Downstate mayors want pension overhaul

May 1, 2014

Mayors from around the state addressing media in the Capitol.
Credit Lee Strubinger / Illinois Public Radio/WUIS
A couple dozen mayors from throughout Illinois came to Springfield Wednesday, calling on legislators to help fix downstate pension systems that they say are unsustainable. IPR'S Lee Strubinger reports. 

Municipalities are on the hook for paying local police and firefighters’ retirement benefits. But the pension rates are set by the state. Mayors say lawmakers have increasingly “sweetened” benefits, and that's left many pension systems severely underfunded.

The General Assembly recently approved a measure intended to prop up several Chicago pension funds, but so far that has not included public safety pensions.

“If they’re going to deal with the city of Chicago’s police and fire pension funds, they also need to deal with the downstate police and fire pension funds because our problems are as monumental as the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago,” says Springfield Mayor Mike Houston.

He says municipalities will have to either cut services or raise taxes, or some combination of the two, to fund their pension systems.  He suggests increasing the retirement age, or doing away with a compounded cost-of-living adjustment.

But union members oppose scaling back benefits they say they earned, and that making firefighters and police officers work into late middle age could pose a public safety concern.