Karen Kidd Aug. 5, 2016, 7:29am


SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) reacted to Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto last week of a bill that would have given municipalities authority to go against the wishes of its citizens in authorizing new police and fire pension obligations by a resolution, saying he did the right thing.

"If this bill becomes law it would allow municipalities to override the wishes of the property taxpaying citizens, even though the citizens may have passed a referendum against increasing benefits to their fire and police employees," McCarter said.

SB 2439's 'passage was fairly swift in a legislative session where the biggest concern - the state budget - stalled until the very last moments of the fiscal ear. The bill was introduced Feb. 9 and passed the state Senate April 21 by 47-7, including McCarter's no vote. The bill passed the House May 19, 88-23.

None of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Martin A. Sandoval (D-Cicero), Sen Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), Sen. Neil Anderson (R-Rock Island) and Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Summit), responded to Record requests for comment.

Passage of SB 2439 would have amounted to an additional tax burden that the people of Illinois just can't endure, McCarter said.

"We must lower property taxes by lowering the cost of local and state government," he added. "This bill would take us in the wrong direction."

Last week's veto of SB 2439 was not the first time the governor has blocked this type of legislation. In 2015 Rauner vetoed SB 763, which he said was identical to SB 2439. An override attempt failed in the state legislature in September and Rauner's total veto of that bill was allowed to stand.

In a statement issued with his veto of SB 2439, Rauner said the proposed legislation is unnecessary because current law already provides a way for municipalities to fund pension benefits for police officers and firefighters. Those benefits are mandatory in municipalities that have a population of 5,000 or more and could be created by referendum in municipalities with less than 5,000 residents, the governor said in his statement.

"This veto is necessary because Senate Bill 2439 would allow municipalities an end-run around local referendum results," Rauner said in his statement. "If this legislation becomes law, a municipality could impose new pension obligations by a resolution of its governing body even if residents overwhelmingly reject the same by referendum. At a time when local governments in Illinois are struggling to make ends meet, we should not stifle direct democracy by permitting local governing bodies to ignore taxpayer’s wishes."

SB 2439 is not necessarily dead. Rauner received a sharp lesson earlier this year about how fragile his veto can be. In May, a small group of Republican lawmakers crossed the aisle and helped to override the governor's veto of a similar bill, SB 777, to provide financial relief to Chicago in that city's struggle to pay police and firefighter pensions. It was the first time in Rauner's administration that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly succeeded in overturning his veto on an important vote without first reaching an agreement with the governor's office.

McCarter said he hopes none of his colleagues attempts to override Rauner's veto of SB 2439.

"I will argue against it if they do," he said. "Someone has to look out for the taxpayers."

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