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Mayor Emanuel Pushes Pension Reform In Springfield

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Credit: CBS)

Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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Updated 05/08/12 – 6:10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel went to Springfield on Tuesday to speak to state lawmakers about the need for pension reform at the city and state levels.

The mayor said if the General Assembly does not take action on pension reform soon, public safety and education in Chicago would be at risk – since they eat up the biggest portion of government spending and would be hardest hit by any budget cuts needed to deal with the pension crisis.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports it was the first time a Chicago mayor has been to the Illinois State Capitol in five years.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports

Emanuel went to Springfield to testify before a House committee, after promising Gov. Pat Quinn he’d use his political capital to help pass pension reform.

“Without pension reform, we’ll be forced to mortgage our children’s future, to pay for our past,” Emanuel said.

The mayor proposed what he called a “roadmap to retirement security,” including a 10-year suspension of the automatic 3% annual cost-of-living adjustment for retired government employees’ pensions, a phased-in 5% pension contribution increase for current employees, and increasing the retirement age from 62 to 67.

“If we make no changes at all across the different systems, the funds, we would have to raise city property taxes by 150 percent. As long as I am mayor of Chicago, that is a burden I refuse to put on the backs of our taxpayers,” Emanuel said.

Labor unions have questioned the mayor’s numbers, and why unionized state workers are being asked to sacrifice to solve a problem they didn’t create.

“The city has underfunded the pension fund for 30 years. Now it’s the employees’ fault. Now the employee should work longer. Now they should pay more money. Now the rules of the game have to be changed because the mayor wants it,” said Mike Shields, head of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

But the mayor was praised by Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross.

“We need to do this this spring,” Cross said.

“I am all confident that we will get this issue resolved this year” Emanuel said.

Illinois House Speaker said Cross’s support of Emanuel’s ideas “would sustain that.”

Asked about the chances for approving significant pension reforms in Springfield, given that both he and Cross are in favor of it, Madigan laughed and said, “Don’t go there. Don’t go there, real easy.”

Before heading back to Springfield from Chicago on Wednesday, Quinn seemed grateful for the mayor’s support.

“I think it’s very healthy to have mayors from all cities – and especially the biggest city, Chicago – come to Springfield, to the legislature, in this crucial month,” the governor said, referring to the final month of the scheduled legislative session this spring.

But, while the mayor was speaking directly to lawmakers in Springfield, his comments might have been aimed at a much wider audience – voters, who may have a much greater impact on their elected officials’ votes than testimony from the mayor.

The governor is pushing for the passage of pension reform by the end of the month. Insiders give that scenario a 50-50 chance.