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Emanuel Pension Plan Clears First Hurdle In Springfield

Ald. Ed Burke (14th)

Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward (CBS)

dellimore250 Craig Dellimore
Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM, joined the station in 1983...
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Updated 04/02/14 – 4:05 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to reform two underfunded employee pension systems quickly took its first step toward approval in the Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday.

House Speaker Michael Madigan introduced the plan on Wednesday, and Personnel and Pensions Committee quickly signed off, sending the plan to the full House for a vote. The House adjourned Wednesday without the plan being called on for a vote by the full House.

Emanuel’s plan would raise property taxes in Chicago by $50 million a year for five years starting in 2016. For the owner of a $250,000 home, who has a current property tax bill of $4,000 a year, taxes would go up $58 a year – or $290 over the five-year term of the tax hike.

Retired workers who draw pensions from the Municipal and Laborers pension funds would see their annual pension contributions rise half a percent a year starting next year. The current pension contribution of 8.5 percent of a worker’s salary would grow to 11 percent by 2019. For employees who make $60,000 a year, they would be paying $1,500 more a year toward their pension by 2019.

Workers would also see changes to cost-of-living increases in their pensions. Instead of annual 3 percent compounded bumps in pension benefits, retirees would get annual increases of 3 percent on their original benefit when they retired, or 50 percent of the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

They also would have to wait two years, rather than one, for those pension bumps to start after retiring.

Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) said the property tax increase Emanuel has called for is really $750 million, if the cumulative effects of the five-year tax hike are added together. He said that is unacceptable.

However, the plan has the backing of the city’s most influential alderman, Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th).

“I think there needs to be a cooperative effort. This can’t be done without sharing of responsibility,” he said. “We also have a moral obligation, in addition to a financial obligation, to ensure that the city workers – especially first responders who have devoted their lives to the people of Chicago – can depend on a pension, and that their families can depend on financial security.”

The plan does not include any changes for the pension plans for police officers and firefighters. Next year, the city is required to increase its annual contribution to police and fire pension funds by $600 million. The police pension fund only has enough revenue to cover 30 percent of its liabilities. The fire pension fund only has 25 percent.

Burke, a former police officer, was asked where the city would get revenue to shore up the woefully underfunded police and fire pension systems, but he said he’s waiting to see state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn act on this deal first.

“We need to see what the governor and the legislature are going to do,” he said.

The mayor also has not said where the city would find money to address the police and fire pension shortfalls.