Illinoisans pay twice for their legislators

Illinoisans pay twice for their legislators

Illinois’ active legislators will each cost the state budget about $180,000 next year.

Illinois lawmakers receive the fifth-highest legislator compensation in the nation – at an average of $81,000, that’s not too bad for what is legally a part-time job.

On top of footing the bill for state politicians’ compensation, Illinoisans must also contribute toward their legislators’ nearly bankrupt pension fund. In 2015, taxpayers will contribute the equivalent of $99,000 for each active lawmaker just to keep Illinois’ legislative pension system afloat.

In total, Illinois’ active legislators will each cost the state budget about $180,000 next year.

That’s a lot to pay for a problem that legislators created in the first place, and now don’t want to fix.

The Illinois General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, is the state’s worst-funded pension system and has only enough assets to pay benefits for another 2.5 years. Without a yearly taxpayer bailout, retired legislators will see their pension checks slashed soon.


To solve that problem, taxpayers are already required to contribute 11 times as much as legislators contribute to the pension fund. In 2015, the state (meaning taxpayers) will put nearly $16 million toward legislator pensions.

Lawmakers, on the other hand, will put in just $1.4 million 

The excessive taxpayer payments into GARS are the only reason it hasn’t gone broke.

Illinois legislators were never meant to be career workers like teachers, police officers or firefighters, so reforming GARS shouldn’t be controversial. In fact, nearly two dozen legislators have already opted out of receiving legislative pensions.

But there’s a reason why some politicians may want to hang on to their pension plans. Many have become career politicians, in part because of the full-time benefits they receive. Retired lawmakers earn a pension equal to 85 percent of their final salary after just 20 years of service.

As a result, the average lawmaker pension is $54,000 annually. And that pension grows every year – lawmakers are also entitled to an annual, automatic, compounded 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

These overly generous benefits for part-time work put legislators in direct conflict with the need to reform their own retirement plans.

It’s time to end the pension games in Illinois – cutting legislator pensions is a good place to start.

This blog was co-authored by Tim Ahlberg, Policy Intern. 

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