The Rules Committee of the City Council may, at its next meeting, consider a resolution to ask the legislature for help with funding the firefighters and police pension funds.
We applaud the Council’s efforts in the past few months to try to address the City’s massive unfunded liability to these funds, which was $140 million as of a year ago. There is no doubt that we are in trouble, as are many communities throughout Illinois who are struggling under these unfunded liabilities. The solution, we believe, lies only partially with Springfield. The City and the unions, perhaps with guidance from the legislature, must collaborate in order to keep both the pension funds and the City solvent for the long term.
These pension funds – which must be fully funded by 2033 – are mandated by the state but funded by the local communities: The community that benefits from a public servant’s dedication to public safety contributes to the retirement, disability or death benefits of that person or his or her family. The concept is a good one: local to local.
The resolution at issue is based on a model drafted by the Northwest Municipal Conference (NWMC). It calls for reform of several aspects of the legislation governing the pension funds, closer oversight and accountability of the pension boards that invest the funds, and a halt to increases and expansions of pension benefits.
Some of these reforms are clearly overdue. Communities, which will have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars by 2033, have no control over how their contributions are invested. Pension boards invest the funds, but they in turn are limited by a state statute that restricts the percentage of the funds that can be invested in equities.
A third aspect of the legislation calls for a halt to the expansion of benefits for firefighters, police officers and their families. Having spoken with our state representative, Julie Hamos, we believe that this step should not be taken solely as a legislative action but only after negotiations with the unions for a long-term plan that both sides can accept.
The City of Evanston may not have contributed as much as it should have in the past. There is no doubt that we, as a community, have a greater struggle ahead of us than will some other communities to find a way to address our huge unfunded liability.
Safety personnel are vital to any community. Those who use their services least on a personal level owe just as great a debt as those who use them most.
As firefighters and police officers provide a safety net for society during their careers, local communities owe them and their families a safety net in their retirement, disability or death. The state of Illinois, which set up the pensions and their funding mechanisms, likewise owes it to these men and women to protect their pensions by enacting responsible legislation that will help ensure the viability of these funds.