Sillicorn vows not to accept legislative pension
With Illinois entering its 10th straight month without a budget and with statewide elections coming up in November, Allen Skillicorn, Republican candidate in state House District 66, says the root of the crisis lies with the state employee pension program.
“Unfortunately, we have overpromised and underdelivered," Skillicorn recently told the McHenry Times. “We have overpromised with too generous (pension) benefits and we underdelivered with the actuaries in funding them. It’s a combination of the politicians and the union bosses working together to give away promises that are unrealistic."
With unfunded pension liability approaching $120 million, Illinois ranks last in the nation when it comes to pension liabilities. Under the current arrangement, there are roughly 213,000 state retirees, and more than half of them can expect to receive lifetime pension benefits of more than $1 million. Approximately 40,000 of them (18 percent) can expect to receive $2 million or more in benefits over the course of their lives.
Illinois is one of just 12 states that do not tax retirement income and is one of only seven states that constitutionally protect its pensions, according to the Civic Federation.
There are five state-government worker pension funds that cover teachers, university employees, state workers, judges and politicians; and the dollar amounts for the top pensioners in these programs are staggering, according to the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI). In the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), for example, the top 10 beneficiaries can currently expect to receive an average of $8.36 million in lifetime benefits with an age at retirement of 66.8. The SURS’s top pensioner, Leslie Heffez, can expect to receive nearly $18 million in total benefits.
Workers in the private sector, on the other hand, with average Social Security benefits, can expect to realize approximately $400,000 in lifetime benefits.
Taxpayers United reports that more than 8,500 members of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System alone receive pensions in excess of $100,000 per year. These employees pay an estimated 4.1 percent of their lifetime earnings into the system - the remaining 95.9 percent of pension funding comes from Illinois taxpayers. Right now, a quarter of every state dollar in the general fund must go to pensions, and that rate will continue for the next 30 years.
Legislators in Illinois have a good deal themselves. Members may "retire" at age 55 with eight years of service and at age 62 with four years of service. Although these positions are generally considered to be "part-time" public service jobs, taxpayers doled an estimated $15.8 million in lawmaker pension funds last year. That’s an average of nearly $72,000 for each legislator in the General Assembly, according to OpenTheBooks.com. IPI estimates for the year placed the figure at $99,000 per seat. The state comptroller’s transparency database indicates that the base salary for lawmakers was $66,277 in 2014.
Unlike other state plans, future pensions for Illinois legislators are not protected under the law and are not locked into place for decades to come. Legislators could get to the task of reducing or eliminating them as early as January.
“There is no contractual or constitutional issue with (members of) the legislature undoing their own pension system," Skillicorn said. “The legislators do not have a labor union, the legislators actually have the ability to control both their salaries and their pensions.”
If elected, Skillicorn plans to introduce a bill to eliminate new pensions for legislators.
Skillicorn emphasizes that the key to the reform of legislative pensions depends upon public awareness of the issue.
“What would have to happen is that reform legislators like myself need to contact the media and get this in the news”, Skillicorn said. “The more we talk about it the more they will be forced to deal with the issue. We need to shame legislators into doing the right thing” he said.
Skillicorn is one of many candidates who have pledged not to accept any pension benefits resulting from future service in the state legislature.