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Quinn signs Chicago Park District penson legislation, drawing union ire

Illinois Gov. PQuinn

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: January 7, 2014 10:29PM

SPRINGFIELD — Picking a fight with one of his most important union supporters, Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday signed legislation to raise the retirement age for Chicago Park District employees and cut post-retirement benefits for park district retirees.

Quinn announced his decision by email early Tuesday evening, drawing praise from the park district as a key step to fix its $971 million pension shortfall and scorn from SEIU Local 73, which represents about 2,300 current or retired park district employees.

“The Chicago Park District is pleased that Gov. Quinn has signed legislation that is critical to ensuring retirement security for our current employees and retirees,” the park district said in a prepared statement after the bill signing.

“Both taxpayers and employees can now feel confident that there is a fair balance of reform and revenue, consistent with the principles outlined by Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel to build a sustainable future for our pension funds,” the district said.

The law 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.

Under the plan, the retirement age for existing employees under 45 would jump from 50 to 58.

It also would require current employees to contribute up to 2 percent more out of their paychecks by 2019 while the park district would up its contributions to the system by $75 million during that period.

The plan is designed to bring the park district’s pension plan, which now is only 43.4 percent funded, up to a 90-percent funding level eventually. It takes effect June 1, though some provisions don’t kick in until next January.

“The bill is a pension solution for the Chicago Park District that will provide its employees with retirement security,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The measure was opposed by SEIU Local 73, which has donated $28,677 to Quinn. That is part of $4.5 million that SEIU as a whole has given the governor during his career.

“We’re incredibly disappointed in what Gov. Quinn did,” union spokesman Adam Rosen told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We did not know he’d be signing this today. He did not tell us. We found out about the same time you did.

“Just like with Senate Bill 1,” Rosen said, referring to the sprawling state pension-reform package Quinn signed last month, “this will wind up in court because this is an unconstitutional bill.”

Quinn’s move on the park district bill and the one cutting benefits for 750,000 current or retired state workers, university employees, downstate and suburban teachers and state lawmakers jeopardize the governor’s chances of being backed in 2014 by SEIU, Rosen said.

“Now that those two bills are signed, the possibilities of financially supporting him are dwindling,” Rosen said. “Right now, it doesn’t look good from our view of Gov. Quinn. He has signed two very unconstitutional bills that impact thousands of workers and didn’t seem to consult with the public on it. That’s two major strikes against him.”

Anderson declined comment on the possibility that SEIU could slow or stop its contributions to the Democratic governor as he ramps up his re-election bid but insisted Quinn “did communicate that [he] was signing the bill to SEIU leadership in advance.”


Twitter: @davemckinney123

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