As the veto and lame duck legislative sessions downstate creep closer, suburban mayors and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are meeting to strategize how to obtain changes in public safety pensions that will reduce their cost.
Reform is of great concern to municipal leaders because the unfunded liability for police and fire pension funds keeps growing, despite the fact that communities are paying more into the funds each year.
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"I think it's fair to say that the mayors collectively are disappointed the General Assembly did not take any action on pensions in general, and municipal pensions in particular," said Christopher Canning, Wilmette village president and immediate past president of the Northwest Municipal Conference.
"The work with Mayor Emanuel has been very positive because he sees that the issues confronting Chicago, the issues that he has to deal with as the mayor of Chicago and the choices he has to make ... are very similar with what we have to do," he said.
Canning was one of six executive board members of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus who met with Emanuel on Tuesday. Others included Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod, Barrington President Karen Darch, Addison Mayor Larry Hartwig, Aurora Mayor Thomas Weisner and Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki.
Emanuel also called for pension reform during a news conference in May with more than two dozen suburban mayors and he attended a Metropolitan Mayors Caucus quarterly meeting in early October to continue discussion on the issue.
"Mayor Emanuel has been very open with meeting with suburban mayors," McLeod said. "It's been a great relationship."
Canning said changes to pensions that were discussed at the meeting this week included requiring public safety employees to contribute more to their pensions, adjusting cost-of-living increases and not compounding them annually, and increasing the retirement age to 55 from 50.
Specifics about "who is going to do what" in pushing pension reform was not addressed this week, Canning said, but Emanuel's most recent meeting is a continuation of an agreement he made in October that he would keep in contact.
"I really appreciate his willingness to face this issue like many of us mayors have faced it, to recognize that we are facing a fiscal crisis," Canning said.
It is likely caucus members will continue to meet with Emanuel, Canning said, and lawmakers can expect suburban mayors to have a "very strong" presence in Springfield, with more mayors likely visiting during the lame-duck session, which occurs after the new year but before legislators elected Nov. 6 take office.
"We continue to move forward on this because it's such an important issue for our residents and our retirees and our employees," Canning said.
As part of the effort to highlight the issue, several suburban mayors are speaking Monday to a City Club luncheon in Chicago and municipal groups are talking to newspaper editorial boards to seek support.