Public pensioners want protection, answers
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (left) speaks during a pension forum with State Rep. Robyn Gabel (right) on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at the Wilmette Park District's Community Recreation Center. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 9, 2013 2:18PM
WILMETTE — Retired Glenview firefighter Mike Kaplis watched the town hall meeting on public pension reform fill to standing room only.
“I’m concerned about taking away our cost of living increases,” said Kaplis, a 29-year department veteran and member of the Glenview Fire Department Pension Board.
“I’m here to keep tabs on all that’s said.”
On Monday, more than 250 people with some stake in public pensions attended the meeting at the Wilmette Community Recreation Center.
Local state and county legislators led the session and answered audience questions on the $96-billion state fund deficiency.
The clamorous, overflow meeting had to be split into two rooms.
Much discussion centered on the lawful state constitutionality of maintaining the pension fund and the creation of new revenues to keep it afloat.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th) said the ratified Illinois Constitution of 1970 stated pension monies cannot be “diminished or impaired.”
On enforcing the pension clause Suffredin said, “Maybe we have to start there at the state constitution.”
“The big problem is today state and local governments for years did not make the pension payments they should have,” he said.
State Senator Daniel Biss (D-9th) said 45 percent of the problem was the state failing to pay into the pension fund.
“We could put an end to this by making the payments, which is what actuaries have said. Doing so is not in the current law, but it’s been litigated even though the state misses payments,” Biss said.
“The truth is that we don’t know if it’s legal. I think we should write the most reasonable, defensible public policy on this question and take it court.”
On raising revenues, people attending the meeting feared that legislators would raise taxes or make them pay more into the system, such as decreased cost of living adjustments.
Gerald Berkowitz, a retired employee of School District 64 in Park Ridge and Niles, said a possible solution was re-amortizing the pension debt similar to a home mortgage.
“The debt would not be due all at once. This really needs to be done because there’s no mechanism to force the state to pay,” said Berkowitz, of Park Ridge.
Matthew Whipple, social studies teachers at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview and director of the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies, said he had heard of “50-100 different revenue solutions over the past 1-½ years.”
“We can re-amortize the debt ramp and widen sales taxes. Actuarial studies are behind this, but legislators say nothing about revenues. We are paying for their privilege of having no reflection on increasing revenues,” said Whipple, to loud applause and yelling.
“We have raised taxes 3 to 5 percent. I agree, let’s look for new sources of revenue,” said State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th).
Laura Fine (D-17th) said, “This is a very emotional issue for all in this room, which is why we had this town hall meeting, but solutions won’t make anyone here in this room very happy.”