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March 26, 2003

Illinois’ First Responders Call on the Senate to Pass Blagojevich’s Pension Finance Plan, Allow the State to Invest More in Public Safety

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. – Standing with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn at Springfield Fire Department Station #1, members of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Fraternal Order of Police, Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge #7 and State Troopers Lodge #41 today called upon the Illinois Senate to approve the governor’s pension financing plan to help solve a massive state deficit and provide room for additional investments in public safety.

“Even though our first responders are among the most well-prepared in the nation, we can always do more,” Blagojevich said. “During this severe fiscal crisis, investing more money in training, equipment and technology means finding savings in other areas. Passing the pension refinancing plan in the Senate means giving us the flexibility to invest in what truly matters: education, health care and public safety.”

The governor has proposed taking advantage of record-low interest rates and selling bonds to pay pension debt obligations that can save as much as $2 billion this fiscal year and next, and reduce the state’s projected budget deficit.

“Refinancing our pension bonds puts us 40 percent closer to closing the historic $5 billion deficit,” Blagojevich said. “It’s the responsible, common sense thing to do and it gives us room to continue improving our public safety system.”

The state has already taken significant steps to ensure the safety of its citizens as the result of the war in Iraq, including activating the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield, which coordinates all agencies involved in implementing Illinois preparedness plans; and training and equipping elite response teams to deal with weapons of mass destruction, hazardous materials, and medical emergencies.

The governor pointed to additional steps he hopes the state can take. He wants to equip every one of the 80,000 first responders in Illinois with a mask, respirator and filters for chemical, biological and nuclear material.

Blagojevich also voiced support for a proposal sponsored by state Reps. Mike Smith, D-Canton, and Don Moffitt, R-Galesburg, to establish a $10 million revolving loan fund to help fire departments purchase 40 emergency trucks for local first response teams.

“The governor has shown he’s committed to strong security and understands the importance of supporting our law enforcement officials who will be on the front lines dealing with any terrorist threats here in our state,” said Allen Bennett, director of Government Relations for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police.

“Our role in protecting the public has grown since the threat of a terrorist attack against the United States became more real,” said Dave Foreman, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois. “We stand side by side with Gov. Blagojevich in calling on the legislature to make sure the state can continue its duty of keeping emergency personnel well-equipped and well-prepared.”

The pension financing bill was approved by the state House last week with broad, bipartisan support. Its fate now lies with the state Senate.

“The pension financing bill passed in the House because the Republican leadership was willing to put partisan politics aside and join Democrats in supporting the plan,” Blagojevich said. “I hope we will see the same bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. I urge my distinguished colleagues in the Senate to think about the budget in the context of current affairs. Remember the big picture – the additional pressures on our budget resulting from the urgent need for increased security.”

“Now, more than ever, we must come together to solve our state’s budget problems,” the governor said.

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