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Is wave of lawmaker retirements an argument for term limits?

Illinois News Network (IPI)

Monday, September 18, 2017  |  Article  |  By Benjamin Yount | Illinois News Network

Election Issues (not candidates) (39) , Legislature (56) McCarter, Kyle--State Senate, 54
You might think that 20 percent turnover of the Illinois legislature would be an argument against term limits.

But State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said the wave of retirement announcements is actually the case for limiting legislative terms.

Term limits "check the motivation why people serve," McCarter said. "Do they serve just for their pension? Or do they serve for the good of their constituents to change the trajectory of the state?"

Twenty-four lawmakers to date have either resigned already or said won't seek re-election next year. Their average term in Springfield is just nine years. It only takes eight years to get a guaranteed legislative pension.

"If there is a set term to serve, more people would get in for the right reasons," McCarter said. "They'd be more motivated to do what's best for the people rather than what's in the best interest of their power, position, and their pension."

McCarter is leaving after eight years because he set his own term limit. He says he regrets not opting out of the legislature's pension system, which has just 13 percent of the money needed to cover the promised retirement checks for current and former lawmakers.

Illinois lawmakers must opt out of the pension system in their first 24 months, or they are locked in for life.

McCarter said he "has plans" for his post legislative career, and may even run for another office.

He says has no fear of facing voters again. But McCarter said 18 of the 24 lawmakers who are leaving office voted for the 32 percent income tax increase. They do have something to to fear from voters, he said. And that may be one reason why so many pro-tax hike Republican lawmakers are leaving next year.

"It was an insult. The people were betrayed," McCarter said. "The [Republicans] who voted for the tax increase gave up."

Of the 11 Republican lawmakers who won't return to the Illinois General Assembly next year, six of them voted for the tax increase. Only four voted "No." Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno retired before the Senate could vote.

All but one Democrat who is retiring voted for the tax hike, State Rep. Emily McCasey resigned about a month before the vote.