Pritzker deals another blow to Lightfoot with signing of firefighter pension bill

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a controversial measure to increase pension benefits for some Chicago firefighters, despite objections from Mayor Lori Lightfoot who says the bill will cost taxpayers $30 million a year at a time when city finances are already stressed due to COVID-19. 

It’s the second pro-union bill the governor has signed in a week. He approved legislation boosting the subjects the Chicago Teachers Union can bargain – and strike – over on Friday. Lightfoot had opposed that bill during the lame duck session, arguing it would impact negotiations over the return to in-person learning.

The bill to double the cost of living adjustments (or COLAs) for roughly 2,200 firefighters was sponsored by Rob Martwick in both chambers of the General Assembly – Martwick moved from the House to the Senate in June of 2019. The measure, which passed during the action-packed final days of the lame duck session, is meant to formalize a practice in which the city has periodically granted full pension benefits to more and more firefighters, Martwick said. 

Lightfoot, who has pushed hard against the measure, said it sailed through “with little debate,” and has railed against the estimated cost to taxpayers, set to total more than $850 million over 35 years.

The mayor last week urged aldermen to oppose it as well, saying in a letter that the "unfunded mandate to the City is an undue burden at a time when the City has already lost $1.7 billion in revenue in just two years."

The financial hit to the city could worsen further: Martwick has already introduced a similar proposal to boost benefits for a subset of Chicago police, which Lightfoot says could increase costs "by an additional $57-96 million annually starting in 2022." The proposal targeting police, which has yet to be assigned to a committee, would also increase the city’s overall liability by $2.1 billion through 2055, Lightfoot said. 

The passage of the firefighter pension bill was a loss for the mayor in Springfield, and the latest chapter in an ongoing face-off with Martwick, who is also pushing an elected school board bill she opposes.

A coalition of civic and business groups also pressured Pritzker to veto the firefighter bill, arguing it would “prove very costly . . . by adding pension benefits without implementing any reform or addressing the city’s ability to adequately fund” pensions and core government services.

The heads of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the Civic Federation, the Illinois Municipal League and BOMA Chicago, which represents large downtown office tower owners all signed on in opposition. Pension costs are largely paid by property tax revenues.

Greg Hinz contributed.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

April 5, 2021 at 02:14PM

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