Illinois Can Eliminate Legislative Pensions

 In Illinois, Karina Villa, Pension

Illinois State CapitolMy opponent already receives a taxpayer-funded pension and will receive another taxpayer-funded pension if elected.

Karina Villa will receive two pensions paid for by you, the taxpayer.

Change starts with leadership. That’s why I refused a pension as a DuPage County Board Member and signed a pledge to refuse a pension as a State Representative.

I’m going to Springfield to fix the problems, not add to them.


The following article originally appeared in the Daily Herald:

Commentary: Yes, Illinois can eliminate legislative pensions

It’s naive to think Illinois will ever see real pension reform. At least not as long as state politicians continue to get big pensions from the same retirement plans they’re supposed to fix.

It’s a clear conflict of interest.

If Illinoisans ever want to see change, they’ll have to demand an end to legislative pensions. Fortunately, the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

Conflicts of interest are inherent everywhere in government and business. It’s why investment bankers can’t trade in the stocks of companies they advise. And why managers in corporations aren’t allowed to supervise family members.

But in Illinois, overly generous pensions have helped turn part-time lawmakers into self-interested career politicians — making much-needed pension reform difficult.

Illinois pension obligation growthJust look at the lifetime pensions some recent retirees can expect for having worked part time in the legislature for 20 years: Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, $2.5 million. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, $2 million. Sen. Kirk Dillard, $2.4 million. Those amounts are based on normal life expectancies.

The state’s ex-governors also can’t escape the conflict-of-interest question. Jim Edgar created the much-maligned 1996 pension ramp, and Pat Quinn borrowed billions in pension obligation bonds, a flawed strategy. And yet they, too, can expect $4.6 million and $3 million, respectively.

It’s no wonder Illinois lawmakers are so beholden to the status quo.

The good news is there’s a trend Illinoisans can leverage: Legislators have begun refusing pensions. It all started when Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, while on the campaign trail in 2010 said he’d reject a pension. He felt he couldn’t credibly promise his constituents he’d reform pensions while benefiting from one, too. “If I had remained in the system, I would have been seen as part of the problem. I had to opt out.”

Today, 50 current legislators — nearly 30 percent of Illinois’ legislature — have already opted out of the pension plan, according to the retirement system’s records.

That includes 37 Republicans and 13 Democrats, from the conservative Morrison to the progressive Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill.

Wirepoints launched an initiative in August to encourage legislative candidates to pledge to refuse a pension. So far, 15 legislative candidates across the state have signed that pledge to refuse a pension, if elected.

Illinois capital springfield

Photo by Yinan Chen

The other good news: Ending pensions for current and future politicians is entirely within the General Assembly’s control. There are no unions to block the way. No low-income workers to be considered. It’s just politicians and their pensions.

The transition away from pensions is simple. Lawmakers keep the benefits they’ve already earned, but going forward they’ll contribute to Social Security and/or a deferred compensation plan.

Getting the remaining politicians to give up their pensions won’t be easy, though. Illinoisans will have to pressure those legislators that want to keep their pensions. Fortunately, politicians have given their constituents plenty of ammunition.

For starters, lawmakers have failed miserably at their jobs. They haven’t balanced the budget in nearly two decades. They’ve created the nation’s worst pension crisis, as reported by Moody’s Investors Service. And they’re ultimately responsible for the net loss of 1.4 million Illinoisans to domestic outmigration since 2000, according to U.S. census data. All that has left the state at the brink of a junk credit rating. Lawmakers simply don’t deserve pensions.

Pension Debt IllinoisThen there’s the fact that Illinois legislative work is meant to be part time. Yet most politicians have private-sector jobs — including House Speaker Michael Madigan’s infamous position as a property tax lawyer. Despite that, lawmakers treat their part-time political work as if it were a full-time job — and grant themselves generous compensation to match.

And most embarrassingly, at just 15 percent funded, the lawmaker pension plan is just plain broke. Without taxpayer bailouts, the fund would run out of assets in less than three years, based on data from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The stage is set for ending lawmaker pensions entirely. The legislators and candidates who’ve already rejected a pension are growing in number.

The hard part for Illinois’ remaining politicians will be voluntarily overcoming their own self-interest. If they won’t, the next step is for Illinoisans to shame them into doing what’s right.

Ted Dabrowski is president of Wirepoints, an independent research, commentary and news organization. John Klingner is a policy analyst at Wirepoints.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 12, 2018, and was written by Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner.


Tonia Khouri for State Representative 49th District


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