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Cunningham: Governor's veto of bipartisan firefighter pension bill troubling

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CHICAGO – A measure that would allow Chicago firefighters to transfer credit from previous service to their current pension was vetoed by Governor Rauner, marking the third time the governor has vetoed legislation designed to protect the pensions of Chicago firefighters and police officers. 

Under House Bill 688, Chicago firefighters and paramedics who served with a suburban fire department would be allowed transfer their previous service credit to the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago. The bill passed the legislature with strong bipartisan majorities earlier this year, but it was vetoed by the governor on September 15. 

State Senator Bill Cunningham, the legislation’s sponsor in the Senate, said that he is troubled by the veto because it will continue to allow firefighters to be treated differently than other public employees. Most teachers, state workers and municipal employees are allowed to transfer pension service time if they move from one district or agency to another.

“Many firefighters served for a few years with suburban departments before joining the Chicago Fire Department,” Cunningham said. “All this legislation sought to do was allow these firefighters to transfer the pension contributions they previously made to a different system. The measure would have had no effect on the state budget. The firefighters paid for and earned these benefits.”

Rauner's veto of HB 688 is just the latest in a series of legislation designed to protect the benefits of Chicago police officers and firefighters that the governor has fought. Previously, Rauner vetoed a bill designed to refinance the police and fire pension funds' debt and direct more city revenue to the funds.

Rauner also vetoed a bill to improve survivor benefits for the spouses of new officers and firefighters enrolled in Tier 2 pensions. The same veto sought to block officers and firefighters born after 1955 from receiving modest cost of living adjustments that were granted to older pension members. 

Each of Rauner's previous vetoes of Chicago police and fire pension measures were overridden by the legislature. Cunningham said he would work with the House sponsor of HB 688 in an attempt to override the governor's veto again the fall.

In order to override the veto, both chambers of the General Assembly would need a three-fifths vote.