Our state government is in financial trouble. Illinois, like many other states, is trying to find ways to plug budget holes and scrounge up a few dollars to fund the essential programs. (of course they’re still funding the Chicago Memory Bridge and similar programs, but the essential stuff is in trouble).
One (of the many) areas of the budget that is draining our state coffers is the pension fund. And a large portion of the pension fund is being paid out to retired elected officials. An article in the Peoria Journal Star listed some of the biggest pension recipients. For example:
U.S. Senator Roland Burris is currently receiving a pension of $121,747 for his time in office as Illinois state comptroller and attorney general. He has received $1.4 million in retirement payouts since 1995.
Dawn Clark Netsch, another Democrat former state comptroller is receiving $114,733 a year.
But the problem isn’t limited to Democrats. Republican Judy Baar Topinka gets an annual pension of $141,482 from her time as state treasurer.
So what can we DO about these outrageous pensions? Probably nothing for the existing pensions. Once a pension is earned and retirement started, it’s very difficult to reduce or eliminate the entitlement. If I had the time and the money to hire an attorney, I’d try to find a way to cut them, but I suspect it wouldn’t be successful.
But what we can do is eliminate pensions for all future elected officials. The advantages to this are many.
First and foremost, the direct cost of running the government would be reduced by the pension amounts and by the costs of administering a pension program for elected officials.
There are no thorny legal issues with having an employment agreement which does not include a pension arrangement. No one can sue for losing a pension that they never had to begin with.
Elimination of the pensions would also remove one of the incentives for people to become lifetime politicians rather than citizen legislators.
Politicians would have to learn to plan for their own retirements and put away money for the future like the rest of us do. This attitude in their private lives might just rub off into their thinking for public spending (I know, too much to hope for).
For candidates that advocate a cut off of the pensions, this is a political win. Voters don’t LIKE seeing ex-pols receiving pensions that are 3-4 times what the average worker earns. Hired state workers will like the idea because they RELY on the pension plans. The politicians are currently draining the funds making the future of their own payments less stable. Removing the politicians’ fingers from the pool will make their own future more certain.
I attended a meeting of local Tea Party organizers this past Saturday. They will be trying to get a ballot initiative together so that voters can stop pensions for elected officials. I hope they are successful and will help them all I can.
This is an issue that needs addressed, either by the legislature or by citizen action.