Illinois Gov. Signs Law Allowing Felons To Be Stripped of Pensions

Illinois capitol

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed into law a measure that allows the Illinois Attorney General to strip pension benefits from public officials who have been convicted of felonies related to their job.

The bill was passed unanimously by the state Senate earlier this month.

From the Associated Press:

A new state law will make it tougher for felons to receive a public pension.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Monday giving Illinois’ attorney general more power to stop pension payments to convicted felons.

[…]

The Illinois Supreme Court in July upheld a lower court ruling that Attorney General Lisa Madigan couldn’t challenge a Chicago police pension board decision allowing Burge to keep his taxpayer-supported pension.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul is a Chicago Democrat. He says it’s “unconscionable” that Burge receives a pension and the law allows “taxpayers a way to fight back.”

The bill came about after former Chicago policeman Jon Burge was allowed to keep his pension even after being convicted of a serious felony. From the Sun-Times:

In July, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled a Cook County court was correct in not allowing Madigan to intervene in a police pension matter. The decision allowed disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was convicted in 2010 for lying about the torture of police suspects, to keep his public pension of about $54,000 a year.

The police pension board deadlocked 4-4 on a motion to strip Burge of his pension. Some argued his conviction was not related to his police work, since he was convicted on perjury and obstruction of justice from a civil suit filed after he left the force.

Under the law, the state attorney general will be able to petition the court to strip pension benefits from public officials. Previously, the attorney general wasn’t allowed to intervene in the decision, which was left to pension boards.

 

Photo credit: “Gfp-illinois-springfield-capitol-and-sky” by Yinan Chen. Via Wikimedia Commons

Illinois Senate Passes Bill That Allows Felons To Be Stripped of Pensions

Illinois capitol

A bill that would allow the Illinois Attorney General to strip pension benefits from felons passed through the state Senate unanimously last week.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The House bill, co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, and Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, passed the Senate 51-0 without debate.

“What we did in this bill is to clarify the language to make sure that it authorizes the attorney general to petition the court to enjoin the payment of pension funds where somebody’s convicted of a felony in connection to their duty,” Raoul said.

[…]

The bill was debated in committee with some Republicans worried the attorney general could abuse the authority. But Raoul said the attorney general could file a petition to the court, then to the appellate court and ultimately to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“It’s unlikely that you would have an attorney general who could have a conspiracy with the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court,” Raoul said.

A Madigan spokeswoman said the bill will give the attorney general an important new role in pension board cases.

“A public employee convicted of a felony related to their service should not be allowed to receive a taxpayer-funded pension,” state attorney general’s office spokeswoman Maura Possley said. “This bill provides the attorney general with an important watchdog role to ensure taxpayers are not left to foot the bill for a convicted felon.”

The bill came about after former Chicago policeman Jon Burge was allowed to keep his pension even after being convicted of a serious felony. From the Sun-Times:

In July, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled a Cook County court was correct in not allowing Madigan to intervene in a police pension matter. The decision allowed disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was convicted in 2010 for lying about the torture of police suspects, to keep his public pension of about $54,000 a year.

The police pension board deadlocked 4-4 on a motion to strip Burge of his pension. Some argued his conviction was not related to his police work, since he was convicted on perjury and obstruction of justice from a civil suit filed after he left the force.

The bill now goes to Gov. Quinn’s desk.

 

Photo credit: “Gfp-illinois-springfield-capitol-and-sky” by Yinan Chen – www.goodfreephotos.com (gallery, image). Via Wikimedia Commons

Pension Reform in Illinois Likely to Look Different Under Rauner If Supreme Court Rejects Current Law

Bruce Rauner

Under Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois passed a sweeping pension overhaul that cut COLAs and raised retirement ages for some workers.

But the state Supreme Court could reject the law. If that happens, it will be Bruce Rauner who will be able to shape reform legislation, which will likely look different than Quinn’s. From the Wall Street Journal:

Confronting the nation’s worst state pension shortfall was the top concern of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. The same will likely be true for Bruce Rauner, his newly elected successor.

The Illinois Supreme Court in coming months could dump the $100 billion problem in the lap of Mr. Rauner, who defeated Mr. Quinn on Tuesday to become the state’s first Republican governor in more than a decade.

A year ago, Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, won passage of a bill that lowered future pension costs by shrinking cost-of-living increases for retirees and raising retirement ages for younger employees, among other steps. State workers and retirees challenged the law, and a recent ruling by Illinois’s top court signaled the justices may end up overturning the law.

Mr. Rauner, who was a longtime private-equity executive before deciding to run for governor, has said he favors moving to a 401(k)-style system over pensions, but the shape that would take at the state capitol remains to be seen. Mr. Rauner was quiet the day after his big victory and his campaign declined an interview request.

Part of the challenge for any plan for Mr. Rauner will be getting it through the Democratic-controlled legislature. Many there agree the state has a big problem, but Mr. Quinn had a bruising fight with his own party to broker a deal.

To be sure, Illinois will continue to be a focus of the national debate that’s raging over how to fix ailing public pension systems. But on Tuesday, the Land of Lincoln wasn’t alone in having the issue play a role in the elections.

Bruce Rauner gives some hints about what his plans for pension reform would look like on his website:

I believe we must choose to address this problem head-on. No tinkering around the edges.

We must boldly reform our pension system. To do that, we can:

– Ensure pay and benefits do not rise faster than the rate of inflation.

– Eliminate the ability of government employees to receive massive pay raises before they retire just to increase their pension.

– Cap the current system and move towards a defined contribution system.

Illinois Loophole Lets Teacher Union Leaders Boost Pensions After Leaving Classroom

Springfield, Illinois

A Washington Times investigation has uncovered an interesting legal quirk in Illinois that lets retired teachers continue to build pension credit after retirement. The law allows teachers who later become union leaders to credit their union salaries towards their pension.

More from the Washington Times:

Collectively, 40 retired union leaders draw $408,136 per month in Illinois teachers’ retirement pension, or $4.9 million per year, according to data generated at the request of The Washington Times by OpenTheBooks.com, an online portal aggregating 1.3 billion lines of federal, state and local spending records.

Twenty-four of those retired union leaders have already collected more than $1 million each in retirement benefits, and the payments are likely to continue for years to come, the data show.

The union bosses collecting the payouts had jobs at the National Education Association (NEA), the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) after their teaching careers. Most got massive pay raises when they jumped from the classroom to the unions, swelling their pension payouts by large amounts at the expense of taxpayers.

The labor leaders contribute into the state pension program during the time they work for the unions, but their larger salaries are then used to calculate their final retirement eligibility. The result is taxpayers must pay pensions to these leaders that are exponentially larger than if they just continued to teach in the classroom.

The arrangements live on even as the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) hurdles toward insolvency — it is currently underfunded by an estimated $54 billion — with teachers currently in the classroom questioning what sort of retirement they’ll receive. Right now, the TRS could only afford to pay out 40 cents on the dollar of each retiree it owes.

“Government pensions should go to government workers, period,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com. “The pension system for the hard-working teacher and public servant is being drained by union bosses with special pension privileges.”

It’s important to note that the employees in question were still contributing to the pension system during the time they worked with unions — so they weren’t getting a completely free ride.

More details on the law in question, from the Washington Times:

The labor officials are able to collect teacher pensions because of a pension code carve-out granted by the Illinois General Assembly back in 1987 — a change for which the unions lobbied heavily.

Under the pension code, active employees of the IFT and the IEA with previous teaching service can be TRS members. The IFT and IEA have been able to designate employees as active TRS members if they were already TRS members because of previous creditable teaching service. Since the 1940s, the pension code has allowed active employees of the Illinois Association of School Boards with prior TRS creditable service to be active TRS members.

The statutes outlining additional benefits within Illinois state and local pensions have many times “been amended in the state pension code without much public discourse, financial analysis or even justification as to why we should add on nongovernment employees such as municipal associations, unions or anyone else,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan research organization. “This is the definition of insider benefits that don’t serve identifiable public purpose.”

In 2012, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law that prevented teachers from using service time with unions to boost pension benefits – but the law only applies to union work done before the teachers were hired, not after.

Illinois Governor Candidates Talk Pensions in First Debate

 

One of the hottest issues in the race for Illinois governor is also one where the candidates differ starkly: how to fix the state’s retirement system.

So it’s no surprise that pensions came up during the race’s first debate.

There were no revelations here; Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner both used the time to double-down on their stances. From the Associated Press:

Quinn signed legislation last year that would fully fund the retirement systems by 2045, in part by cutting benefits. Public-employee unions have sued, saying the overhaul violates a provision of the constitution that says benefits can’t be reduced.

Rauner supports letting retirees keep the benefits they’ve been promised but freezing the systems and moving employees to a 401(k)-style plan in which workers are not guaranteed a certain level of benefits. He said that plan — similar to what most private-sector workers have — wouldn’t save much money to start but would save billions in the long term.

“I don’t believe it’s right to change the payments to a retiree after they are already retired, and that’s what Gov. Quinn did,” Rauner said.

But Quinn called Rauner’s plan “risky” because workers’ retirements would depend largely on market performance. He said he deserves credit for making Illinois’ full pension payment each year he’s been governor — something his predecessors didn’t do. That contributed to Illinois having the worst-funded pension systems of any state in the U.S.

Illinois’ pension reform law has spent the last 6 months being fast-tracked through lower courts. A ruling on the constitutionality of the law could come before the end of the year.

Quinn: No Plan “B” On Pension Reform

Pat Quinn

Most experts agree that Illinois’ pension reform law, passed in December, currently stands on shaky ground after a July ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court extended constitutional protection to retiree health premiums.

But Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn isn’t ready to write off the law just yet. In recent interviews, he’s also been steadfast that he’s not ready to start drawing up a backup plan, either.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Pat Quinn argued Friday that it makes no sense to develop a contingency plan.

The Chicago Democrat, who “fervently” believes the plan is constitutional, said in an Associated Press interview that he’d like to get feedback from the courts before proceeding despite Illinois’ urgent financial difficulties.

“You don’t exactly help your position before the court if you say, ‘Well I’ve got a plan b out here, maybe you could take that instead,’ and it’s not even passed by the Legislature,” Quinn said. “That’s a very bad strategic position …”

Quinn’s comments come as he faces a tough re-election challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner (ROW-nur). He opposes the law Quinn signed in 2013.

After years of debate, lawmakers approved a plan that cuts benefits for most employees and retirees aimed reducing the state’s massive unfunded liability.

Unions sued over the law, saying it violates the Illinois Constitution.

But in a separate case on retiree health care, the Illinois Supreme Court in July ruled a law requiring retirees to pay more for health insurance was unconstitutional. The decision centered on the constitution’s strong protections for retirement benefits.

Quinn has drawn criticism for the lack of backup preparations. Last week, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote:

Gov. Pat Quinn says he doesn’t need a “Plan B” to address the problem because he believes the Illinois Supreme Court will uphold the pension reform law he signed in December.

[…]

Quinn’s faith in the Illinois Supreme Court is farfetched. In July, the court issued a thumping 6-1 ruling striking down a previous legislative effort to cut health care subsidies to state retirees and employing language that seemed to serve as a funeral oration for the pension reform law.

Addressing the state’s “but we can’t afford to provide the benefits we promised!” argument, the majority wrote that the unequivocal pension protection clause in the Illinois Constitution “was aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of the funding to pay for them.”

Even if Quinn genuinely has hope that the court will gymnastically OK the pending law nevertheless, he still owes it to us to reveal what he proposes to do when — I mean if — those hopes are dashed.

As Pension360 has covered, pensions are becoming a bigger part of the race for Illinois governor in light of the July court ruling that opened the door for reworked reform measures.

Do Illinois’ Candidates For Governor Need A Pension “Reality Check”?

Pat Quinn

Pensions are one of many issues taking a prominent hold in the race for the Illinois governorship.

Both candidates, Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner, recently sat down in front of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board for an informal debate on, among other issues, how they would each handle the state’s pension crisis.

One member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Eric Zorn, listened to both sides. Now he says both Quinn and Rauner need to stop living in their “pension fantasies”.

On Quinn, Zorn writes:

Gov. Pat Quinn says he doesn’t need a “Plan B” to address the problem because he believes the Illinois Supreme Court will uphold the pension reform law he signed in December.

[…]

Quinn’s faith in the Illinois Supreme Court is farfetched. In July, the court issued a thumping 6-1 ruling striking down a previous legislative effort to cut health care subsidies to state retirees and employing language that seemed to serve as a funeral oration for the pension reform law.

Addressing the state’s “but we can’t afford to provide the benefits we promised!” argument, the majority wrote that the unequivocal pension protection clause in the Illinois Constitution “was aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of the funding to pay for them.”

Even if Quinn genuinely has hope that the court will gymnastically OK the pending law nevertheless, he still owes it to us to reveal what he proposes to do when — I mean if — those hopes are dashed.

Zorn then shifts to Rauner and his plan to shift Illinois workers into a 401(k)-style system:

Rauner owes it to us to explain why his ideas — he admits they’ve yet to rise to the level of a plan — are any more likely to survive court challenges than the bipartisan reform law, which he strenuously opposed.

…When I asked if joining such a plan would be mandatory, spokesman Mike Schrimpf echoed word-for-word the dodge Rauner employed in his Tribune candidate questionnaire: “We need to wait to see the parameters of what the Supreme Court says in order to carefully craft a plan that will pass constitutional muster.”

Mandatory enrollment of current public employees into 401(k)-style accounts by which they will ultimately fund their own retirements would likely not pass that muster. They’re generally not as lucrative for employees as plans that guarantee monthly pension payments.

Rauner knows this. It’s why he’s promised to allow police officers and firefighters to keep their “special retirement” that includes a standard pension, and why he projects “billions” in savings.

Zorn also decried the administrative costs associated with 401(k) plans. You can read his full editorial here (subscription required).

Photo by Chris Eaves via Flickr CC License

Illinois Gov. Quinn Accuses Challenger Bruce Rauner Of Paying Off Lawmakers To Vote Against Pension Reform Bill

Pat Quinn

Things got heated on Tuesday when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner met for a face-to-face debate in front of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

[Watch the full video here.]

The session lasted 80 minutes but arguably the most interesting point came when Quinn dropped an intriguing allegation: that Bruce Rauner had offered to pay off lawmakers to vote against the pension reform bill passed by Illinois last December. From the Chicago Tribune:

Quinn said that in December, during the heat of negotiations over a measure to drastically change public employee pension benefits, House Republican leader Jim Durkin told him that Rauner was offering campaign cash to GOP lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Rauner acknowledged working against the pension bill, which Quinn signed into law, but denied the governor’s allegation. Durkin aides referred calls to the state Republican Party, which did not directly address Quinn’s allegation in an emailed statement.

Bruce Rauner has proposed a plan to freeze the pensions of all current state employees and switch them into a 401(k)-style plan.

But Rauner has softened his stance in recent days, perhaps because he doesn’t want to alienate voters in what’s shaping out to be a close race.

During a public appearance Wednesday, Rauner said the following, according to WUIS:

“I’m a believer that we need to protect the pensions for the police officers, and give them a special retirement beyond what’s standardly done in other pensions.”

He didn’t clarify exactly what he meant by the statement.

Photo by Chris Eaves via Flickr CC License

Illinois Governor, Challenger Spar over Pension Links to Cayman Islands

It’s become a tradition for politicians of either party: on the campaign trail, at some point, you need to accuse your challenger of dodging taxes. The race for Illinois governor is no exception, but there’s an interesting spin on this one.

Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this week accused wealthy challenger Bruce Rauner of dodging U.S. taxes by placing his money in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands.

A Chicago Tribune investigation had previously revealed that Rauner paid a tax rate of around 15 percent on much of his fortune, even though his wealth made him eligible for tax brackets above 30 percent.

But Rauner fought back, first claiming that his offshore investments did not impact the tax rate he paid. Then, he claimed Quinn himself had money in the Caymans. His pension, to be exact.

Rauner claims that Illinois pension funds have hundreds of millions of dollars in Cayman-based investments.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Rauner’s campaign said the Teachers Retirement System has invested $433.5 million in Cayman Islands-based funds while the State Board of Investment has $2.3 billion in offshore holdings, which includes some Caymans-related funds though the agency could not specify how much.

Both are tax-exempt entities and, unlike individual investors, derive no direct tax benefit from investing in funds based there, spokesmen for both agencies said. TRS invests on behalf of current and retired suburban and downstate teachers. The State Board of Investment oversees pension investments for current and retired state workers, university employees, judges, lawmakers and state officials, including the governor.

“If Pat Quinn refuses to apologize and tell the truth, he should immediately move to divest all state investments from companies and funds domiciled overseas, including in the Cayman Islands,” Rauner’s campaign said.

As was bolded, pensions systems are tax-exempt and so there’s no tax benefit from putting money offshore.

Quinn’s camp, when pushed for a statement, declined to say whether Quinn would like the pension systems to stop investment in Cayman-related funds. But the Governors spokeswoman told the Sun-Times:

“The governor has no authority to direct pension fund investments, and he’s not about to start getting involved. That’s really not the issue.”

In Illinois, Public Pension Benefits Are Gaining Ground On Worker Salaries

Gfp-illinois-springfield-downtown-city-building

Over the past decade, the average public pension in Illinois has been gradually catching up to the average salary of employees still working.

Critics of increased benefits say this is the result of years of generous salary increases and compounded COLA increases.

Others say that increased pensions are simply the result of higher public sector salaries, which Illinois needs to pay in order to retain good employees.

The Daily Herald reports:

The average 2013 pension was $31,674 for retirees in nine statewide and metropolitan Chicago public pension systems for government workers, teachers, legislators, judges and university professors, a Daily Herald analysis shows. That’s 60 percent of the $55,120 average salary for pension fund members who are still working.

Ten years ago, the average pension was less than half of the average salary.

The narrowest gap between average salary and average pension is for members of retirement systems where advanced degrees and training are required.

In 2013, the average Teachers’ Retirement System pension was 69.4 percent of the average pay for those still working, according to the system’s annual comprehensive financial report.

Judges have the highest average salary — $183,998 — and highest average pension — $105,341.

The gap between average pay and average pension is widest within retirement systems with more transient employees.

The 108,814 local government employees receiving IMRF benefits in 2013 averaged pensions of $13,243. That was 34.8 percent of the system’s $38,059 average salary. However, that’s still a big change from a decade ago when the average IMRF pension was 27.9 percent of the average salary of workers paying into the system.

Screen shot 2014-08-06 at 12.24.01 PM

One lawmaker told the Daily Herald that, although the upward trend is undoubtedly real, the decreasing gap between pensions and worker salaries has slowed over recent years.

“There was a long period of time where there were rapid (pay) raises in the public sector … (and) that growth is tied to the pension formula,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat who helped sculpt the state’s most recent pension reform plan. “But a lot has changed and we’ve seen a dramatic slowdown, particularly in the last five years.”