By Scott Reeder | Special to Watchdog.org
All too often here in the Land of Lincoln, our political leaders fail to lead by example.
The state’s pensions are underfunded to the tune of more than $200 billion, under new accounting standards. And yet one the first acts most lawmakers take after getting elected is to sign themselves up for a state pension.
Interestingly enough, a large number of this year’s freshman class of lawmakers have vowed not to accept pensions for themselves.
“I want to lead by example,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills. “It’s a part-time job and I don’t think legislators should get pensions for a part-time job.”
Twenty-two state lawmakers, most of whom entered office this year, refuse to participate in the General Assembly Retirement System.
“This is not a career for me. I have a 401(k) and other retirement planning that I have done for myself,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville. “I don’t plan on spending a career over in Springfield. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.”
It all comes down to the mindset of the lawmaker said State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.
“If you are a politician, you may want to participate; but if you are a public servant you don’t want to,” he said. “I can understand pensions for policemen and firemen and people who are providing public services. But when you get in the area of politics that’s a different area. I’ve never understood why we pay pensions to government officials. It is not a career. Or at least it shouldn’t be a career. Much to my dismay, a lot of people make it a career because the state pension for the General Assembly is so lucrative.”
While Kay’s sentiments on public service are noble, a question worth asking is whether pensions are appropriate for rank-and-file workers?
After all, today’s state fiscal crisis should be Exhibit 1 for how pensions are bad for taxpayers. And sadly workers themselves are poorly served by this outdated notion that an employer can predict the future and guarantee a certain retirement payout .They are much better off with a defined-contribution plan like a 401k.
The 22 members rejecting pensions for themselves represent only 12 percent of all state lawmakers.
But state Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, said that it is a growing trend noting that just a few people in his freshman class two years ago refused pensions.
“It was hard to be one of the first people to step out and refuse a pension,” he said. “Now that a few of us did it in our class, it’s easier for this freshman class.”
But not everyone in the General Assembly sees a problem with lawmakers receiving a pension.
“Is there something wrong with me taking a pension? Hell, no!” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. “If you don’t offer pensions or some type of compensation, the only people who will run for office are rich people. I won’t fault any of my colleagues who refuse their pensions … But I’ll tell you this – there are some that don’t deserve to get paid because they aren’t worth a penny. And they would probably say the same about me.”
According to information provided by the General Assembly Retirement System, these serving state legislators have chosen not to receive pensions. Congratulate them for doing the right thing:
Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Charleston
Rep. Christopher Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville
Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon
Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton
Rep. John Cabello, R-Rockford
Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka
Rep. Katherine Cloonen, D-Kankakee
Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison
Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park
Rep. Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines
Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake
Rep. Pam Roth, R-Morris
Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora
Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur
Rep. Thomas Morrison, R-Palatine
Sen. Andrew Manar, D-Staunton
Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville
Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield
Rep. Ronald Sandack, R-Downers Grove
Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park
Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-South Elgin
Lawmakers can drop out of the pension system at any point in their first 24 months of service. These freshman state lawmakers now are in the pension system, but still have the option of dropping out:
Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield
Sen. Napoleon Harris, III, D-Flossmoor
Sen. Michael E. Hastings, D-Matteson
Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Crest Hill
Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-North Aurora
Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford
Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago
Rep. Deborah Conroy, D-Villa Park
Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Rochelle
Rep. Marcus C. Evans, Jr., D-Chicago
Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview
Rep. Frances Ann Hurley, D-Chicago
Rep. Natalie A. Manley, D-Joliet
Rep. Robert F. Martwick, D-Chicago
Rep. Charles E. Meier, R-Okawville
Rep. Christian L. Mitchell, D-Chicago
Rep. Elgie R. Sims Jr., D-Chicago
Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Port Byron
Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Garfield Ridge
Rep. Lawrence M. Walsh Jr., D- Joliet
Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-West Chester
Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Fox Lake
Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Hainesville
Scott Reeder is a senior contributing editor to Watchdog.org, veteran statehouse reporter and journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. Readers can subscribe to his free reports from the Springfield by going to ILNEWS.ORG Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.