Public employee pensions have become a hot topic in Springfield, so hot in fact that a proposal to sweeten the pensions of thousands of police and firefighters in Illinois appears to have been accorded a quick and deliberate death this month. But that doesn't mean the outrageous scheme won't rise from the dead next year.
The proposal, which almost was attached to a bill in the House Rules Committee, would have permitted all police and firefighters (outside of those working in Chicago) with 20 years of service and at least 54 years of age to collect both their full salary and fringe benefits, plus their full pension, for their last five years before retirement. It would essentially allow some public employees to "double dip" from the same job. How's that for audacity?
Some police and firefighters already get both their regular pay and their pensions – but it's an arrangement that municipalities agree to only to keep certain veteran officers on the job when there is an employee shortage.
The proposal that had been floating around Springfield would have taken away that discretionary power and made the arrangement mandatory, covering 12,500 police officers and 8,130 firefighters in Illinois, outside of Chicago.
Thankfully, the Illinois Municipal League rallied its member cities and villages to oppose the idea, pointing out that it was not cost-neutral, as police and firefighter groups had claimed. Instead, the municipal league contended, it would cost cities and villages millions of dollars.
They also noted the proposal was violated a "memorandum of understanding" that municipalities had received in exchange for firefighter survivor pension improvements agreed to in 2004. That agreement said that "there will be a four-year moratorium on the enactment of any further legislation providing for enhancements to pension benefits for firefighters that have a cost to firefighter pension funds other than the city of Chicago."
Municipal League officials say that House Speaker Michael Madigan has ordered the legislation held in the Rules Committee.
But they're encouraging all cities and villages to calculate the potential costs to their pension contributions because, almost certainly, this pension fund-buster will be back next year. And if police and firefighters get it, it's only a matter of time before other government employees will be clamoring for it, too.