How to Bankrupt a Fund
As Chicago's 1991 municipal elections approached, Mayor Richard M. Daley was consolidating power for his first re-election campaign. In Springfield, two state senators — Daley's brother John and his political ally Jeremiah Joyce — introduced a "shell bill," an empty vessel into which lawmakers later would stuff an astonishing public pension giveaway to Chicago union officials.
That pension giveaway was among more than 100 provisions eventually added to the shell bill, but never debated by either chamber of the General Assembly. Instead, 10 members of a bicameral "conference committee" that evidently never held a meeting shaped the legislation to achieve their political goals. By the time the heavily larded bill was ready for passage by the two chambers, another Chicago Democrat, state Sen. Emil Jones, assured his colleagues that the bill wasn't controversial. "These provisions incorporated within this bill have been agreed to by the (city) administration and the pension system and the laborers," Jones told his Senate colleagues the day the bill passed in January 1991. "The people in the city of Chicago came together and agreed."
Twenty years later, as the Tribune and WGN-TV reported last week, 23 retired union officials from Chicago stand to collect about $56 million from two ailing city pension funds, thanks to the 1991 law. More union officials evidently are in the pipeline to receive the lavish benefits included in that legislation.
Sure enough, two days after the pension changes passed the Legislature — departing Gov. James Thompson signed it into law — the city's unions lined up to endorse Mayor Daley's re-election campaign. He would serve another 20 years with organized labor's support and acquiescence.