Hastert will continue receiving $28K pension from Illinois lawmakers’ pension fund
Despite being sentenced to 15 months in prison for a financial crime intended to cover up his sexual abuse of high school students, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert will continue to receive $28,000 annual pension payments for his six years as an Illinois state representative.
Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert will continue receiving pension payments from the Illinois General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, despite having been sentenced to prison April 27 for a financial crime stemming from Hastert’s cover-up of his sexual abuse of high school wrestlers he coached, according to Reuters.
Hastert served six years as a representative in the Illinois House during the 1980s and receives an annual pension payment of $28,025. The former U.S. House speaker has already received $420,524 in pension payments from GARS, though he contributed only $19,805 to his GARS retirement fund.
Despite the 2010 financial crime to which he pleaded guilty and his admitted sexual abuse of high school students, GARS has no plans to end Hastert’s pension payments because the crimes occurred outside of Hastert’s service in the General Assembly and “couldn’t be related to his role as an elected official,” according to Timothy Blair, executive secretary for GARS.
By contrast, the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System has terminated the $16,622 annual pension payments Hastert was receiving as a retired Yorkville High School teacher and coach. Illinois law prohibits retired teachers from receiving pension payments if they commit felonies related to their work as educators.
State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, has called for GARS to revoke Hastert’s pension.
The tragic facts in Hastert’s case are an extreme example of a public employee undeserving of a publicly funded pension. But the case raises the question of why Illinois taxpayers are forced to fund pensions for politicians in the first place.
Why should the average retired Illinois state lawmaker receive over $58,000 per year in pension payments for what is legally a part-time job? And why should the system encourage elected representatives to linger in office for decades by rewarding career politicians with lifetime pension payments totaling more than $2 million?
These are luxuries Illinois taxpayers cannot afford to grant their officeholders. While Illinois’ $111 billion unfunded liability makes the state’s public pensions the worst-funded in the country, GARS itself is in the worst fiscal shape of all Illinois state-worker retirement systems. GARS has just 16 percent of the funds it needs to meet its future obligations, and Illinois taxpayers will have to pour $21.7 million into GARS in 2017 just to keep the system afloat. Politicians, on the other hand, will contribute only $1.28 million toward their own pensions that year.
Illinois has the worst credit rating in the nation, one of the highest property-tax burdens in the country, and a combined federal, state and local tax burden so high that in 2016 Illinoisans have to work longer than residents of all but six other states to pay off their tax bill. Illinois taxpayers should not have to continue funding pensions for politicians.
The General Assembly should lead by example and institute 401(k)-style retirement plans for lawmakers in place of pensions.