I am a retired police officer, and I read the Guest Viewpoint (Oct. 30) written by Brett Rowland, the Illinois editor for The Center Square.
Mr. Rowland’s opinion is an oversimplification of a serious financial and moral problem.
His claims are based on ARRP polling data that conclude people are tired of paying high property taxes in Illinois. He contends that high taxes are the reason people are leaving Illinois and, of course, the reason for the financial problems of the state of Illinois.
Mr. Rowland wants pension benefits reduced as a solution. He does not mention that Social Security benefits are reduced by 60 percent for those who have a government pension.
I was in the private sector for 20 years before I started working for the city of Chicago. I had over 80 quarterly payments toward Social Security; you only need 40 to qualify for Social Security, yet when I reached retirement, my Social Security benefits were reduced by 60 percent.
Mr. Rowland did not mention that police officers pay 9.5 percent of every check into their pension, and new hires pay 10.5 percent.
When I started to work for the police department, I was informed of what benefits I would receive from being a police officer. I was told that I would get a pension with a non-compounding cost-of-living adjustment when I retired, which would be either 1.5 percent or 3 percent depending on my age at retirement. I was informed that the city would pay 55 percent of my supplemental insurance when I reached Medicare age.
However, the previous mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, cut all insurance for retirees, and the case is still in court four years later! Mr. Rowland failed to mention that cut.
What did I give up to earn the compensation of a defined-benefit pension?
I gave up being home with my family in the evenings. I gave up having weekends off. I gave up summer vacations. I gave up holidays being with my kids, family and friends. I gave up my personal safety.
My days off were cancelled without notice. My workdays were extended or the hours varied without notice. I took a job that often placed me in the rain, the cold, the ice and snow as a police officer because I was promised benefits when I retired: it was my deal with the city.
Mr. Rowland would like to change the rules after the race is run and take food and shelter from my family.
In addition to the financial impact, this is a moral crisis.
Do we as a society pay our bills, or do we go morally bankrupt and renege? Can Mr. Rowland decide not to pay his mortgage because it is inconvenient?
The city has managed to generate enormous amounts of money through tax increment financing funds. A recent deal produced $2 billion!
Yes, the money does exist in Chicago and Illinois; it’s a matter of how it is spent. Do we pay our bills (pensions) or splurge on ever-new projects? Public funds in Chicago have been used for stadiums for the Chicago White Sox and Solider Field.
Public funds were used for Millennium Park—over $1 billion—and a park was already located there. Public funds have been used for the 606 bicycle path. Public funds have been promised for improvements in the area near the Obama presidential library. Whenever business can make a profit, the city has always found the money.
I kept my promise as a city worker. I did my part in the cold, in the snow, in the heat of summer, in the dead of night, in danger and often in sadness, but I did my part.
Now the city must continue to honor its debt.
“A promise made,” wrote Robert W. Service, a British-Canadian poet, “is a debt unpaid.”
City workers are owed a square deal. If pensions are to be changed, then they should be changed for new hires and negotiated with their unions. New employees then can make an informed decision if they wish to give up so much for what is offered. Moreover, it does not take a change to the state constitution to change pensions for future employees.
Mr. Rowland, we do not govern by what is convenient; we govern by what is right.
Let’s all do the right thing and pay our debts.