April 4, 2011's Rockford Register-Star
Hard to remember the last time I bought a newspaper on a newsstand. I think it was while we were in West Virginia.
Monday, when I was in Belvidere, I saw the Rockford Register-Star story above about the the Winnebago County Board’s having voted to give up their pensions and now urging other part-time politicians to do the same.
Of course, you aren’t eligible to get a public pension if you don’t have a salary, so they’re not talking about school board members, the people who control most of the local tax dollars.
But, county board and township board members are paid, so they qualify.
I’d link to the article, but the story is not on the internet.
The other reason I had to buy the paper to show it to you.
Look above the story.
“PRINT EXCLUSIVE – NOT AVAILABLE FREE ONLINE“
But the price for this weekday paper was $1. You can bet I debated whether it was worth the price.
So, why would county board members want a pension.
As I have stated before, there are three basic motivations for seeking public office. “The three P’s,” was the way the Field Director of the Republican National Committee put it in an Illinois College campaign school during the summer of 1968:
The first two are self-explanatory. The third is about money. That could come in the form of salary, pension, more law, insurance or other business. Might even be bribes for some.
When I ran for McHenry County Treasurer, although the salary of $10,000 in 1966 was higher than my entry level management intern $7,500 compensation in the United States Bureau of the Budget, money wasn’t the motivation.
Getting involved in elective politics was.
I didn’t even participate in the pension system (IMRF) as Treasurer until a couple of years into my four-year term. I guess twenty-somethings this didn’t thin.
When I ran for state representative six years later, I knew the salary was $17,500 a year, but I’m not sure it was set prior to the primary election filing date. Again, it was not the motivating factor. I guess prestige was the prime motivator at that point. That and having the ability to do something about the ideas in my “Needed Legislation” file.
I had not a clue what the legislative pension system was all about.
I didn’t even transfer my Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund credits at first. Then I figured out it was too good a deal to pass up.
And that brings me to the point of this article.
Any0ne who is any public pension fund can transfer his years of credits to a pension fund with better benefits than his own.
The article points out that dropping county board pensions is not a big money saver.
The IMRF benefits for a county board member, unless he or her is a highly paid board chairman can’t be that good. I’ve lost track, but I think one has to be in the system 40 years to obtain the maximum benefit. That’s in addition to Social Security, if I read the IMRF web site correctly. You can read the top 25 local IMRF pensions here.
IMRF is financial sound because when I was County Treasurer, its Board of Directors embarked on a 40-year plan to make it so.
Unlike state government, its local government members–primarily municipal, county and township governments–following the plan.
But, let’s get back to the county board or township board members, city councilmen or village board members who would be the major beneficiaries of earning years of pension credits at the relatively low salary of a McHenry County Board member. The county salary is about $20,000 a year.
Who is that person?
It’s the one or two or three who might end up winning a much higher paying elective office.
Countywide offices in McHenry County now pay in the $100,000 range, much higher if one is a law enforcement officer or a judge.
Are you a lawyer and aspire to be a judge?
Serve on a low-paying village board for a number of years first. That puts you closer to the 20-year (maybe it’s been changed now) minimum service for a maximum pension.
And those within the Republican political community know there are County Board members who would love to replace County Clerk Kathie Schultz and Recorder of Deeds Phyllis Walters when they decided to retire.
So, will the McHenry County Board decide to strip future members of pensions and the very valuable fringe benefit of health insurance for themselves and their families?
The Rockford Register-Star spent a lot of work to prepare this chart of local governments providing elected officials public pensions.
As all of you should know this retired legislator receives a generous pension. I thank you for that.
The low budget campaign for County Treasurer featured this Mimeographed pole signs.
It is based on four years of being County Treasurer when my salary was marginally lower than a state legislator, four years in the state bureaucracy when I was earning more that a state legislator, but still paying into that pension system and sixteen years in the Illinois House of Representatives, during which time the base salary for pretty much all but freshmen members was boosted by being a committee chairman or minority spokesman (of the Appropriations Committee that handled the highway budget the last six years).
That’s twenty-four years of pension credits.
I remember one discussion with the late Doug Hoeft of Elgin, who was my age and understood the pension system much better than I. A former educator, he took me though the calculations of retiring after having twenty years of pension credit.
The pension was based on 85% of a legislator’s final salary before one retired. If a legislator got a higher paying job after leaving the General Assembly, that post’s final salary became the base against which 85% was multiplied. There were some real abuses, as you can see from this article:
Pension Winners in the General Assembly Retirement System
Cal Skinner, Jr., campaigning in DeKalb. Photo by Robin Geist.
I didn’t make the top 50 in the pension system article above, but mine is generous at $76,377 last year, according to my income tax form.
How did it get to be more than I was ever paid as a state representative?
Part of it is the 3% so-called Cost of Living increase each July 1st. All retired employees (except IMRF retirees, a commenter notes below) receive that, regardless of system. Newly hired public employees will not, it is my understanding. (Maybe some public employee who is not yet retired can explain the changes the legislature passed last year in the comment section below.)
But there was something else I was unaware of until after I lost the primary election in 2000.
For those who retiring legislators who had more than twenty years of pension credits, I learned, there was a boost of one’s pension after one year. It was a sizable one which I can’t check out as I am writing and posting it because it is Saturday.
Didn’t make much sense, but I can pretty much assure you I didn’t vote for it. At least if it passed after 1975.
In sixteen years I served (73-81, 93-01), I remember voting for only one legislative pension bill and that was in my first session. I didn’t understand it, but I remember C.L. McCormick, the Vienna Republican in Paul Powell’s old three-member district telling me it was OK to vote “Yes.”
There was one other reason I bought Monday’s Rockford Register-Star. The paper is obviously trying to provide value to those who subscribe or purchase news stand copies that internet readers do not receive.
I wonder if it is the paper’s policy to try to do a story like this every week.
If so, that takes a lot of effort.