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Reports: Growing number of $100,000-plus public pensions in Illinois cost taxpayers

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Tuesday, October 30, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Legislature (56) , Pensions (70)
Two recent studies of public sector pay and retirement benefits show tens of thousands of retired Illinois public employees making six-figures or more in all levels of government, dwarfing figures from states with more people.

Two organizations that reviewed and released the information hope it encourages taxpayers to seek change.

Illinois has more than $130 billion in unfunded pension debt for its five state-run pension systems. Adding in other post employment benefits, that number climbs to more than $200 billion. Municipal governments in Illinois also are struggling with unfunded pension liability. Some report using most, if not all, of their share of property taxes to pay pension costs.

Taxpayers United of America said Illinois’ public sector pension plans are too expensive. To highlight the problem, its annual pension report of all public employees in Illinois shows nearly 19,500 government retirees getting a pension of $100,000 or more. That’s 2,500 more retirees than last year.

The group's founder, Jim Tobin, said that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“The pensions are just out of line,” he said. “We’ve got one guy here who’s getting an annual pension of almost $600,000 a year and he’ll get $22 million if he lives to be 85. It’s ridiculous.”

OpenTheBooks.com founder Adam Andrzejewski said Illinois has more educators in the so-called $100,000 Club than more populous Texas, which has 7,300 educators making that much or more.

“Just on salaries, Illinois has nearly 20,000, so it’s three times worse, yet Texas has twice the population,” Andrzejewski said.

Andrzejewski’s research shows overall, 23,000 retirees got $100,000 or more in annual pension payments. Adding in the 71,000 employees at every level of government making at least that much in pay, and the number is 94,000 current public employees or pensioners making $100,000 or more a year. That costs taxpayers $12 billion a year.

There were also private associations Andrzejewski’s research highlights where it’s employees are getting big payouts.

“Two of the highest earners within the municipal pension system work for private associations – not government,” the report said, showing two park district association officials making more than $320,000 a year. “These private nonprofits muscled their way into the government system, and their huge salaries will guarantee lavish taxpayer-funded pensions.”

Then there are double dippers, including a former governor.

“Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar double dipped the Illinois General Assembly pension ($166,000 per year), the State University Retirement System pension ($83,000 per year), and was hired back ‘part time’ by the University of Illinois for another $62,769,” Andrzejewski’s report said. “In total, Edgar pulled down more than $311,000 last year – in addition to the $2.4 million in compensation from the University of Illinois (2000-2013) and another $2 million in pension payments already paid-out from his 20-year career as legislator, secretary of state and governor.”

The Taxpayers United of America report found there are two pensioners making $500,000 or more a year. Nine retirees are getting in excess of $400,000 a year in pensions, 42 make $300,000 or more a year. From there, the numbers climb. More than 440 government retirees make $200,000 or more a year. More than 19,480 government retirees make $100,000 a year while the bulk, 107,092, make more than $50,000 in annual pensions.

The average total public sector pension payout for a lifetime, according to Taxpayers United of America, is $1.45 million in Illinois while the average retirement age almost 61 years old.

“We have to work into our 60s and 70s so these people can retire in their 50s and 60s on these ridiculous exorbitant pensions which is nothing short of legalized theft,” Tobin said.

Even more stark is what Taxpayers United of America reports employee withholdings deposited into the various funds, or $1.9 billion, compared with the $8.7 billion taxpayers pay into the funds.

“Nowhere is that available in the private sector,” Tobin said. “It’s just something that doesn’t happen, but it happens here in Illinois every time people get into these government pensions wherever they are in the state of Illinois.”

Tobin said all government new hires must be put in self-managed plans and the state constitution should be changed to allow diminishment of benefits.

Andrzejewski said “it’s time to slap a pay cap on the highly compensated public employees at every level of Illinois government.”

“People need to raise their voice, they need to give public comment, they need to start holding their elected officials accountable for tax and spend decisions,” Andrzejewski said.

The exorbitant pay and benefits is unsustainable, he said, and it takes resources away from other government services.