Lightfoot 2nd Chicago mayor to call on Springfield for pension reform
Just like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did late in his term, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for public pension reforms. Pensions are damaging cities, she said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot Jan. 27 urged Springfield lawmakers to help reduce Chicago’s future pension woes, arguing the city can no longer afford to spend the $1.3 billion it did on public pension debt during the past four years.
Lightfoot said her $16.4 billion 2023 budget prepaid $242 million in pension debt to avoid raising costs on taxpayer and avert the liquidation of assets by the municipal employees, laborers, firefighters and police pension funds. But Lightfoot said Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state lawmakers now need to act on pension reform.
“It’s now time for municipalities across the state to get our due. All of us have done all of the things that the rating agencies and others have told us to do. We have made government work more efficiently,” Lightfoot told the City Club of Chicago. “In Chicago, we haven’t cut services, but other municipalities have been forced to cut services, have been forced to lay people off. And yet, they’re still suffering.”
“Springfield and the governor’s office have to take notice and start the process,” the mayor said. “If we still are pouring money into a system that is fundamentally flawed, it’s gonna become the tail that wags the dog of city government.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also embraced pension reform late in his mayoral term, asking that the Illinois Constitution be changed to allow it. Bipartisan changes made to government pensions in 2013 by state lawmakers were overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court, so the state constitution must be amended to allow any changes to the future growth of pension benefits.
Lightfoot said it is time the city and its labor unions “get to the table, make some hard choices, but do the right thing” to guarantee the pensions promised to city employees and retirees are “actually available.”
The mayor had previously tried for a state takeover of Chicago’s four pension systems, but that was denied by Pritzker. He then made Chicago’s pension problem worse by signing a bill boosting benefits for thousands of city firefighters.
“I’m not prepared to talk about specifics here. But we have to be at the table with all of the relevant stakeholders and think about structural changes that are necessary to shore up the pensions — not taking away the benefits that existing retirees are getting,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got to look at other things that we can do. You know the list. What’s missing is the political will. And we’ve got to find it.”
Civic Federation President Laurence Msall praised the mayor’s efforts to pay down extra pension debt and fast-track reforms in the Statehouse.
Msall said the Illinois General Assembly dictates “who the members are, what their contribution levels must be and what benefits” retired city employees receive. He also believes state help is needed to ease the “enormous pressure” on municipalities to raise property taxes.