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Will legislative pensions go the way of legislative scholarships?

Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

For the past couple of election campaign cycles, this one included, incumbent state legislators have bragged in their campaign ads about cutting their pay.

They didn’t actually do that, but they did vote several times to take unpaid furlough days. So, it’s almost the same.

But lots of nonincumbents have upped the ante this fall — refusing to accept a state pension if elected.

Lifetime pensions for part-time legislators became a hot issue when the General Assembly first considered reducing pension benefits for state workers and teachers.

Those union members bitterly complained that legislators getting generous pensions for part-time jobs were passing judgment on full-time workers with modest incomes. And some outspoken conservatives have questioned why legislators should get pensions at all.

The issue heated up to the point where House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) endorsed legislation in the August special session that abolished pensions for newly elected legislators. It failed to pass, but that bill made the issue even more visible.

It also gave those who voted for it (mostly House Democrats) something else to crow about on the campaign trail — they voted to reduce their pensions and eliminate them entirely for new members. The issue now is playing out with a vengeance on the campaign trail.

I had noticed that several candidates had pledged not to take pensions if elected, so I asked the four caucus campaign managers to tell me how many candidates were pledging not to do so.

The House Republicans say 11 of their candidates have vowed to forgo a pension, but they say more are on the way. The 11 are Pat Fee (R-Naperville), Melinda Hult (R-Belleville), John Lawson (R-Schaumburg), Neil Anderson (R-Rock Island), John Cabello (R-Machesny Park), Glenn Nixon (R-Bourbonnais), Dan Kordik (R-Villa Park), Mark Shaw (R-Lake Forest), Julie Bigham Eggers (R-Columbia), Jonathan Greenberg (R-Northbrook) and David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills).

The Senate Republicans identified nine candidates who’ve said they will not take a pension. More, they say, are on the way. The nine are Mike McElroy (R-Decatur), Joe Neal (R-Wadsworth), Arie Friedman (R-Highland Park), Mike Babcock (R-Bethalto), Randy Frese (R-Paloma), Garrett Peck (R-Plainfield), Jim O’Donnell (R-Park Ridge), Mark Minor (R-Ewing) and Bill Albracht (R-Moline).

The Senate Democrats have two such candidates, Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake).

The House Democrats, as so often is the case, weren’t entirely forthcoming on this issue.

“We’ve had a number of candidates who’ve said they would eliminate and/or reduce pensions (in one form or another) for lawmakers,” wrote the House Democrats’ campaign manager in response to an email inquiry.

The House Democrats say members in that rather broad category include Deborah O’Keefe Conroy (D-Elmhurst), Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines), Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), Sue Scherer (D-Decatur), Laura Fine (D-Glenview), Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora), Natalie Manley (D-Joliet) and Scott Drury (D-Highwood).

That makes 30 candidates who are either vowing to not take a legislative pension or to significantly reduce those pensions. Of course, every House member who voted for that pension change in the special session can also be counted as at least supporting the end of pension benefits for future lawmakers.

The House Democrats say it’s ironic that so many House Republican candidates are promising to forgo pensions when their caucus voted overwhelmingly against the special session bill.

“If the Republicans decide to get on board, we’d pass the bill eliminating pensions for future lawmakers and we’ll make the issue a moot point,” a House Democratic operative said last week.

The legislative pension issue obviously polls well or that many candidates wouldn’t be campaigning on it. But it’s important to remember that campaigns don’t always move policy. People run on issues all the time that are forgotten just as soon as the next election ends.

What makes this somewhat different, though, is the sheer number of candidates in both parties who are talking about this issue, combined with Madigan’s proposal to end pensions for new legislators. Pandora’s Box may have been opened for good.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Shore - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 9:43 am:

    Sorry but I think legislators deserve these things, perhaps not as much as they’re getting, but some of them do work hard and I think you’ll find it hard especially in the suburbs to recruit good people to run for office without compensation.

  2. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 9:51 am:

    An intermediate step would be to tighten the rules. Now vested legislators get 85% of their final salary. Kurt Granberg “worked” 2 weeks as DNR director and bumped up his pension $40,000+ annually. Ridiculous.

  3. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 9:54 am:

    That would be quite a change. You wonder if you would see 20-plus legislators in the future.

  4. - Bemused - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 9:56 am:

    I think they should get something but the amount should reflect what was paid in on their behalf.

  5. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 9:57 am:

    The Granberg rules applies to all sorts of folks moving from one system to another. Let’s apply all the reforms to SURS too!

    Hey lets have a “Be Nice to Billboards Day. Let face it his candidates are tanking, the Griffins have closed the withdrawal window, Gags Brady is training for a half-triathalon and the US Supreme Court just tossed his Voting Rights Act appeal when they picked several others for hearing this session. Boo Hoo

    Let’s pretend Billboards actually planned to stop the repeal of GARS so his candidates would have this “mega issue” to campaign on in the fall.

    What a mind!

  6. - Anon - amiss - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:00 am:

    I agree with what Shore said. Its already difficult to recruit good people to run for the legislature. Imagine if they eliminated the legislative pensions and/or significantly reduced compensation for legislators. You get what you pay for.

  7. - Lil Enchilada - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:02 am:

    Bill Albracht, who is running in my neck of the woods, has several pensions already. Why would he need another one? Easy for him to say no. I believe Neil Anderson, who is running for rep in the other end of my county, also has a pension with the city he works for. How many pensions do most people have? I won’t have a pension when I retire but I have no problem with people who get them.

  8. - Old Shepherd - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:02 am:

    I know this pension cut is low-hanging fruit for many. However, I believe–like Shore–that this could discourage good candidates from running for the General Assembly. I know that technically it is a part-time legislature, but for many it is by necessity a full-time job. I agree that it would be appropriate to consider changes to the benefits, and it might even be appropriate to consider a matching defined contribution plan for legislators. However, I believe that outright elimination of pensions for legislators would have unintended consequences.

  9. - Pat Welch - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:06 am:

    The Democratic candidate for state Senate in the 38th, Chris Benson, also announced she would not take a pension. Her opponent, a millionaire, has not said she would turn down a pension.

  10. - QC Transplant - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:08 am:

    Does anyone know if a legislator chooses not to take a legislative pension, does that person still have to pay into the system? If the person does not have to pay into the system and let’s say 30 members of the GA choose not to enroll in the pension system, won’t this just create additional unfunded liability?

  11. - geronimo - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:10 am:

    =You get what you pay for==

    Exactly right, particularly when it comes to teachers for your children. Is that right though, that their pension is based on 85% of their final salary? WOW! That’s an extravagent way to calculate a pension. TRS calculates 75% of the average of the best 4 years of last 10 after 35 years of full time service. And there’s an issue with that? I don’t think anyone with a part time job needs a pension, particularly when they may be getting retirement pay from (or from savings from)their real job. And do legislators receive social security? How many places can they collect from? Those in TRS have one place, TRS.

  12. - Cook County Commoner - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    I’d be impressed if they offered to forego their retiree health benefit also.

  13. - Countryboy - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:20 am:

    At the minimum we need to drop the special handling for GARS participants under reciprocity.

  14. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:20 am:

    It would be great if the legislators could work for free, but that is not practical.

    There should be consideration of unifying all public pension benefits. One program for all with a single set of rules, no sweeteners, no time bonuses for any special class The value of the pension should be based on a sound actuarial basis.

    The question of shifting from defined benefit to defined contribution should probably be addressed at that time as well.

    A pension plan that is fair to the employees as well as the taxpayers would be great for the future fiscal stability of the state.

  15. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:25 am:

    Legislators are not full-time employees. They are, officially, part-time elected officials, able to work at other occupations, including in the public sector.

  16. - jake - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:29 am:

    This is a terrible idea. You would have the legislature filled with people whose pensions depended on some other interest outside the legislature. No more career legislators. Some may disagree, but in my opinion the career legislators are on balance a benefit rather than a detriment to the functioning of the legislature.

  17. - Thoughtless Penny - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:29 am:

    Oh, h#ll. They should give up any salary and district office allowance and run the whole show from the trunk of their car.

    Is free good enough?

    Everyone knows they do the job for the sheer pleasure and perks of being on the receiving end of thousands of gripes, complaints, insults each year from mostly ungrateful constituents and surly editorial boards.


  18. - Tommydanger - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:31 am:

    Can they actually decline a pension? They cannot decline a pay raise, meaning they get the actual bump, but they can send the increase to a charitable cause, etc., but they cannot actually decline a pay raise. So, can they actually decline to participate or are they automatically enrolled?

  19. - geronimo - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:45 am:

    Jake’s comment that career legislators are a benefit to the functioning of the legislature. I assume that one part of that benefit is stability and continuity. Jake’s statement would be a true one for all government employees who receive a pension. Otherwise, it all becomes one great big revolving door. In some places of employment maybe a revolving door of contantly different employees would not hurt as much a others. But these arguments need to be kept in mind when considering the reform of all government pensions.

  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 10:47 am:

    @Tommydanger -

    Under the statute, lawmakers have 2 years from the date of their taking office to opt out of the state pension system.

    As Rich pointed out recently, only one lawmaker ever has.

    It reminds me of the debate a decade ago when Republicans were trying to force all Medicaid patients into HMOs.

    Turned out that not a single Republican had enrolled their own families in the state employees’ managed care program…they were all in traditional fee-for-service where they got to pick their own doctors, and they and their doctors — not some insurance company — made their health care choices.

  21. - East Sider - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:06 am:

    Pensions for elected officials need to be eliminated. There are always magic loopholes that elected officials expose (like serving in two elected positions, example: county wide office and a township office) to boost their pensions, ridiculous pension plans like the infamous ECO plan, etc. It also encourages them to hang around too long, in order to max-out their pensions. There should also be a prohibition on collecting one public pension and receiving another public salary at the same time (or at least some caps).

  22. - OneMan - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:24 am:

    This is a terrible idea. You would have the legislature filled with people whose pensions depended on some other interest outside the legislature. No more career legislators. Some may disagree, but in my opinion the career legislators are on balance a benefit rather than a detriment to the functioning of the legislature.

    So they should be full time employees then, right? No more law firm partnerships and the like… Seems only fair.

  23. - geronimo - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    These weasels, working 2 or 3 jobs at the same time, collecting 2 or 3 pensions are exactly what people think of instead of the employee who works at a full time job for 30-40 years, always contributing their share and getting nothing but that pension to live on. These same weasels want everyone in the pension systems to pay for the shenanigans and outwitting by some. I guess when all state/local employees have the opportunity to collect multiple pensions, then it would be fair, but it isn’t that way. Only for them, apparently.
    There is no need for these people to collect a pension.

  24. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:33 am:

    ===I guess when all state/local employees have the opportunity to collect multiple pensions, then it would be fair, but it isn’t that way.===

    Wrong. They can collect more than one pension.

    ===There is no need for these people to collect a pension. ===

    Careful what you wish for.

  25. - langhorne - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:35 am:

    legislative pensions should not be done away with, but they should be reformed and brought into line with reality. if you dont offer some type of pension for years of service.

    any good legislator, especially if in a competitive district, puts in much more than part time hours.

    if you cut back on pay and benefits, you may end up with a situation like new hampshire. their salaries are so low, the only people who take the jobs are the wealthy or young people just starting out.

  26. - walkinfool - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:39 am:

    The best, most productive legislators, work full-time or almost full-time on that job, including maintaining continual contact with a wide range of constituents. Some work at it over 350 days per year — as much as any entrepreneur, professional, or senior exec I’ve ever seen.

    Part-timers let staff and lobbyists do most of the heavy lifting on lawmaking, and more often let their leaders tell them how to vote because they haven’t done their own homework. They also have conflicts of various sorts, even if not obvious.

    Demand more than a half-*** job from your legislator. And make it minimally worth their while, without taking any outside money or bebefits.

  27. - langhorne - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:39 am:

    oops. stray sentence fragment in there.

  28. - Yossarian Lives - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 11:56 am:

    Let’s get to the bottom of this question of whether being a state legislator is a full-time or part-time job. It’s only a part-time job (A) if you’re independently wealthy and can afford not to work for at least half the year, (B) you work in an occupation (freelance consultant, attorney, insurance agent…) that allows you to take that much time away from the office (AND you either are self-employed or have a very supportive employer), and/or (C) you do the bare minimum when it comes to serving constituents and doing your homework. So, it might be easy enough for a legislator who’s a self-employed attorney, has already made his million-plus, and represents a safe district to give up his or her pension or even salary. But pressure to refuse pay and/or benefits will effectively prevent a middle-class person with a teaching background or a social work background or someone who owns a modestly successful small business from seeking office. Cutting legislators’ pay and benefits sounds good but will result in a GA full of millionaires, lawyers whose firms think they stand to benefit by keeping a lawmaker on the payroll even though he’s not in the office much, and people who are desperately scrounging for any crumb of compensation they can find - or just waiting for their terms to be over so they jump to a cushier job. It’s happened in other states that pay part-time salaries and little-to-nothing in benefits. Illinois has the fifth largest population in the country; there’s no reason our legislature should be run the same way as Vermont’s or South Carolina’s. We have to have a degree of professionalism and professionalization.

  29. - Loop Lady - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:19 pm:

    Will they give the much better funded pension cash to Afscme and Seiu if the pension system is abolished? Didn’t think so. The Legislature will way to personally profit from the dissolution of their system no doubt.

  30. - Anon III - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:33 pm:

    Yossari: You need to add (D) to your list, It’s a part time job if … (D) you work for a City or County office, or the CPS, and they don’t always notice when you don’t show up for work.

  31. - Chris - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:37 pm:

    “I think you’ll find it hard especially in the suburbs to recruit good people to run for office without compensation”

    So, you consider $67k for a part-time job, to NOT be compensation? 5th highest in the country (CA, NY, PA and MI).

    CA legislators have been out of CALPers, and on SS, for all elected after 1990.

    PA has insanely high top end pensions (at least one over $300k), but more modest ones for most.

    MI has been on a defined contribution plan since 1997, and the pre-97 calc was 3 highest * 1.5% * service years, so a 30 year senator, with a $75k max, gets about $33k.

    NY must be generous, bc it’s really hard to pin down quickly.

  32. - Rusty618 - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:40 pm:

    I think we need to put a limit of $100,000/year for every pension handed out in Illinois. That would include legislators, governors, teachers, IDOT worker, DOC employees, troopers, DCFS. No last day pay boosts, no 2 week special assignments and no double dipping! That should help out the state debt immensely and give everybody employee their FAIR share.

  33. - Chris - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:41 pm:

    “Illinois has the fifth largest population in the country; there’s no reason our legislature should be run the same way as Vermont’s or South Carolina’s. We have to have a degree of professionalism and professionalization. ”

    How ’bout we run it like CA, and give them slightly higher salaries, but put them into Social Security and Meidcare? No defined contribution, no retiree medical care. Seems like a good option.

  34. - Chris - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:46 pm:

    “I think we need to put a limit of $100,000/year for every pension handed out in Illinois. That would include legislators, governors, teachers, IDOT worker, DOC employees, troopers, DCFS. No last day pay boosts, no 2 week special assignments and no double dipping! That should help out the state debt immensely and give everybody employee their FAIR share. ”

    Other states have passed similar caps; should apply to public pensions from ALL Illinois government entities as an aggregate cap (ie, if you’re a cop, then a councilmember, then a senator, you’d get no more than $100k, and the various funds sort out who pays what percent), and be indexed to inflation in some fashion. And give them *all* the option of defined contribution, with some state-funded contribution, but you can’t have both from different jobs.

  35. - Colossus - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 12:48 pm:

    If it’s part time, how about we pay them for 1,000 hours/yr (half-time) at whatever minimum wage is in Illinois. And for health care, they can use the medical card. Pensions get reset to their base salary and we do away with a special insurance payment, while ensuring the elected officials are able to understand in a more practical way the way the bottom of society lives in Illinois.

    I agree that making it unpaid would drive away lower-middle class folks who don’t have the security of money/connections to fall back on. But heck, if I knew doing this job wouldn’t make me any worse off than flipping burgers at McDonald’s I’d be much more likely to throw my hat in the ring.

  36. - Old Shepherd - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 1:39 pm:

    Unfortunately, with the widespread dissatisfaction with government that permeates our society, it seems that many have stopped viewing our government as “us”. Instead, government–in this case the General Assembly–is always “them”. Our legislature is not a House of Lords. Like ‘em or not, nearly every person serving in the General Assembly was elected by us. Our representatives should be adequately compensated.

  37. - Anyone Remember? - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 1:49 pm:

    Legislators should have access to the same pension as non-public safety employees in agencies under the Governor. This includes transfers of time and pension bumps between the various systems.

  38. - geronimo - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 2:45 pm:

    The reason our representatives have become “them” vs. us is because once in office, they proceed to not represent the will of the folks that elected them. What do they expect? Do people have to resort to picketing their offices on a daily basis to get them to hear their constituents? How many polls show a disconnect between what people want or believe vs. what actually happens with their representatives vote?

  39. - Observing - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 2:59 pm:

    Legislators should get a pension, but it should be the same as state employees (without any union employee tricks) and should not include the stipends legislators get for chairmanships and leadership positions. If they retire from the GA and go to state government they should simply continue to accrue regular benefits and years of service.

  40. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 3:03 pm:

    ===but it should be the same as state employees===

    I’ve seen several other state workers say this. My question is this: Why?

  41. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 3:05 pm:

    –Legislators should get a pension–

    Why? Pensions for full-time public employees are under attack, everywhere.

    What make part-time elected officials so special.

    I know they work long hours, but that’s a choice.

  42. - downstate commissioner - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 3:36 pm:

    How come I got deleted this morning? All I said was that if they are rich enough to not need a pension, then they will not have any sympathy for poorer folks. There are already too many rich people running government.

  43. - geronimo - Tuesday, Oct 2, 12 @ 4:14 pm:

    Why should legislators receive pensions? What is the average tenure of a legilator and average pension received?

  44. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Oct 3, 12 @ 1:12 am:

    They may be part-time, but running for election all the time and being in Springfield half a year, and having constituents who expect you to be available 24/7 does not resemble part-time anything.

    It’s a thankless job, and after reading these comments, more thankless than I thought.

  45. - Just a Guy - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    A little late to the game but if it is abolished for new members, it will be interesting to see how funding for the system is affected. You will slowly have less employee contributions, but payments to retirees will increase. We’ll see how fast the state contributions increase…

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Rep. Dold takes educational cruise down Ch...
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* Simon considering state Senate bid
* Killer Congressman Tom MacArthur trying to...
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* Rep. Bob Dold

* Lawmakers Look at Sentencing Reform - Rive......

* Duckworth, Kirk trade barbs over Letterman......

* Driving Dead Episode Four: The Chase
* “The Driver’s Side” – News From The Motorist’s Perspective
* Carjacking Suspect Returned To Illinois To Face Charges, Including Murder
* Cubbie power elicits little more than a yawn from some of us these days
* Where Am I Located?
* Kotowski's Replacement To Be Sworn Into State Senate
* Americans Receive Out-Of-Network Medical Bills That Reach 'Exorbitant' Heights, Report Finds
* Report: Many U.S. States Fall Short On ID Card Access For Homeless LGBT Youth
* Legislative Panel Recommends Mautino For State Auditor General Post
* Chicago Alderman Stalls Charter School Moratorium Resolution

* IEMA Announces Elgin Community College Attains ‘Ready to Respond Campus’ Designation - Elgin one of five Illinois campuses to receive distinction
* New Mortgage Loan Interface Increases Efficiency, Compliance
* State Fire Marshal Ushers In Fire Prevention Week - “Hear the Beep Where You Sleep!”
* October Is Illinois College Application Month! - Over 130 High Schools Will Hold Events to Help Students Get to College
* Illinois Takes Part in Nationwide Community Banking Study, Findings Announced

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