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Should Illinois lawmakers accept pensions for part-time work?

By   /   February 18, 2013  /   1 Comment

KATHLEEN WILLIS: Among many state lawmakers who said no thanks to a pension.

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 And sadly workers themselves are poorly served by this outdated notion that an employer can predict the future and guarantee a certain retirement payout .They are much better off with a defined-contribution plan like a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 sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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  • Pieman211

    The question should be…..Why would they even be offered a pension!!!! The deserves what it is going to get. Idiots!!!

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