Taxpayer victory: General Assembly passes bill restricting golden parachutes for government officials
Senate Bill 3604 would limit government workers’ ability to collect extravagant severance packages, also known as “golden parachutes,” on their way out of office.
Lawmakers in the Illinois House have brought a victory for taxpayers one step closer to reality.
After the Illinois Senate passed Senate Bill 3604 on May 2, the House followed suit May 29, passing the bill by a 114-1 margin. SB 3604 would limit government workers’ ability to collect extravagant severance packages, also known as “golden parachutes,” on their way out of office. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, introduced the measure, which now requires Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature to become law.
This is a major victory for Illinois taxpayers, who continue to pay far too much for government officials leaving their posts, often under suspect terms.
The bill would provide for specific conditions attached to severance payouts in government employment contracts, designed to limit taxpayer-subsidized rewards for resignations issued amid scandal or dereliction.
For one, the act would impose a fixed ceiling on severance pay for all government employees, capping payouts at the equivalent of 20 weeks of compensation. SB 3604 would also re-establish government worker severance pay as a privilege, rather than an entitlement, mandating government worker contracts include a provision barring severance packages for employees terminated due to misconduct.
Lawmakers previously ventured to curtail golden parachute severance packages with the passage of Senate Bill 2159. The bill, filed by state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, required greater transparency in severance pay negotiations for public university officials, and further capped their payouts at one year’s compensation. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed SB 2159 into law July 2016.
University officials have been among the most generously compensated in the face of career-ending scandal.
The College of DuPage Board of Trustees issued one of the largest severance packages for a government employee in Illinois history, according to the Chicago Tribune. During his tenure, President Robert Breuder hid more than $95 million in public expenditures, $243,300 of which was used to purchase liquor. The item was misleadingly labeled “instructional supplies” on ledger lines. In turn, trustees purchased Breuder’s early retirement for nearly $763,000 in severance pay.
More recently, the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees furnished a disgraced former president with a golden parachute only modestly outmatched by Breuder’s. The NIU Board of Trustees voted unanimously in 2017 to grant a $600,000 severance package to former President Doug Baker, who had earlier resigned in the wake of a patronage scandal. A circuit court eventually ordered NIU to cease payouts to Baker, but not before the former president had already collected the lion’s share of his payout.
But it isn’t just in higher education where these payouts occur. In an effort stave off litigation, Metra awarded aggrieved former CEO Alex Clifford a $718,000 severance package in 2013.
Taxpayers in local school districts, too, are expected to pick up steep severance costs in the event of allegations of misconduct. Resigning in the wake of sexual harassment accusations, Floyd Williams Jr., superintendent of Des Plaines School District 62, reached a payout agreement with his employer in which he collected roughly $127,000, or his outstanding school year salary.
Most Illinoisans, meanwhile, have experienced a fiscal climate sharply different from that of golden parachute recipients. Indeed, the same environment that has delivered six-figure payouts and premature retirements to public officials has pushed a top-heavy tax burden onto the backs of working Illinoisans. From 2008 to 2015, Illinois homeowners saw property tax bills rise six times faster than household incomes. The disparity between those who collect extravagant severance pay and those who foot the bill points to a serious need for reform.