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Editorial: Sergeants and mayor show how to cut a deal

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Chicago Police Sergeants' AssociatiPresident James Ade (podium) announce contract agreement City Hall Tuesday February 12 2012. |

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Sergeants' Association President James Ade (at podium) announce a contract agreement at City Hall on Tuesday, February 12, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:35AM

Here’s hoping that a landmark deal cut Tuesday marks the beginning of the end.

The end, that is, to the maddening inability of public officials and unions to do what’s necessary to save Illinois public employee pension systems, the costs of which are spiraling out of control.

On Tuesday, the city and the union representing Chicago Police sergeants announced a plan to cut pension costs in a real and meaningful way — an achievement that until now had seemed all but impossible.

The deal includes freezing cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees, raising the retirement age slightly and increasing by 3 percentage points employee contributions.

The deal must be approved by the union’s 1,200 members and the state Legislature, but the prospects look good.

“We knew that pension reform was coming. . . . We felt as though it’s better to work together to fix the problem than to stand back and let someone else fix it. It’s our futures,” said Chicago Police Sergeants’ Association President James Ade.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The Chicago Police pension fund is only 32 percent funded, putting every police officer’s pension at risk. That’s clearly the union’s motivation to work out a deal.

For Chicago, the motivation is a looming deadline. Under state law, the city must increase its pension contributions starting in 2016 by $600 million to put its public safety pension funds on the path to solvency. That money must come from a property tax increase or major spending cuts.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not exaggerate when he called this a “landmark contract,” and he deserves much credit. He also called the deal a blueprint for other unions in Chicago and the state, all of which also have grossly underfunded retirements systems.

We hope he’s right. The sergeants union is small compared to the Fraternal Order of Police, other city unions and the major state unions, most of which have dug their heels in deeper.

“If we don’t make changes, members are going to continue to pay into a system that can’t pay out their retirements savings,” Emanuel said. “I think that’s dishonest. And then it leaves taxpayers to pay something that they can’t afford. And that too is dishonest.”

But now we know: This can get done.

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