 50.
  • Increase the required years of service for maximum pension benefits to 35 from 30.
  • Decrease the maximum pension benefit to 72 percent of final salary from 75 percent, and place a cap on the amount of salary that could be counted toward the pension benefit.
  • Calculate pensions using an average of pay over the highest eight consecutive years out of the last 10. Pension benefits now are based on the final year’s salary.
  • Increase pension contributions by employees above their current one-third level of total costs.

Last March, the General Assembly enacted legislation reforming 13 state employee pension funds — but not police and fire pensions.

“Without meaningful and immediate reform, there is only one future for our communities and our residents – a future of higher taxes and deep cuts in public safety and other critical programs and personnel,” said Gary Grasso, the mayor of Burr Ridge.

The Coalition is also asking that current employees increase their contributions towards their own retirement security so that they are more in line with what the taxpayers are putting into the police and fire pension funds.

And it is asking the legislature to adopt a 30-year rolling amortization schedule for pension obligations, an actuarial practice the group says is widely accepted
and used in local governments across the nation to rein in escalating pension costs.

It’s also calling for studies to consider the benefits of investment pooling and fund consolidation for public safety pensions. Currently each fire department and each police department in the state has its own separately-managed pension fund.

Between 1997 and 2008, the coalition says, the cost of police pensions in Illinois increased from $86 million to $215 million. For firefighter pensions, the cost increased from $70 million to $176 million.

“The bottom line is that we need the General Assembly to act on our call for help,” said Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole. “Relief for municipalities will result in affordability for taxpayers and funding stability for the pension systems, which is what employees, pension recipients, and elected officials all want and what the taxpayers deserve.”

Mayor Tisdahl also met with Sen. Jeff Schoenberg and Rep. Robyn Gabel, both of Evanston, to request their continued support for a pension reform bill during the veto session.

The mayor plans to attend a hearing in the House Wednesday morning on the proposed reform legislation before returning to Evanston.

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