By Drew Thomason Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Police and firefighters hired after Dec. 31 in Illinois would have different retirement benefits than their predecessors if some legislators and mayors get their way.
The Illinois House of Representatives could vote this week on the changes, which include increasing the retirement age from 50 to 55 and requiring employees to be on the job for 30 years before being eligible for their full pensions.
It also caps the salary that public employees could use to calculate their retirement at $106,800 starting next year. (This amount would increase annually by half of the Consumer Price Index.)
The legislation is a compromised version of the bill that was introduced to the House after passing the Senate 46-0 this spring. Changes to Senate Bill 3538 were a result of listening to the concerns of the police and firefighters's unions and municipalities throughout the state, according to the bill's sponsor in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park.
"I think we've come forward with a compromise that is workable. It's a compromise that I don't (think) is something that either side is going to say is their cup of tea, but I think they both realize this a very difficult and very involved issue," McCarthy said.
Forcing cities to make their annual contribution to the retirement funds is one specific area the unions said they wanted to see beefed up in the legislation. As the legislation stands, the state can, but isn't required to, intervene if a city didn't contribute enough cash to the retirement funds.
Municipalities, which are responsible for the majority of the pension payments, say the bill is better than nothing, but doesn't go nearly far enough.
"Some of the other changes that aren't going in the direction we'd like to see it go will obviously have a negative impact on our ability to make our payments into the system. The penalty provision without some of the other reform elements we'd like to see, again, could be problematic," said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.
Morrissey added that real reform will affect those already in the system, not just new hires.
"We're debating about what's going to happen with future employees when we're not doing any hiring," Morrissey said.
Morrissey said the Illinois Municipal League, of which he is a part, will be back in Springfield during the spring session with more substantial changes. Ideas on how to shore up the state's sagging pension system are welcome, McCarthy said. Currently, the state's pension system is about $77.8 billion short of what is promised to current and retired workers. Making changes to benefits for those already in the system would be a difficult task, however. The state constitution equates retirement benefits for public employees to a contract. Changing benefits for those in the system could be construed as unconstitutional.
"We aren't going to load up a bill that we know is constitutional with some things that may be unconstitutional in order to delay the implementation of it," McCarthy said.
The legislature passed similar changes earlier this year for state-funded pensions of teachers, university employees, judges and future lawmakers.