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Springfield Police, Fire Unions Wary of "Pension Reform"
Police and fire pension reform sounds better and better to downstate municipalities, including Springfield, but the capitol city's unions are a little more wary.
After the legislature passed a pension reform bill for two Chicago unions earlier this month, downstate mayors believe lawmakers could soon take on Chicago's police and fire pensions. If so, they want reform for the downstate funds, too.
"We just want to make sure the General Assembly deals with both issues at the same time. Simultaneously," said the Illinois Municipal League's legislative director, Joe McCoy.
One of those municipalities is the City of Springfield, where both the police and fire pensions are about half-funded. The Houston administration has taken steps to fix the problem, like extra payments and negotiating down pay increases, but officials say there's only so much they can do on their end.
"Any significant or substantial reform has to come from the General Assembly," said Budget Director Bill McCarty.
That's because the legislature dictates how much employees pay in and what they get out in benefits. But with reform bills so far this session dealing mainly with cuts to benefits and/or increased contributions, Springfield's police and fire unions are skeptical.
"Their idea of pension reform is to diminish the benefit, so yes. When I hear those things it does make me nervous," said Allen Reyne, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 37 in Springfield.
McCoy said the Illinois Municipal League is most concerned with addressing annual cost of living adjustments, which results in larger and larger benefit payouts. From the unions' view, it's no more than what employees earned.
"They signed up. This was the deal," said Don Edwards, president of the local Police Benevolent and Protective Association. "This is what you're going to get when you retire. Thank you for your service."
At this point, any details or a reform deal are just speculation. There's no plan in the legislature now, and with a month left this is more a play for the Municipal League to set the issue up for next year and begin talking with the unions.
"We're not looking to harm police and firefighters," McCoy said. "We're looking to achieve that equity threshold."
IAAF and PBPA representatives on the state level said they're also wary of any pension reform efforts, especially if they rely on benefit reductions.
Benefit reductions could be a risky route, anyway. The state employee pension bill passed last year relied heavily on decreased benefit payouts, and unions and retirees have taken the state to court over it.