Illinois Senate passes bill barring pension double-dipping for local politicians

Illinois Senate passes bill barring pension double-dipping for local politicians

Illinois is home to the nation’s worst pension problem. A bill aimed at double-dipping by local politicians could make it better as Illinois pursues a pension system overhaul.

Local elected leaders will not be paid public salaries while collecting public pensions if a bill approved by the Illinois Senate becomes law.

Senate Bill 1236, introduced by Illinois Senate Assistant Majority Leader Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, and chief co-sponsor Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, would stop locally elected leaders from receiving salary or other public compensation if they are receiving pension benefits from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, or IMRF. The bill to prevent double dipping was approved April 10 by a 45-6 Senate vote.

The bill now is in the Illinois House, where it is supported by chief sponsor Rep. Daniel Didech, D-Buffalo Grove, and chief co-sponsors Reps. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, and Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook.

The Daily Herald recently reported at least 13 part-time suburban county board members are simultaneously receiving pension payouts and salaries for their county board positions. Will County Board member James Moustis takes in $82,124 a year from his IMRF pension, while receiving $24,000 annually from his county board salary, according to the Daily Herald. County board members such as Moustis – spanning Lake, Will, McHenry and Kane counties – are able to collect both pension and salary due to a provision in a pension-related law passed in 2016.

If these locally elected officials don’t submit timesheets to show that they worked at least 1,000 hours a year, they are no longer able to contribute to their retirement. However, this means they are then able to collect their IMRF pension – while maintaining their board seat and accompanying salary.

Didech said the practice was outrageous. “They’re exploiting a loophole in the system that allows them to artificially inflate their earnings,” Didech told the Daily Herald.

SB 1236 would prohibit not only county-level elected leaders from receiving salary while collecting their pension, but also prevent the practice among all local government politicians. Under the bill, an elected leader’s salary would be reduced to zero if they already receive their IMRF pension.

Pension costs are driving up property taxes in Illinois. Local governments across the state are hiking property taxes and being forced to dedicate the revenue to pension costs rather than to providing core services.

While SB 1236 returns some honesty to the broken system, lawmakers must pursue constitutional pension reform. Absent reform, pension obligations could end up consuming over half of Illinois’ state revenue or leave retirees in jeopardy. An amendment to the state constitution protecting already earned benefits, but allowing changes to future, yet unearned benefits, would let the system generate financial security.

SB 1236 should become law. The larger task of fixing Illinois’ pension system remains.

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