It’s a simple, common sense idea: public pensions should be paid only to those who actually work for the public.
But that’s not how it works in Illinois. As the Chicago Tribune documented in recent weeks, clout-heavy union leaders have benefited from special deals that allow them to collect six-figure pensions based not on the work they did for the taxpayers, but instead on the salaries they collected while working full-time for their unions.
To stop this abuse, I recently partnered with the public interest group, “For the Good of Illinois” to file Senate Bill 2499. If this measure becomes law, government workers will earn credit in the state’s public pension systems only when they are working at their government jobs.
Although the Tribune series highlighted the abuses in the City of Chicago pension systems, the problem is not limited to Chicago. In fact, the state’s Teacher Retirement System pays its second-highest pension benefit to the former national president of the teachers’ union. He is collecting his annual $242,657 pension based on his pay working for the union, not on the salary he once received teaching children.
With state government facing a total pension debt of more than $100 billion, we can’t afford any half measures that fix the problem in Chicago but leave the state’s public retirement systems untouched. Some might argue that the abuses uncovered by the Tribune amount to a relatively small share of the total cost of public pension systems. I won’t pretend that the changes I’ve proposed in SB 2499 solve the fundamental financial problems underlying the state’s public pension systems.
In fact, I’ve been an outspoken advocate for broad-based fundamental reforms to make the state’s retirement system affordable.
But, fairness and common sense should not be based on relative costs. These abuses are fundamentally unfair not only to the taxpayers, but also to the rank and file public employees who paid dues to these leaders and are counting on these pensions in retirement, after having spent their careers on the job teaching, maintaining our streets and highways, protecting us from criminals and protecting at-risk children.
Illinois must adopt major pension system reforms in order to establish an affordable and secure retirement system for public employees. Senate Bill 2499 does not replace the need for comprehensive reform, but it does send a critical signal that, as we ask public employees to share in the cost of reform, we will also aggressively root out abuse and waste by the privileged few.
State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine)
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