NEW: House approves plan to consolidate downstate police, fire pension funds

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The Illinois House voted on Wednesday to approve a plan to combine 649 local police and fire pension funds into two downstate super funds, one for police and one for fire.

The plan now goes to the Senate for a final vote before it can head to the Governor’s desk. Governor J.B. Pritzker launched a pension consolidation task force in February, and announced his support for the consolidation plan last month.

Pritzker applauded the vote in a statement, saying, “I urge the Senate to swiftly pass this legislation so we can continue improving our state’s fiscal health and secure the retirements of the workers who earned them.”

The governor took aim at the pension fund managers, who hosted an annual training event at the posh Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Wisconsin earlier this year on the taxpayer dime.

The Department of Insurance estimated Pritzker’s plan could save taxpayers $2.5 billion over the next five years by reducing administrative fees and allowing the larger pools of money to attract higher returns on the market.

Mayors from cities and towns across the Land of Lincoln have pushed the plan for years, arguing that it would bring much needed breathing room to local budgets that suffer under the strain of rising pension debt.

In Alton, the city moved to sell off its water treatment center to use the cash to pay down its pension bill before it drowned the city in debt.

In East St. Louis, the police and fire departments suffered dramatic staffing level cuts, and the Comptroller started intercepting sales tax revenues and paying directly into their pension funds.

In Decatur, the city tried to adopt a hybrid police job for citizens to perform desk work to help alleviate the cost of overhead, while it also tries to pay for retirement benefits. The maneuver sparked a conflict with the police union.

In the state’s capital city, leaders are working to find new ways to pay down their pension debt before it forces significant cuts to public safety or additional tax hikes.

In Peoria, city leaders already raised taxes to create new revenue to pay for police and fire pensions, and their pension payments have more than doubled in the last decade. Without significant relief, the payments could soar dramatically higher over the next five years, forcing more tax hikes or cuts to core city services.

In Harvey, a city plagued by corruption and mismanagement, a rookie mayor feels a certain sense of relief now that the Comptroller has intercepted tax money and diverted it to their pension payments, but that punched a hole in his available revenue and restricted his ability to fund city services.

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