Some lawmakers are looking to roll back enforcement of a 2011 pension delinquency law to help other Illinois towns avoid the police and firefighter layoffs seen in cities such as Harvey.
State Sen. Napoleon Harris’ hometown of Harvey was the first city to have its tax money collected by the state withheld because the city was shirking pension payments to police and firefighters. Since a court ruling earlier this year, the state comptroller’s office has withheld more than $1.8 million in tax revenues from Harvey, forcing the city to lay off firefighters and police officers. Harvey underpaid its police and fire pensions by $2.9 million in 2016.
Harris said his bill would push those tax revenue collections back to 2020 and place exceptions for distressed communities like Harvey.
“There’s going to be many other municipalities unable to pay these skyrocketing pension costs as well as continue to [provide] the public services that the citizens need and demand,” he said before the Licensed Activities and Pensions Committee approved amendments to his bill.
Analysts at Wirepoints, a government watchdog group, have said more than 200 municipalities across the state risk similar tax withholdings to pay pensions. Danville, East St. Louis, and Kankakee are in the worst shape with delinquent payments. Danville recently created a fee that would go directly to pay pensions. Kankakee raised taxes.
Both Republicans and Democrats questioned why there was no oversight of delinquent cities like Harvey, but the committee sent Harris’ bill to the Senate floor for consideration.
“We’re gonna see in the paper that the state waives the amounts due and then they’re going to read that the aldermen there are getting paid $100,000 a year,” southern Illinois Democrat Bill Haine, D-Alton, said. He still voted for the bill.
The city of Harvey allocated $240,000 in wages for six aldermen in fiscal year 2017, the most recent budget published. That doesn’t account for pension contributions and other “fringe benefits” that the budget lists.
“The bill kicks the can down the road,” said attorney Michael Moirano, who represents the Harvey Police Pension fund. “We cannot continue to do that and hope to resolve these pension issues.”
He said negotiations are underway to reach an agreement with the city of Harvey, but added: “the bill will make a mutually agreeable resolution impossible.”
The delinquency is certified and executed by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office. Officials from Mendoza’s office said they are following the law.
“The Comptroller’s Office does not want to see any Harvey employees harmed or any Harvey residents put at risk,” spokesman Abdon Pallasch said, “but the law does not give the Comptroller discretion in this case.”