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Rauner gets mixed signals from police groups about pension bill

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (right) wants to help Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) with a bill to ease the pension crisis, but the measure still must get past Gov. Bruce Rauner (center), who is getting conflicting advice from two police groups. | File photos

Gov. Bruce Rauner is getting dangerously mixed signals from police organizations about a high-stakes pension bill on his desk that would save Chicago $843 million over five years and avert the need for what Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls an “unnecessary tax increase.”

In its May newsletter, the Retired Chicago Police Association is urging its members to lobby Rauner to veto the legislation giving Chicago 15 more years to ramp up to a 90 percent funding level for police and fire pensions — a stance putting them at odds with the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Police and fire supported the bill because another bill was supposed to be introduced allowing a casino to be built in Chicago. And the casino proceeds would go into the police and fire pensions until they were 90 percent funded,” the newsletter from the retired officers’ group states.

“HB-777 was being held by Sen. John Cullerton awaiting the casino bill. But for some strange reason, Sen. Cullerton sent the bill to the governor for his signature, without a casino bill. Did Mayor Rahm get to Cullerton with a different intent? . . . If this bill is approved without the casino bill, Mayor Rahm used us to get his casino with no intention of funding our pensions . . . At the present time, there is no Chicago casino bill on the table.”

The Fraternal Order of Police was livid. Last fall, the FOP helped Mayor Rahm Emanuel persuade a reluctant City Council to raise property taxes by $543 million for police and fire pensions, an amount that assumed Rauner would sign the pension relief bill.

“Individuals that are completely misinformed and who have had no participation in the development of or the language contained within Senate Bill 777 are suggesting that members contact the governor’s office in an attempt to get the bill vetoed,” FOP President Dean Angelo wrote in a May 4 posting on the union’s website.

“If vetoed, any funding that is currently dedicated as part of Senate Bill 777 could be rewritten to allow those funds to be reallocated into a different city pension system and not into the Police and Fire Funds as presently guaranteed,” Angelo wrote.

Angelo noted that FOP Lodge 7, the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and a “team of accountants and lobbyists worked tirelessly” to ensure that the legislation “would contribute to benefiting the future solvency of our pension funds.” The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability “proficient in securing retiree benefits and annuities” helped draft the language, Angelo wrote.

“I have addressed these erroneous claims with the president of Retired Chicago Police Association who will be printing a retraction. In the meantime we strongly suggest everyone refrain from contacting the governor’s office in regard to vetoing Senate Bill 777.”

But Harold Brown, president of the Retired Chicago Police Association, told a different story when contacted Monday by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It was the first vice president who put that in there, [but] I was responsible for letting it get in there. And, no, I am not retracting it,” Brown said.

“The casino bill and 777 were supposed to be passed in tandem,” but that never happened. Hours later, Brown called back to deny ever discussing the possibility of retracting the posting.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Cullerton, the Illinois senate president who is Emanuel’s closest ally in Springfield, had ended 10 months of cat-and-mouse by sending the legislation to the governor.

Cullerton had been holding the bill — approved by the Illinois House and Senate last spring — amid concern that Rauner would veto the legislation to squeeze cash-strapped Chicago and strengthen his own hand in the budget stalemate over the governor’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.

The delay has already been costly to Chicago taxpayers. It forced Emanuel to use $220 million in “short-term bridge” financing to make a state-mandated payment to police and fire pension funds that’s higher than his tax-laden 2016 budget anticipated because the police and fire pension reform bill has not been signed into law.

Rauner has until May 30 to sign or veto the bill. If he does nothing, the legislation that would save Chicago $220 million this year and $843 million over five years will automatically take effect.

Emanuel has appealed to his old friend, Rauner, to avert the need for an “unnecessary tax increase” in Chicago — by signing the bill.

“We have done the hard thing of working through the issue with police and fire. We have done the hard thing of passing it in both chambers. And we have done the hard thing of asking local taxpayers to help stabilize the funds and do it in a responsible way,” the mayor said.

“You never want to ask people to pay more in taxes in any form than they need to. His signature would prevent us having to raise more in taxes than we need to to still meet our obligations to police officers and firefighters for their retirement, but do it in a responsible way.”