Pension ruling will hit suburbs' budgets, too, mayors say

Suburban mayors say the Illinois Supreme Court ruling reversing broad state pension cutbacks also will hit local governments and could lead to tax increases or budget cuts.

Many local mayors have tried to help their budgets by cutting police officer and firefighter pension benefits.

While the Supreme Court overturned a law that affected teachers and state workers, its broad nature makes it difficult to reduce benefits for others, too. Fire and police pension benefits, though covered by local taxpayers, require state action to be changed.

Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski was among a group of DuPage County mayors at the state Capitol in Springfield this week, and she said the ongoing public safety pension costs might lead her to eventually ask voters for a property tax increase.

"What bothers me about this is it's pitting my citizens against my public safety personnel," Smolinski said. "And I hate being in this position."

Union leaders cheered the court's decision last week, praising confirmation that the Illinois Constitution doesn't allow benefit cuts.

"Public service workers are helpers and problem solvers by trade," reads a statement from the We Are One Illinois union coalition, which includes police and firefighters. "With the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling, we urge lawmakers to join us in developing a fair and constitutional solution to pension funding, and we remain ready to work with anyone of good faith to do so."

Rauner sounds off

Rauner suggested in comments to reporters that state officials' next step on pensions is hazy.

"Right now, really, is not a clear road map," he said.

Compromise on horizon?

Rauner on Thursday showed some willingness to compromise with lawmakers on his agenda with two weeks to go before they're supposed to have a budget done.

Rauner told reporters he's willing to deal, but he won't yet say on what. Some of his big proposals include freezing property taxes and making pro-business changes to state law.

"We have taken a number of things off the table," he said. "I'm not ready to tell you which ones yet, but we will shortly."

"This is all part of a negotiation and a compromise," Rauner said.

He has asked lawmakers to approve his agenda before he'd consider talking about tax hikes.

Democrats have staged public hearings on some of Rauner's proposals, perhaps in order to show they're not ready to go along with all of them.

No winner takes all

"Everybody in the process is going to have to do some things they don't want to do," Rauner said.

A proposal to freeze property taxes could come up for a House vote as early as today, and some Democrats are talking about tax hikes as a way to help close an upcoming $6 billion budget hole.

Rauner didn't point to a way forward on taxes.

"It's premature for us to talk specifics on tax policy," Rauner said.

Lawmakers are supposed to have a budget done by May 31. They need more votes to approve one starting June 1, making the creation of a spending plan more difficult.

Moving on

Aurora University has named former House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego a distinguished fellow who is tasked with promoting its science and math programs.

Cross narrowly lost a bid to be Illinois treasurer in November.

"His decades of public service and his keen insights into government policy will be invaluable to our students and my administration," Aurora University President Rebecca L. Sherrick said in a statement.

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  Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to reporters at the Capitol Thursday. Mike Riopell/
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