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82% Pension Contributions for State Legislators

Guest Commentary
Steve Eberhardt, Esq
Tinley Park
February 21, 2011

My retired neighbor a few doors down collects about $1,100 a month from social security. He works part-time but can’t exceed the annual earning limits or his benefits will be reduced. Another neighbor knows a retired state officer a few blocks over who collects about ten times that amount as a pension and he’s not even one of those persons who stack multiple government pensions.

It’s not surprising to read the numerous letters to the editor demanding government pension reform. Interestingly, pension reform was passed last year by the state legislature, but did nothing about the current pension system. Reform only applies to employees who had not yet been hired. So, the taxpayer won’t see changes for 20 or 30 years.

What was the Legislature’s justification for continuing the lucrative pension system with no provisions to cap benefits while still working or collecting multiple pensions? Legislators were the first to rally behind a thing called the “pension protection clause” of the Illinois Constitution. That’s a clause that Legislators argue protects them as well as members of the four other State pension systems and gives them the right to collect those benefits and sometimes multiple pensions that they voted for themselves over the last decades.

Isn’t there something grossly wrong with a system where the recipients of these lucrative benefits are the very persons who voted to give themselves those benefits? Of course there is.

How lucrative are the benefits? For 2011, the State reports there are 182 active members in the Illinois General Assembly Retirement System with their total expected payroll to be $14.7 million. The State (that is, money from the taxpayers) will be paying $12.1 million into the GARS fund. That’s a contribution of just over 82% of the Legislator’s salaries. Put another way, the taxpayers are paying these part-time Legislators about $68,000 a year as well as paying another $55,000 for each of them into their State pension fund!

So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a neighbor who retired from State government receives a pension ten times greater than my neighbor on social security.

It’s not surprising that the Legislators want to hide behind the “pension protection clause.” Yet, transcripts from the 1970 Constitutional Convention make clear that the clause was meant to clarify and strengthen the right of state and municipal “employees” to receive their expected pension benefits after years of contributions. One of the co-sponsors of the clause explained it in terms of police pensions. The other co-sponsor explained that if “you mandate the public employees … to put in 5% or 8%” that employee should get the pension they were promised years down the road.

From this laudable idea introduced at the 1970 Constitutional Convention, we have reached the point where the General Assembly Retirement System receives a contribution of over 82% of a Legislator’s salary. The Governor as well as numerous other State “officers” are a part of this system.

In my hometown of Tinley Park, the last fiscal report notes that the Village contributed just under 21% of a police officer’s salary to the police pension fund as required by the State Legislature. I would bet that our local officers would appreciate if the General Assembly would mandate contributions similar to their own. I would also bet that anyone looking to retire on social security would like to have someone paying 82% contributions on their behalf.

While the thrust of the 1970 Constitution was to protect “employees” pensions, Legislators are not “employees” but rather are state “officers”. In fact, elected state and municipal officials as well as a variety of other persons employed by government are government “officers” and not government “employees.”

So when State “officers” who voted themselves lucrative and sometimes multiple pension benefits want to talk about the Illinois Constitution, instead of hiding behind the “pension protection clause” that was meant to protect “employees” they should be considering the provision in the Illinois Constitution’s Bill of Rights that mandates a remedy for every wrong. Thus, the voters need to continue pressing their Legislators about accomplishing true pension reform that protects “employees” while correcting the self-made greedy mistakes and wrongs of the “officers.”

Editors Note:
We would like to give Bill Zettler at Champion News lots of credit for studying and sourcing Illinois state pension abuses. His research is at the core of this post online. Visit his work at: http://www.championnews.net/article.php?sid=2696

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2 Responses to "82% Pension Contributions for State Legislators"

  1. Comment by Anna Meenan on February 21, 2011 at 7:55 am said:

    I agree with some of the complaints about the pensions, but there are several different pension systems and they are not all the same. Legislators being able to retire with big pensions after just a few years in the legislature is wrong. Padding and double-dipping is wrong. Not paying into one’s own pension is wrong.

    However, I went to work in 1984 at a state university job that paid about 60% of what I could have gotten for the same work in the private sector. Part of what attracted me to the job, which the university was having a hard time filling, was the pension. I paid 8% of every paycheck into my pension fund. For several years the state did not pay their share. They also got away without paying anything to social security for me either, as state jobs are not eligible for social security. For the last 6 years I worked there I did not get a raise. I was not asking for the state to contribute 82%, just the 8% they promised. My pension money went into the pockets of crooked politicians and their cronies.

  2. Comment by David Jenkins on February 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm said:

    I can’t comment on the pension part of lawmakers’ pay, but I’d like to add that the pay, that General Assembly members get for active work, is all on my new site:


    Where active lawmakers get far more than $68,000.00 per year. They get “leadership” pay, from Madigan, Cross, Cullerton, and Radogno, plus Per Diems and mileage reimbursements.

    This puts the average state lawmaker, well over $100,000.00; excluding the free scholarships, quid pro quos, like district leases for campaign contributions, etc.