Illinois lawmakers Wednesday advanced a plan to pool more than 650 downstate and suburban police and fire pension funds. Passing the measure out of both chambers by week’s end is a top priority for Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Pritzker’s office has been arguing for weeks that combining all of those funds would make more money for retired police and firefighters, while cutting fees and reducing the need to raise local property taxes.
Andrew Bodewes is with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police. His group had been against the measure at first, but told lawmakers he and others worked out a compromise.
“There’s going to be an incredible amount of nervousness. There’s a lot of change," Bodewes said of the consolidation idea. “I do believe in three, four, five years, I’m going to hear from my membership, and they’re gonna say ‘Man, we should have done that thirty years ago.’”
The measure would also offer better benefits for people hired onto police and fire departments after 2011. The formula for calculating pension payouts for those hires would change, and retirees could pass their pension benefits on to their spouses if they pass away from a non line-of-duty cause.
Supporters have said benefit changes for those retirees are necessary because what is currently offered is less than what the federal government offers through Social Security.
Under the proposal, the combined investments would be overseen by two separate boards — one for police and the other for fire — with first responders making up a majority of the membership.
State Sen. Steven Landek, (D, Bridgeview) is among those who doubt the plan would work. Landek is also mayor of Bridgeview, and says the plan wouldn’t generate enough money to make a difference.
“I don’t think the state has done a great job getting a yield compared to Cook County or compared to IMRF," he told a panel of fellow lawmakers Wednesday. "I’m kind of skeptical that the state would give us more advice on how to invest our money when I don’t see their great record."
A state task force appointed to study the issue reported last month that consolidating the hundreds of downstate and suburban funds could bring as much as $2.5 billion more to those departments within the next five years.