Baby step on public pensions

Baby step on public pensions

Illinois faces a long, difficult road ahead in addressing its widespread public pension woes.

There's a reason why many of Illinois' public pension systems — including each of the state's pension systems — are financial basket cases.

And it's not just because the overseers of these pensions have failed to meet their fiduciary responsibility of properly funding them.

There has also been the pervasive problem of ill-advised early-retirement incentives that include unjustified end-of-career raises that cause pension benefits to soar, unaffordable cost-of-living increases as well as the run-of-the-mill plundering that goes with individuals' ceaseless efforts to feather their own nests at public expense.

The state is hopelessly behind in trying to police this activity. That's why the pension for Harvey firefighters will go bankrupt in a couple of years and, in the process, raise the question of who will pay for it.

That's why any victory — however small — in the fight for pension solvency is worthy of celebration and the declaration that "it's about time."

Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that "prevents retired police officers from opting into the pension system a second time if they return to the force as police chief or join another municipality's force."

Readers got that right. The state passed legislation that bars police officers from getting two pensions from the same system for doing the same job.

It seems a Naperville police chief was accruing new pension benefits while simultaneously being paid a salary of "over $168,000 and collecting payments from his first pension," according to the governor's office.

Let's see now — that's $168,000 in pay while collecting pension benefits from past work as a police officer while earning future benefits from a second pension.

The mind reels at the creativity and nerve of those who seek out and find the kind of loopholes that are present in pension system rules. They seem to have been written in a manner that encourages those in the know to feast at the public trough.

In the future, according to the legislation, police officers in the same boat as the Naperville chief will not be able to draw a second pension. Instead, they can "enroll in a 401(k)-style retirement plan."

That seems more than fair. Many people in the private sector do not have access to any pension plans, let alone multiple pensions. All they have is a 401(k) or some equivalent alternative.

The fact is, however, that this kind of double-dipping is pervasive throughout government in Illinois, and it ought to be ended. There's no reason why public employees can't be limited to one pension and a 401(k) option if they retire from one public job and take another.

Another reform would be establishing more realistic retirement ages. Retiring at age 50 at a time when life expectancy dramatically exceeds that number is unrealistic, both financially and in comparison to Social Security's full retirement age of 65-plus.

It's easy to understand why many people would like to retire in the prime of their lives. But let them do it on their own dime rather than rely on the taxpayers for supporting them for decades.

That's a tougher political fight than it ought to be, as state Sen. Michael Connelly noted.

"Illinois' pensions are in dire need of repair as our pension liabilities at both the state and local levels continue to rack up. While I recognize that many changes need to occur within the current system, this law at least gets us going in the right direction," he said.

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Homeboy wrote on September 04, 2017 at 5:09 pm

"That seems more than fair. Many people in the private sector do not have access to any pension plans, let alone multiple pensions. All they have is a 401(k) or some equivalent alternative." You forgot all they have is a 401(k) AND social security. State retirement pensions and teachers pensions DON,T get any social security. Always trying to spin it.

chief1 wrote on September 04, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Spin???  How about this. Private sector does get social security starting at age 62 with a reduced amount. Public sector gets earlier.  Yes we have a 401k option that can be contributed to just like a 403b that public sector gets. So private sector gets pension with a guaranteed increase compounded annually with the option to get well before age 62 and can contribute to a 403b.  Private sector gets social security and the option for a 401k and can retire at age 59.5 at the earliest but must still wait till 62 before you can get social security which neither gives a guaranteed increase. Want to trade???