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Chicago Workers, Retirees Head To Springfield To Protest Pension Reform

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(CBS) – Chicago public employees and retirees have been descending on Springfield on Wednesday for a rally to protest the state’s new pension reform law.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports four busloads of mostly retired Chicago Public Schools teachers left from Trinity United Church of Christ in the Washington Heights early Wednesday morning.

Among them was retired teacher Gwendolyn Carson, who taught for 34 years.

“People are too old to be going to Wal-Mart, or something like that to supplement their income, and they shouldn’t have to, because we worked very hard,” she said.

Others planning to head to the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday were police officers, firefighters, nurses, and other city employees and retirees.

Unions for city workers were planning to urge state lawmakers not to apply the same pension reform framework already approved at the state level to the pension funds for city employees and retirees, claiming it would devastate retired city workers.

The unions have said the city didn’t pay its fair share of employee pension costs, and now is trying to steal from those workers and retirees to close a gaping hole in the city’s pension funds.

Retired teacher Willie Williamson said, “I think it’s important that the people in Springfield understand that we depend on them to do the right thing, and so far they haven’t done the right thing. Our pension is being raided to the point where we won’t be able to actually live.”

Much like the state, the city’s public employee pension plans have become significantly underfunded in large part because the city repeatedly delayed its contributions, to use the money for other expenses.

“They had a pension holiday, and they think we forgot; but we’ve worked too hard, and we’ve come too far, and we’re not stopping until we get what’s coming to us,” said retired teacher Dorothy Lacy.

Last year, lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved an overhaul of the state’s pension systems, in an effort to eliminate nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

The plan would reduce the annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raise the retirement age for workers 45 and younger. It also would put some savings back into the pension funds, and direct money from pension bond payments to the retirement systems after those bonds are paid off in 2019.

Supporters have said the plan will reduce that unfunded liability by about $21 billion and fully fund the pension systems by 2044. They estimate it will save the state about $160 billion over the next three decades.

The plan is scheduled to go into effect on June 1, but already faces challenges in court from various labor unions.

The unions have argued the plan violates a clause of the state constitution that says pension benefits may not be cut.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said, without significant reforms for the city’s pension funds, Chicagoans face huge tax hikes, and possibly even cuts to public safety personnel. Chicago’s labor unions have been pushing for new and higher taxes to keep their pensions funded, including a sales tax on high end services.

Emanuel proposed a similar plan to impose a sales tax on so-called “luxury services” when he ran for mayor in 2011, but never moved to enact it after taking office. His plan also would have reduced the city’s sales tax levy by 20 percent.

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