McConchie Commentary in the Chicago Tribune explains how legislators boosted their own pensions

The Chicago Tribune has published a commentary by Senator Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) that explains how legislators not only gave themselves pay raises, but also boosted their pensions.

Pay raise or not, legislators boosted their own pensions

By Dan McConchie

Debate has been raging since the Illinois legislature voted last month on the budget over this question:  Did legislators vote themselves a pay raise this year?

Republicans, including me, have argued that the lack of language in the budget implementation bill that bars the legally required cost of living adjustment, or COLA, means that, sooner or later, a pay raise of about $1,800 a year is coming. Democrats counter, saying raises won’t occur since they didn’t put enough money in the budget this year to pay for those legally required increases, at least at this time.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the person who actually pays legislators, has sided with legislative Democrats and said she won’t pay the legally required raises this year because of the funding shortfall. While this sounds noble, her decision is contrary to every court ruling regarding legislator pay to date.

But since she possesses the state’s check-writing power, she’s likely free to do what she wants until the dispute gets resolved in court. And if history is any guide, she will be forced to write the increased checks at some point.

What is indisputable is that more money will be going into certain legislators’ pockets because of the budget vote. That’s because the General Assembly Retirement System, the pension system for legislators, has stated that the legislature’s refusal, for the second time in a decade, to bar the legally required COLA will force a higher pension benefit to be paid to those legislators who have accepted this lucrative taxpayer-funded perk. Of the current 177 legislators, only 59 of us have refused a pension.

Illinois state pension systems are the worst funded in the nation. The current official unfunded liability tops $137.3 billion, according to state figures, approximately $10,836 for every man, woman and child in the state. And the legislator pension system is the worst funded of them all. Typically, a pension system is considered healthy when it is funded at 90% of its total obligations. The legislator pension system is funded at a shockingly low 15.9%.

For any other pension system, that would be considered virtually insolvent. Does this funding shortfall worry legislators who are counting on their taxpayer-funded retirement benefits? Of course not! That’s because whenever the cash needed to pay benefits outstrips the supply of money in the fund, the legislators can simply dip their hand into your pocket to make theirs whole.

Increased benefits for legislators is one reason why every Republican in the legislature voted no on this year’s budget. We believe that we should not personally benefit at your expense. That’s especially true during this pandemic and resulting economic chaos.

There was an easier solution than this charade: Simply pass the language, as we have done year after year, that legally bars the salary increase from going into effect. That would have avoided this dispute over whether a legally required pay raise will occur and when. And it would have clearly prevented a further increase in legislators’ lucrative pension benefits.

Alas, legislative Democrats instead voted en masse to further stuff their own pockets with your hard-earned money, even during this crisis. You deserve better.

This article has been reprinted by permission of the Chicago Tribune.

The original posting can be found here.

Dan McConchie

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