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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

8 Comments

  1. Tisdahl taking step in right direction

    Good job Mayor Tisdahl. This is a step in the right direction.

    I wonder what Schoenberg and Gabel’s position are on current government union pension reform. I’m not too enthusiastic since the Democrats have control of all three branches of state government and unions are their main constituents. But it will be political disaster for the Dems if they don’t reform current union pensions.

    Some other reforms needed in the current pension system is to eliminate the automatic guaranteed 3 percent annual increase and require pensioners to put way more into their healthcare benefits.

    Having said that, I think Illinois should become a right to work state. There should also be more transparency in government union contracts. And as some bipartisan groups have suggested, switch the current pension to a 401k plan.

     

    1. Know your facts

      Retired police officers and firefighters pay 100% of their healcare benefits when they retire.  Thats a little over $1,700 per month. 

      1. And I pay 100% of my

        And I pay 100% of my healthcare insurance premiums when I retire as well, police officers and fire fighters are not alone in this. Most pension plans don’t begin paying until age 65 with reduced payments available for those who wish to draw benefits earlier.

        Mayor Tisdahl’s work should start with moving the normal retirement age to 65. Public employees have quickly become the most highly paid and the great benefit recipients of our whole economy.

  2. Funding

    If the city had funded the pensions properly the last 20 years we would not be in this mess.  Past administrations ignored the funding.  Police and firefighters payed what was required by law towards their pensions.  How much did the city pay for lawyers when the police pension fund sued the city for underfunding?  Judge ruled that the city in fact had underfunded the pension fund.  That law suit went on for over ten years.

  3. Police and Fire Pension Reform

    The Police and Fire Pension reforms supported by Mayor Tisdahl and others is an excellent first step, but without following legislation that  addresses current employees, legally challenging as that may be, we’ve got a bill that provides little more than political cover. Stuart Opdycke

  4. Thank you Tisdahl. If the

    Thank you Tisdahl. If the unions had any forsight they would agree to much of this. (The final-10 change is partularly necessary and sane.) Otherwise they can look foward to the inevitable– the rapid evolution of bankruptcy law with regard to states and municipalities. (Watch for state bankruptcies to come to a head in 2011, with CA or IL first.) If the White House signals strongly against state bailouts – increasingly likely thanks to Tea Party takeover, last weeks money printing, and the 2012 campaign drawing near – it will only expedite the process. But frankly I would be surprised by any shift in typical union all-or-nothing stance. Their insatiability is breathtaking. They are like the rabbit that eats itself to death.

  5. Thank You Mayor Tisdahl

    Pension reform is needed to ensure a sustainable and appropriate pension plan for all current and future policemen and firemen. There are many parties to blame for the current pension situation. However, that will not be a productive discussion – we need to implement changes today to fix the problem. A "shared sacrifice" will be required. Is it fair that Evanston’s former Fire Superintendent retired in May at the age of 51 with a $100,000 annual pension + generous benefits + a guaranteed 3% annual pay increase (the Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA)? Or is it fair that the former Police Chief "retired" from Evanston’s department, and is now the Police Chief in Park Ridge, collecting his Evanston pension, and his Park Ridge salary at the same time? While i don’t blame these 2 people, i blame "the system." It’s current construction allows for people to manipulate it at an expensive cost to taxpayers. Reform is needed. Other changes to demand include how the Police & Fire pension funds are managed. Today, they are locally and independently managed in each municipality. That means there are approximately 635 separate plans throughout the entire State of Illinois. This is difficult to monitor, expensive to run, and limits the investment returns. Who pays for all of these shortcomings? Yes, you and I, and all the taxpayers in Illinois. These plans should be consolidated under the umbrella of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund or IMRF. This is the state’s only well run pension plan.

    Hopefully more people will wake up to these issues and advocate for these changes. If conditions don’t change, Evanston’s $ 175 mm underfunded pension obligation just from Police & Fire pensions will continue to grow and grow and eventually bankrupt the city.

    Strong leadership demonstrated by Mayor Tisdahl will be required to implement these changes. Hopefully Senator Schoenberg and Representative Gabel will support these efforts.

  6. Thank You Mayor Tisdahl

    Pension reform is needed to ensure a sustainable and appropriate pension plan for all current and future policemen and firemen. There are many parties to blame for the current pension situation. However, that will not be a productive discussion – we need to implement changes today to fix the problem. A "shared sacrifice" will be required. Is it fair that Evanston’s former Fire Superintendent retired in May at the age of 51 with a $100,000 annual pension + generous benefits + a guaranteed 3% annual pay increase (the Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA)? Or is it fair that the former Police Chief "retired" from Evanston’s department, and is now the Police Chief in Park Ridge, collecting his Evanston pension, and his Park Ridge salary at the same time? While i don’t blame these 2 people, i blame "the system." It’s current construction allows for people to manipulate it at an expensive cost to taxpayers. Reform is needed. Other changes to demand include how the Police & Fire pension funds are managed. Today, they are locally and independently managed in each municipality. That means there are approximately 635 separate plans throughout the entire State of Illinois. This is difficult to monitor, expensive to run, and limits the investment returns. Who pays for all of these shortcomings? Yes, you and I, and all the taxpayers in Illinois. These plans should be consolidated under the umbrella of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund or IMRF. This is the state’s only well run pension plan.

    Hopefully more people will wake up to these issues and advocate for these changes. If conditions don’t change, Evanston’s $ 175 mm underfunded pension obligation just from Police & Fire pensions will continue to grow and grow and eventually bankrupt the city.

    Strong leadership demonstrated by Mayor Tisdahl will be required to implement these changes. Hopefully Senator Schoenberg and Representative Gabel will support these efforts.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.