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Quinn mum on Chicago Park District pension legislation

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he’ll approve a legislative push to raise the retirement age for Chicago Park District employees and cut post-retirement benefits for park district retirees.

That legislation, passed by state lawmakers during the final week of their fall session and regarded as a possible template for broader state pension reform, reached Quinn’s desk last week after a push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I haven’t seen the bill yet. I heard about it. I read about in the paper. I think it may have just arrived,” Quinn told reporters in Springfield. “We’ll look at that bill, just as we do every bill and look at it very carefully, make a decision on how I feel the merits are.”

SEIU Local 73, which represents about 2,100 park district employees and retirees, has objected to the legislation sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). The union’s principle complaint is with a last-moment insertion in the bill by Madigan that would cut annual cost-of-living increases for current retirees from 3 percent to the lesser of 3 percent or one-half of the rate of inflation.

The union had been negotiating with Emanuel’s administration for months and was supportive last week of the legislation when it included just increases in pension contributions from current employees and the park district. The framework also included a four-year commitment from the park district against layoffs or furloughs. But SEIU dropped its support when Madigan brought to the table the cost-of-living issue involving current retirees.

When asked about the union’s opposition, Quinn’s wouldn’t divulge what weight, if any, the union’s complaints about the bill would have with him. Instead, he gave what essentially amounted to a civics tutorial on the way his office evaluates legislation.

“What I try to do on every bill is listen to the proponents and listen to the opponents,” the governor said. “This past year, we had maybe 600-700 bills that passed the Legislature that arrived in the governor’s office. We look at every one very carefully. I have a staff that does that. We’re going to read every line of the bill, really, to make sure it is proper. With this bill, I just don’t have any of the details right now, and we do want to put every bill under a microscope.”

The governor’s self-professed ignorance of the bill doesn’t appear to square with the sequence of events the union has posted on its website. SEIU said its representatives met with Quinn last Friday “to ask him to either provide an amendatory veto to SB 1523 or a full veto and protect the pensions of current retirees.” The group also indicated it intended to sue to block the legislation if Quinn signs it.

“Retirees have paid their fair share and should have not [been] impacted by unconstitutional legislation,” the union said. SEIU Local 73 has donated more than $28,000 to Quinn since 2005 and the union’s affiliates, including SEIU Illinois Council, have given the governor $4.5 million since 1994, campaign records show.

The legislation on Quinn’s desk has drawn opposition from AFSCME Council 31, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent & Protective Association.