Rockford, Illinois News

Taxpayers paying former Illinois lawmakers $2.1M a month from underfunded pension system

CHICAGO — Illinois taxpayers pay more than $2.1 million a month to retired part-time state legislators or their surviving spouses from a fund that’s only 16% funded. The individual monthly payouts are as high as $18,000 per month. Some pensioners aren’t actually retired but still getting paid.

There are 425 people drawing off the General Assembly Retirement System, ranging from $122 a month to $18,000.

At 16% funded, state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said GARS is the worst of the state’s five public sector pension funds.

“You got there by skipping payments and being unrealistic and that’s a microcosm of what’s happened with all the funds,” Batinick said.

All five of the state’s pensions funds combined have an unfunded liability of more than $140 billion.

Being an Illinois state lawmaker is considered a part time job and Batinick said members of GARS getting that much per month in retirement is out of line.

“So, part time offices, I just don’t think that a pension is in order,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. It complicates the system and makes the math bad.”

Another reason the funds are woefully underfunded, state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said, is pension sweeteners that previous lawmakers passed for themselves.

“The good news is much of that has been done away with,” Martwick said. “The bad news is that the way that our system is set up there’s no way to remove that benefit structure. That is, those benefits will continue to be paid until those legislators pass and are no longer pulling retirement.”

For those in the state’s public sector pension system before 2011, there’s a 3% cost of living adjustment that compounds every year. There’s also free health care for state government retirees.

Some have advocated to amend the state constitution to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability for all the state’s funds. Proposals to change the state constitution’s pension protection clause to reduce owed benefits like the compounding interest have never advanced at the statehouse.

“I believe that the estimates that I’ve heard is [a constitutional amendment] could shave off $20 billion, which is good, but we’d still owe $120 billion,” Martwick said.

Of the 425 former lawmakers drawing a pension, former state legislator turned judge Edward Petka, who served in the statehouse from 1987 to 2006, is getting $18,062 per month from GARS. That’s $216,000 a year.

Base pay for a state representative is about $68,000.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, who also served in the statehouse, gets $15,100 a month, or $181,000 annually. Former Gov. Pat Quinn, who also served in the statehouse, is drawing almost $12,900 a month, or $154,800 a year just from the GARS system.

Other former state lawmakers getting more than $10,000 a month include Richard M. Daley, Lee Daniels, Barbara Flynn Currie, Emil Jones Jr., Roland Burris, Gary Hanning and more.

Of more recently retired lawmakers, Christine Radogno is getting around $7,500 a month. Pam Althoff and Raymon Poe are each receiving about $7,000 a month. Former Senate President John Cullerton receives about $6,900 a month.

Former state Sen. Ira Silverstein, who lost a reelection bid several years ago after a citizen alleged he abused his power as a lawmaker by making sexual advances, is getting $6,600 a month from taxpayers.

Some pensioners aren’t retired and are working elsewhere, but they’re still receiving a pension.

There are members of U.S. Congress drawing from GARS. Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost receives $6,200 a month. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is getting $2,600 a month.

Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino, who has a civil case against him still pending alleging improper use of campaign funds, receives about $6,200 a month in pension benefits while still being employed as the auditor general.

Photo credit: kate.gardiner Chicago Politics 2010 via photopin (license)

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