Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a series of cuts trimming the potential pension benefits for police officers and firefighters hired after Jan. 1, 2011.
Under the proposed system, which has yet to be considered by the Illinois Senate and Gov. Pat Quinn, cops and firefighters hired after Jan. 1 will have to wait five years longer to retire and will see their benefits capped. Local workers also will have to put in at least 30 years on the job to get a full retirement package. Under current law they can get full retirement benefits after 25 years.
Local leaders have said without changes for future employees, current and retired officers and firemen may have seen their benefits disappear.
State Rep Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said it’s time for the state to step in and help local communities do the responsible thing.
“This has to be done. We did it for state workers, now we have to do the same for local communities across the state of Illinois,” added McCarthy.
Police and fire unions across the state fought the proposal, asking instead for a different set of changes or more time to work out an agreement.
But State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said there simply isn’t any more time.
“It just makes sense,” he said. “Defined benefit plans are going the way of the dinosaur because they’re unaffordable.”
Franks said he’s surprised lawmakers didn’t include pension reforms for cops and firefighters in last spring’s sweeping pension changes for public employees. Those reforms created a similar plan for future teachers, state workers, university employees, judges and even future lawmakers.
State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said Illinois’ pension debt is among the worst in the country, with close to $90 billion in unfunded liabilities. And while local pension funds are not that bad off, he said the vote to trim pension costs is the responsible thing to do.
“The message [in the proposed law] is that the state is committed to fixing the pension liabilities. If we want to keep our promises to public employees, we must make changes for future hires,” Tryon said.
There is an unresolved question as to whether lawmakers will, or even can, make changes for current employees. Some mayors have said that is the next step. Tryon and Franks say they’d like to see if that will happen. But there are constitutional questions surrounding the idea of changing benefits for people still on the job or even collecting pension checks.
The pension changes for new employees now heads to the Illinois Senate where it could see a vote as soon as Wednesday afternoon.