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After years of ginning up pension envy, BGA finally clears the air

Thursday, May 25, 2017 - Posted by Rich Miller

* For years, the Better Government Association has published or pushed countless stories like these…

* Six-Figure Pension Payouts Soar

* Sticker Shock: Our State Pols’ Platinum Pensions

* 2 Investigators, BGA: ‘Prince Of Pensions’ On Rauner Transition Team

* Chicago Payroll Packed With Six-Figure Salaries

* Taxpayers To Bear Cross (and Rutherford) Pensions

* Will Quinn Cash In On Pension Front?

And on, and on, and on, and on. Click here for the complete list.

* Well, the group finally decided to drill down into the actual numbers this week instead of just posting blatant click-bait

Illinois’ budget mess is the stepchild of Illinois’ pension mess, and for that perhaps nothing incites more steam-coming-out-of-the-ears fury from critics than the volume of six figure annual retirement payouts—topped by one at $581,000—pledged to former public workers.

Yet a BGA analysis of 2017 data from major pension funds for state and municipal employees vividly illustrates the disconnect between high-rolling pensions, legally protected but irksome as they may be, and the deep financial plight experienced by many of those funds.

Simply put, the state’s 17 major pension funds are slated to pay out more than $17.3 billion in benefits to some 483,000 retirees and survivors this year, totals that underscore the broad reach of pension checks for former public employees. Those payments do not come direct from tax money, though there is an indirect correlation that can render the public confused and budget makers dyspeptic.

Just four percent of all beneficiaries this year are in line for pension paydays exceeding $100,000, with the biggest checks largely going to once high-paid former school administrators as well as doctors and dentists at public teaching hospitals. Payments for the overwhelming majority of pensioners, most of whom don’t qualify for Social Security, are far more modest.

The median pension in 2017 for retired suburban and Downstate teachers stands at $52,016, the analysis shows, while the median for general state workers is $28,946. For university workers, the median pension stands at $26,101, while for non-public safety municipal workers outside of Chicago it is $9,064.

       

53 Comments
  1. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:04 am:

    Read that yesterday when I got an email from them. They actually did a nice analysis. And their breakdown is more detailed than a lot of others have done.

    Maybe now the discussion can move on to how to realistically pay what is owed.


  2. - Reality Check - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:11 am:

    Maybe now the discussion can move on to how to realistically pay what is owed.

    Tell it to the Senate, which just passed yet another pension-cutting bill which is also a ticking time bomb. If they actually waited to do an actuarial analysis before voting on something (imagine that) I suspect the provision moving new hires to a 401k-style plan vastly accelerates the underfunding problem.


  3. - Mr. B.A. - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:11 am:

    This story is also running on the Crain’s website. The comment section has disbelieving Neanderthals talking about Crain’s “puff piece”. Reading is a skill…


  4. - notyetretired - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:12 am:

    It is about time the BGA give a complete picture instead of cherry-picking the data they want to share. Good job and thank you.


  5. - Cassandra - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:12 am:

    Nevertheless, in today’s pension-free work environment, any pension at all many seem like a luxury to many citizens. I just don’t see a future in which large numbers of voters clamor for increased taxes to pay the government pension tab. The anger will continue.


  6. - PublicServant - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    When I saw that piece, I thought it was quite balanced. Good job, Andy.


  7. - Anonymous - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    That was one of the worst write ups on pensions I have ever read. They claim one thing, yet within the statistics it is clear that pensions simply don’t work due to actuarial changes, political shenanigans and investment returns that don’t match expectations.


  8. - Slippin' Jimmy - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:16 am:

    Great info- Thank you Rich!


  9. - Almost the Weekend - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:20 am:

    There needs to be a graduated state tax on state pensions. I’m sure would poll off the charts throughout the state. A 10% tax on Illinois state employee retirees with a six figure pension who would say no?

    It would be a drop in the bucket but ~$70 million extra year in an untapped revenue source from the top 4% of pensioners. Could go to social services, schools or heck tier 2 fund which will be the next crisis in 30 years


  10. - Markus - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:21 am:

    Emphasis on they DO NOT get social security payments. Back in the day, the State couldn’t welch on SS payments to the Fed so they took the cheaper way out and established pensions so they could fund those with IOU’s to the pension fund. Stiffing pensioners would be like stiffing bond holders, except that bond holders aren’t protected by that pesky constitution. It’s time to pay up.


  11. - Cimry - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:24 am:

    Almost the weekend,

    You are not able to tax only one group’s retirement. It would have to be a tax against all retirement income for everyone.


  12. - Highland IL - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:25 am:

    I’m sure the Chamber’s Madison County Record will share this with it’s readers. They just ran a “story” recently banging on the 6 digit pensions.


  13. - Anotherretiree - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:28 am:

    ==Almost the weekend==
    Thanks for reminding us why we need a Constitution to protect our rights from…..you.


  14. - Lucky Pierre - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:31 am:

    The fact that even modest tax on all retirement income is not on the table considering that most states tax this is a disgrace.

    We just continue to nickel and dime the poor and middle class to death


  15. - Chicagonk - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:32 am:

    It’s a good piece, but I’d be curious to see how long some of the people receiving $9,000 pensions worked for government.


  16. - KAY-ro - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:33 am:

    Using the median numbers for everyone EXCEPT public safety workers (a huge number of retirees with the most generous benefits) to make a conclusiong that benefits are low, IS A JOKE!

    What is the median correctional officer salary? State police salary? Police and fire???


  17. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:34 am:

    == There needs to be a graduated state tax on state pensions. I’m sure would poll off the charts throughout the state. ==

    Doesn’t matter how it would poll.

    Such a tax on ONLY State employee pensions would be found unconstitutional in a New York Minute.

    Now, if you want to tax ALL retirement income: public and private pensions, Social Security, IRA and 401K distributions, retirement annunities, etc., that would be legal.

    If you try to exclude Social Security, then you have have an equal treatment issue. Some state employees, mostly teachers, were not ALLOWED to pay into SS. They could most likely get it thrown out under both equal treatment and diminishment. Better to provide an exemption equal to the average SS payment or some fixed amount so most SS receipiants are not taxed.

    And you can’t impose a graduated tax on just one group. That would violate both equal treatment and the flat tax provision. If you want to move EVERYONE to a graduated income tax, I would go along with that. Just have to change the State Constitution first.


  18. - Honeybear - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:36 am:

    How many times have public servants taken beatings by the likes of Ron, Sue, Arizona Bob, etc because the BGAand others held off on revealing this till now. My tier 2 pension will not be much. I’ll hopefully hit the median for general state worker. I pay into it with every pay check.
    Stop making public servants the problem
    Made to be the sin eater for 4% of us who have 100k pensions maligns the good public servants like me who this state relies on to function

    Folks the workforce is collapsing
    I think this may be an indicator that the abusing republicans are starting to realize they can’t run anything with just superstars who show up late, take long lunches and expect others to produce while they masturbate over policy and economic theory.
    Way to many bull Ensigns out there


  19. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:36 am:

    == I just don’t see a future in which large numbers of voters clamor for increased taxes to pay the government pension tab. The anger will continue. ==

    The anger is misplaced. It should be directed at the politicians who shorted the pension systems off and on for over 100 years.


  20. - Norseman - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:37 am:

    RNUG, Well said!


  21. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:38 am:

    == Stiffing pensioners would be like stiffing bond holders, except that bond holders aren’t protected by that pesky constitution. ==

    Bondholders are protected by a continuing appropriation and, in some cases, specific dedicated revenue streams.


  22. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:43 am:

    Cassandra: work force may be pension free but not social security free. Plenty of people receiving state and police or school pensions paid into social security and have enough quarters to get social security but receive nothing and do not even get the money they paid n back


  23. - Mahna Anon - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:46 am:

    Its about time the BGA actually did some real analysis instead of simply creating misleading headlines to bolster fundraising efforts. Maybe they are finally coming around to reporting on good government?


  24. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:47 am:

    == I’d be curious to see how long some of the people receiving $9,000 pensions worked for government. ==

    I’ve made no secret that I was a well paid SPSA for most of my career with the State. I retired with about 36 years of service credit. My pension is way under $9,000 a month.

    Under normal conditions, to get that kind of pension as an employee, you had to be a doctor, a school administrator, the director of a major agency, or equivalent. And you probably put in close to the maximum 45 years (non-funding/safety).

    Or maybe a Legislator who worked the systems for maximum credit with a special bill …


  25. - Chicagonk - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:50 am:

    @RNUG - I’m referring to the $9,000 annual pension median referenced in the article. If the median was $9,000 a month, I would be quitting my private sector job today!!


  26. - Stuff Happens - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:56 am:

    What is a “six figure annual retirement payout” of $581,000? Is that number being paid to the same person annually as part of an annuity, or did they take a lump sum payout and roll it over into a 401K? Those are very different things.

    Honestly, the way things are going, I’m surprised we don’t see more people on portable plans moving everything into retirement plans that don’t have a risk of being legislated away. Maybe we’ll get a run on the bank with the next round of pension legislation.


  27. - Anonymous - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:57 am:

    wonder why there are no map grants
    wonder why they are not getting ipads
    wonder why the kids boo at commencement


  28. - Patagonia - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:08 am:

    I am one of those who paid into Social Security and will not get a full 35 years into the TRS system. We are currently paying federal taxes on my husband’s SS income (85% taxable) and when I do retire, my SS benefits will be cut by 60%. I will not be collecting 9K/month. I will be lucky to get 4K. This is not living “on the hog.”


  29. - Almost the Weekend - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:11 am:

    RNUG thank you. I didn’t say it was constitutional, but it is something that needs to be looked at with candidates for office and comments in this section supporting a graduated tax rate. Not one problem is going to fix the state especially after Rauner’s tenure.

    People also complain about lack of state workers per capita, tier 1 pensions is a large factor, but also can be contributed to politicians not making yearly pension contributions. The state employee tier 1/tier 2 civil war will be approaching down the road. It’s better to compromise now than it be a zero sum game.


  30. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:15 am:

    == What is a “six figure annual retirement payout” of $581,000? Is that number being paid to the same person annually as part of an annuity, or did they take a lump sum payout and roll it over into a 401K? ==

    It’s been a while since I looked at the database(s), but I believe that is an annual pension payment. It’s one of the high ones that is an outlier but also one that gets cherry picked as an example and gets people upset.

    All government pensions in the State are available online from different sources. Among others, the “Open the Books” group has them. It’s a mass of detail and not always easily analyzed or summarized.

    If you go to the 5 state pension funds web sites, you can pull up their annual reports. If you look in the statistical section, you can get a lot of the averages and means. They do not supply individual information.

    As Rich says, the Google is your friend.


  31. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:17 am:

    == @RNUG - I’m referring to the $9,000 annual pension median referenced in the article. If the median was $9,000 a month, I would be quitting my private sector job today!! ==

    If it was $9,000 annual, most likely they had the minimum 8 years of service time at an entry level salary.


  32. - titan - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:18 am:

    +++ - Chicagonk - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 10:32 am: It’s a good piece, but I’d be curious to see how long some of the people receiving $9,000 pensions worked for government. +++

    A 20 year person making about $26,000 a year would get a pension in that range. It isn’t an unusually low salary for a lot of downstate county workers.


  33. - Deadbeat Conservative - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:18 am:

    The pension envy hypocrisy has been promoted by executives lavished with multimillion dollar golden parachutes and their followers.
    It’s good to see some factual analysis for a change.


  34. - X-prof - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:25 am:

    State employees who contributed to social security through other employment and will get next to nothing back are ANGRY that we are subsidizing everyone else’s social security - grrrrrr !!! Let’s throw out the rule of law and let Rauner and his ilk set the citizens of IL against each other.

    \s


  35. - Anonymous - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:26 am:

    It’s as ignorant to cherry pick a pension of $581,000 and believe that many many retirees get a similar pension as it is ignorant to believe that since you work in the private sector, you must make a Bill Gates salary.


  36. - Anonymous - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:34 am:

    And, by the way, let’s tax ALL retirement income. Social Security, IRA’s 401Ks, 403b’s, pensions—-all of it.

    Wait a few seconds. Soon we’ll hear outrage from those who don’t have pensions as unfair!

    Hypocrisy is rich.


  37. - Pundent - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 11:42 am:

    =Nevertheless, in today’s pension-free work environment, any pension at all many seem like a luxury to many citizens.=

    You do realize that social security is essentially a pension. And the pensions that are received by state employees are in lieu of their participation in social security and 401k’s.

    Now if you want to do the math (as the BGA has finally done) to illustrate how the pension system is a “luxury” and then compare and contrast it to social security and a 401k have at it.


  38. - City Zen - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 1:07 pm:

    ==You do realize that social security is essentially a pension.==

    One based on decades of earnings, not just 4 or 5. There are a slew of other differences but I can assure you social security is not an Illinois state pension.

    =And the pensions that are received by state employees are in lieu of their participation in social security and 401k’s.==

    If they participated in social security, they would’ve deducted 6.2% of their salary. It’s not just an employer pick-up, you know.


  39. - HangingOn - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 1:21 pm:

    ==One based on decades of earnings, not just 4 or 5==

    You can’t get a pension after working 5 years for the state. I believe I was told 8 years minimum. Social Security is 10, yes, but that’s only 2 more years.

    And btw, I just looked at my SS page. Right now my benefits for SS would be higher than the pension I would get from the state. By $200 per month.


  40. - Stuff Happens - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 1:24 pm:

    =If they participated in social security, they would’ve deducted 6.2% of their salary. It’s not just an employer pick-up, you know

    True, many people in pension plans pay more. For example, SURS participants pay 8% every year. Although social security wasn’t always 6.2% — there were a couple of years (2011, 2012) where people enrolled in social security had their tax lowered to 4.2%. Pension plan participants didn’t get that benefit and continued to pay 8%.


  41. - Anonymous - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 1:47 pm:

    9% TRS. Even if you worked enough to earn Social security from non education jobs (summer jobs, part time jobs as most teachers do to supplement their income because as we all know—–it’s just extravagantly high), the Windfall Elimination and GOvernment Offset Provision prevent them from earning anything respectable from their Social Security earnings. Those earnings go into the pot for OTHERS. Wah. Hear us whining?

    My spouse collects $100/month. But we’re glad to help y’all out.


  42. - City Zen - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 1:58 pm:

    ==Even if you worked enough to earn Social security from non education jobs (summer jobs, part time jobs as most teachers do to supplement their income because as we all know—–it’s just extravagantly high), the Windfall Elimination and Government Offset Provision prevent them from earning anything respectable from their Social Security earnings==

    What exactly were these big time summer jobs? How much of their total wages does it account for? 10% 30%?

    I guess the question is, how much would you expect to receive in social security payments for a job that accounts for a small fraction of your total wages and career?


  43. - City Zen - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 2:02 pm:

    =You can’t get a pension after working 5 years for the state.==

    Never said that. Your pension is based on your earnings of your last 4-5 years worked. If I retired today (and I couldn’t), my social security calculation would include time spent at my high school job.

    ==SURS participants pay 8% every year. Although social security wasn’t always 6.2% — there were a couple of years (2011, 2012) where people enrolled in social security had their tax lowered to 4.2%. Pension plan participants didn’t get that benefit and continued to pay 8%==

    The pension systems also have different service years multipliers for those who pay into social security (1.67 vs 2.2).


  44. - walker - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 2:42 pm:

    Good piece. Doubek will bring credibility to BGA. She checks facts and sources, gets multiple views, brings a skeptical view — like any good long term reporter and news editor.


  45. - wordslinger - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 3:00 pm:

    –The median pension in 2017 for retired suburban and Downstate teachers stands at $52,016, the analysis shows, while the median for general state workers is $28,946. For university workers, the median pension stands at $26,101, while for non-public safety municipal workers outside of Chicago it is $9,064.–

    After a lifetime of work, as part of your deal from the beginning.

    The dishonesty among the hysterics on this issue has always been disgusting.


  46. - Ron - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 3:24 pm:

    Social Security can and is changed. Not so Illinois pensions. Very big difference.


  47. - Retired SURS Employee - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 3:32 pm:

    -Social Security can and is changed. Not so Illinois pensions. Very big difference.-
    What’s your point? That the Illinois Constitution should be ignored?


  48. - CapnCrunch - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 3:46 pm:

    “The anger is misplaced. It should be directed at the politicians who shorted the pension systems off and on for over 100 years.”

    That comment succinctly and completely explains the situation.

    But we don’t have to look back past FY2000. According to the Attorney General’s brief defending the pension cutback law, in FY2000 the systems were approximately 75% funded, the unfunded liability was $15 billion and the projected 2013 unfunded liability was $26 billion, essentially unchanged from FY1990. But when June 30, 2013 arrived the systems were 41% funded and the unfunded liability was $99 billion or four times the projected figure in just 13 years. The drastic fall in the funded ratio and the rapid growth of the unfunded liability has occurred since FY2000.


  49. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 4:00 pm:

    == The drastic fall in the funded ratio and the rapid growth of the unfunded liability has occurred since FY2000. ==

    As for the most recent decade plus, that is true. As I’m sure you know, there were multiple causes and guilty parties.

    I wasn’t going to go into all the details, but at one time they were 90% or better funded for a short period. Then the State acted like a business trying to maximize profits and minimize expenses, and starting really shorting payments.

    If we want to back up to around FY68 / FY 69, the funding ratio then was about 40%. That level is what led to the introduction of the Pension Clause. And even with that, there still wasn’t a consistent funding process until the Edgar Ramp (flawed as it is) was adopted.


  50. - CapnCrunch - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 4:16 pm:

    “I wasn’t going to go into all the details….”

    No need to, you’re much more knowledgeable about this stuff than I am.


  51. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 4:19 pm:

    == Your pension is based on your earnings of your last 4-5 years worked. ==

    It is a bit more complicated. The rules vary according to which system you are in, and whether or not you are coordinated. Taking coordinated SERS as an example, the pension is figured on the average of the highest 48 consecutive months of the last 120 months worked. Generally, but not always, this is the last 4 years worked.

    == If I retired today (and I couldn’t), my social security calculation would include time spent at my high school job.==

    Maybe, maybe not; it is a bit more complicated than that. They use the highest 20 years, after adjusting the earnings for inflation.


  52. - Demoralized - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 4:39 pm:

    ==I can assure you social security is not an Illinois state pension==

    Nor should the two ever be compared.


  53. - RNUG - Thursday, May 25, 17 @ 5:03 pm:

    == Social Security can and is changed. ==

    Ron, here’s a free history lesson or two.

    When I grew up, retirement planning was described as a 3 legged stool: employer pension, personal savings, and Social Security.

    Social Security is not, and never was, designed to be a pension. It was designed as a social welfare system to supplement, repeat, supplement a worker’s pension and personal savings.

    The “pension” portion of it is designed to help the low wage earner. A worker earns the over half of all their pension benefit with the first 20% or so of their contributions. This is deliberate; to provide a minimum standard of living to workers too poor to save for retirement.

    Social Security is also a multi-year insurance program. It provides a minimum level of support for the disabled (work related or otherwise). It also has a dependent / survivor benefit intended to,again, supplement private insurance. In other words, it supports kids who lose a parent until they (more or less) reach adulthood and can support themselves. It also helps a surviving spouse, especially one who has never worked.

    And if you go back into history, Social Security has been a string of broken promises. They would never tax more than x amount of wages. They would never tax the actual benefit received. Etc., Etc.

    But, again, Social Security was never intended to replace a pension.


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