By John Byrne
A crowd of suburban and downstate mayors sounded the alarm on their pension woes Thursday, standing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to warn that their communities could face bankruptcy if state lawmakers don’t fix their police and fire department retirement funds.
Heads of several municipalities said they’re worried that the state Legislature will deal with the state’s $80 billion in unfunded pension liabilities but not address the hole in Chicago pensions or the perilous structural problems in the hundreds of smaller municipal systems around the state.
Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills and president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said lawmakers need to understand that severe pension shortfalls aren’t particular to Illinois’ largest city.
“Mayor after mayor, if they had a big box outside the doors in Springfield, are ready to tell them, ‘We’re going to drop the keys to city hall in that box. You guys have run the show for so long, maybe you’d like to run the city and village,’” Bennett said at a news conference. “That’s the financial crisis we all face.”
It was the third straight day Emanuel pressed the pension issue, after his Tuesday trip to Springfield to address members of the General Assembly and a Wednesday letter to the city employees who would take a pension hit under the austerity measures he has proposed.
Emanuel said lawmakers need to look past the pressure they’re getting from organized labor and make the tough decisions required to bring the state’s pensions into balance.