Suburban officials head to Springfield for pension reform

 
 
Updated 11/11/2010 12:18 PM

Armed with vote totals from 45 Illinois communities where residents overwhelmingly say they support pension reform for police officers and firefighters, some suburban leaders are heading to Springfield next week to urge legislators to do just that.

Larry Bury, policy director at the Northwest Municipal Conference, said the vote totals "pretty much shows that taxpayers are fed up."

 

Bury's group represents 43 communities in north suburban Cook, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties. Officials from most of those municipalities will be heading down to Springfield next week to lobby legislators for pension reform during the upcoming veto session. DuPage County municipal leaders are also expected to caravan down to push for reform. More than a dozen DuPage municipalities asked their voters the question last week.

Advisory questions about public safety pension reform appeared on thousands of Illinois voters' ballots Nov. 2. Generally, 80 percent of the voters in any given municipality where the question was asked supported the idea.

Tamara Cummings, labor counsel for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said the ballot language that simply asked voters if they supported pension reform for public safety employees was misleading to voters.

"With respect to passing a referendum, it has a lot to do with the way you phrase it," she said. "I think the legislature intended to attack pensions regardless of any referendums."

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Municipal leaders are pushing for changes that would increase the starting collection age from 50 to 60 for public safety employees and base the pension on an average of annual salaries instead of the employee's final salary. Bury said averaging the salary is necessary because often public safety employees receive promotions that come with significant raises just before they retire, which increases their pensions.

Cummings said the chief concern of the union is that municipalities fully fund public safety pensions. She said everything is open to negotiation, but she raised questions about increasing the age for workers to being collecting.

"Public safety employees are a unique group and you may not want them working until they're 60," she said. "These are jobs that take their toll on you physically."

She also had concerns about changing the pension calculating format, but "we're willing to listen to anything as long as the funding mechanism stays in place."

Bury said voters were clear with their votes last week. In St. Charles, where Bury said there was organized opposition to the question, the measure was still supported by 79 percent of those casting ballots.

"Our message to the legislators is very specific: The voters have spoken," he said.