State worker who allegedly kept ‘mouth shut’ about ‘rape in Champaign’ to receive $2.7M in pension payments

State worker who allegedly kept ‘mouth shut’ about ‘rape in Champaign’ to receive $2.7M in pension payments

House Speaker Mike Madigan has built a substantial political army through taxpayer-funded promises.

Forrest Ashby had proven his loyalty, according to an email sent in 2012 by House Speaker Mike Madigan’s closest confidant and uncovered by WBEZ.

Former lobbyist Mike McClain told state officials Ashby had “kept his mouth shut” about “the rape in Champaign” and “Jones’ ghost workers.” And as such, he should be spared from discipline.

He was. And now he will be handsomely rewarded.

Ashby will receive an estimated $2.7 million in pension payments over the course of his retirement, according to a response from the State Employees’ Retirement System to a Freedom of Information Act request and life expectancy tables from the Social Security Administration.

In 2018, Ashby retired at age 54 after nearly 30 years of working for the state. Over the course of his career he contributed just $120,717 to the pension system, an investment he has already recouped just two years into retirement.

In addition to his pension, Ashby was hired to work on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign on McClain’s recommendation.

These benefits are not uncommon for career state workers in Illinois. And they are not necessarily the fault of Ashby. They are the result of unsustainable promises that have left Illinois with the most severe public pension crisis in the history of the U.S. The state’s $241 billion in pension debt is the worst in the nation despite two record income tax hikes since 2011 and a 111% increase in taxpayer contributions.

Through accumulation of unprecedented state debt, Madigan has built an army of political foot soldiers who owe generous pensions, early retirements and other perks to the speaker’s protection. A 2014 Tribune investigation identified more than 400 current or retired government employees who moonlight as political workers for Madigan or donate regularly to his campaigns. That’s a conservative estimate.

The only responsible way out of Illinois’ pension debacle is to structurally reform pensions to control the growth of future, unearned benefits so they are in line with what taxpayers can afford. Or lawmakers can continue as they have for the past 20 years: Let pension spending grow more than 500% and crowd out one-third of spending on essential government services.

Reforming future pension benefits growth through a constitutional amendment is the only way to ensure the retirement security of government workers, protect taxpayers and provide the public services Illinoisans value.

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