Rauner signs police pension reform bill

  • Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall's pension controversy spurred legislation that will prevent future retired officers from collecting multiple pensions.

      Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall's pension controversy spurred legislation that will prevent future retired officers from collecting multiple pensions. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, August 2016

  • Grant Wehrli

    Grant Wehrli

  • Michael Connelly

    Michael Connelly

 
 
Updated 8/24/2017 3:42 PM

Illinois police officers will no longer be able to participate in multiple law enforcement pension programs.

Thursday, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that outlaws a practice he described as "double dipping."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Previously, police officers could work for 30 years, retire at 50, begin receiving pension benefits equal to 75 percent of their final salary, then take a new law enforcement job somewhere else and start building a second pension. Commonly, these retired police officers take leadership posts in another department.

Instead of participating in a new pension program, officers who are collecting benefits from a previous job can enroll in a 401(k)-style retirement program.

"It is completely up to local units of government to determine the structure of the benefit they believe is fair and reasonable," said state Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican who sponsored the bill. "It's a fixed cost and allows units of government to know exactly how much they'll have to pay."

Wehrli and state Sen. Michael Connelly, a Lisle Republican, had been working on the legislation for three years. It was spurred after current Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall was allowed to continue contributing to an eventual Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension while collecting his police department pension.

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With pension programs, the cost to governments can fluctuate depending on investment returns of the fund and the contribution rate is usually much higher than the 3 percent to 5 percent most 401(k) programs average for employers. For instance, Marshall's eventual IMRF pension is estimated to cost taxpayers $19,211 this year through employer contributions on his $168,786 salary. If he were enrolled in a 401(k) program with a 5 percent employer match, the cost would be $8,439.

Initially, Wehrli wanted an outright limit of one pension and to ban police officers from collecting the pension while working in another law enforcement capacity. The final language of the legislation was a compromise between legislators and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and allows retired officers to receive pension payments, even if they're working in law enforcement elsewhere.

"We strongly objected to our members having to give up their pension payments to work somewhere else," said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the chiefs association.

Wojcicki said that while the association eventually supported the legislation, they remain concerned that police are singled out by this legislation and not other public safety workers like firefighters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I still question why this doesn't affect others," he said.

Wehrli said there's a potential that this bill could be a "blueprint" for other reforms.

Rauner praised the pension reform bill, saying Illinois taxpayers "can't afford to pay the same person twice."

However, there are loopholes in the law. The law is intended to cover only new law enforcement work. That means a retired police officer can teach criminal justice at a state university and begin contributing to an Illinois State Universities Retirement System pension, according to Wehrli. An officer could also get elected to the legislature and join that pension system, or get elected as a judge and join that pension program.

Even an IMRF pension is possible if the job a retired officer takes is in a capacity that doesn't include law enforcement, according to IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba. That includes leading a police department, but as a civilian employee with no police powers.

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