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updated: 5/22/2014 12:55 PM

Police and firefighter pension changes brewing

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  • Lawmakers could start trying to move plans that could save towns money on police officer and firefighter pensions.

       Lawmakers could start trying to move plans that could save towns money on police officer and firefighter pensions.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- A suburban Democrat might soon unveil a plan aimed at cutting suburban police officer and firefighter pension costs while leaving their retirement benefits intact.

But at least some mayors are expected to push back against the plan, saying their budgets can only be helped if pension benefits are scaled back.

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The new plan could create a showdown on an issue that suburban mayors have been talking about for years as lawmakers face a May 31 adjournment date that's coming fast.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said he's working on a proposal that would try to raise the investment returns of local police and firefighter pension funds.

That way, he said, the more pension funds make in the market, the less towns have to chip in every year to pay for retirement benefits.

Among the tenets of Link's plan could be an effort to let small funds combine into a big one, saving administrative costs and maybe helping with rates of return. Another would allow funds to make riskier investments to try to reap more reward.

Link said he wants to avoid benefit cuts, particularly because the 2013 law to cut benefits for teachers and workers statewide faces a strong legal challenge.

"I think it's unconstitutional," Link said. "We don't want to create a battle."

Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski, though, said while she likes parts of Link's plan, mayors will want benefit cuts in order to save enough money.

"The benefits are to the point to where they're unsustainable," Smolinski said.

Plus, she argued, another recession could tank risky investments, leaving towns with even bigger payments to make toward pension funds.

Link's move comes as Gov. Pat Quinn is sitting on a controversial Chicago pension proposal that he's not yet signed into law or vetoed. Any suburban and downstate idea could get mixed into the overall political battle over pensions if lawmakers decide to move forward.

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