Editorial | Pension bonanza

Editorial | Pension bonanza

Huge pensions make life after politics lush.

Former Democratic state Rep. Daniel Burke was unceremoniously tossed out of office last year by the residents of his increasingly Hispanic Chicago district.

But not to worry; Burke, like many politicians in Illinois, is enjoying a soft landing on a big pile of cash — courtesy of Chicago and Illinois taxpayers.

Burke is just the latest politician to enjoy what can only be described as incredibly generous pension largesse.

It's just another sad example of how the political class takes care of itself. It ought to outrage every citizen in this state, because Burke's pension is both excessive and unaffordable.

Here's Burke situation.

The brother of indicted Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, he's a scion of a longtime political family.

The 67-year-old Burke served in the Illinois House for nearly 30 years, one of House Speaker Michael Madigan's close associates. In addition to that supposedly full-time job, Burke had another supposedly full-time job as a deputy city clerk. He held the clerk's position for roughly 25 years before retiring at age 52 with an annual pension of $58,000.

Thanks to cost-of-living increases, Burke's city pension now stands at $86,000, according to news reports.

Burke was paid a legislative salary of roughly $85,000 a year. He stands to collect a starting legislative pension of roughly $73,000.

For those keeping score, his two pensions add up to $159,000 — for now.

But thanks to some pension shenanigans written into law by former Senate President Emil Jones, Burke and others who have served more than 20 years in the Legislature will get even more.

The legislative change essentially lifted the practice of basing a legislative pension on a 20-year limit. Now it just continues to go up.

So Burke's current legislative pension will jump from $73,000 to $92,000 in 2020.

For those keeping score, his two pensions then will add up to at least $178,000.

Here's something else to consider: Burke's legislative pension of $92,000 in 2020 will exceed his $85,000 legislative salary in 2018.

It's a sweet deal that keeps getting sweeter — Burke can count on annual pension increases of 3 percent a year. He'll be up to $200,000-plus a year in no time.

Looking at those numbers, it's perfectly clear why Burke and his associates consider politics to be an avocation for friends and family to pursue.

Burke is openly grateful for his good fortune, but still less than forthright.

"I didn't create the law, but I'm certainly very grateful to participate in it," he said.

Actually, Illinois politicians do write the pension laws for public employees. That's why they are so incredibly generous, to the point that they make no financial sense.

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that this state's public-pension systems are in deep financial trouble. Experts estimated a total underfunding of roughly $134 billion last year, up from $130 billion the year before and expected to continue to go up at a dramatic rate.

Indeed, Illinois is drowning in debt, much of it due to the wholesale mismanagement of public-pension funds by elected officials.

Between promising too much to public employees and contributing too little, Illinois has dug itself a hole that appears inescapable, all so politicians like Burke and others can live like kings.

What can't last forever won't — at least, that's what sensible economists say. But until the whole system comes crashing down, taxpayers will have to make larger and larger contributions to public-pension systems that will crowd out funding for core public services.

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his inaugural address a couple weeks ago, he was candid about Illinois' financial problems with one exception. He mentioned nary a word about the pension dilemma or people like Burke who profit from it at the expense of the taxpayers who fund it.

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