Reeder Report: Lawmakers want to leave pension system and suspend state officials’ pay
DROPPING OUT OF PENSIONS
By Scott Reeder
Journalist in Residence
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said he regrets ever joining the General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, and now he wants out.
“When I entered the Legislature I was like a deer in the headlights,” he said. “I just signed up for the pension. But that’s not why I ran for office, and given the state’s fiscal condition I think it would be showing good leadership for me to just withdraw from the system altogether.”
The only problem is, he can’t.
State law doesn’t allow for the lawmaker, who entered the upper chamber in 2008, to drop out of the system.
So he recently introduced a bill to allow lawmakers and other members of GARS to voluntarily leave the system.
“I already have a good pension from my years in law enforcement and I certainly don’t need a second pension,” he said. “A number of people ran for the Legislature this time around saying they weren’t going to participate in the pension system. This gives those of us already in the legislature an opportunity not to participate.”
But state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, expressed skepticism about the legislation.
“To me, this is a great big red herring,” he said. “It’s easy for someone like Sen. Bivins who is already going to get to get a government pension to say he is not going to take one. The fact of the matter is, you could eliminate pensions for the entire Legislature and not make a dent in our pension problems.”
Under new accounting standards, the state’s overall pension shortfall exceeds $200 billion.
GARS is only 18.5 percent funded. Of the state’s five pension systems, it is the most underfunded.
Bivins’ bill does not address the state’s other pension funds.
NO PAY FOR LAWMAKERS?
By Mike Billy
What would happen if state officials had their paychecks suspended until the state paid all of its past due bills? State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, thinks it would help the Legislature find a solution to the state’s budget problems.
Meier has introduced legislation that would suspend the pay of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, the General Assembly and other state officials until the state pays all of its past due vendor accounts.
The state is $9.3 billion behind in paying its bills and some vendors are getting paid five months late.
“The people who created this fiscal disaster should wait in line to get paid as long as the other businesses that the state of Illinois owes money to,” Meier said. “Maybe that would help us find a solution to this budget problem more quickly.”
The Illinois Constitution, however, mandates that if the pay of legislators and members of the executive branch are changed, those changes cannot take effect during the term in which they were elected or appointed.
Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, was skeptical of the bill’s prospects.
“There is no chance in the world of this passing, so you have to wonder why he bothers wasting a piece of paper and his staff’s time,” he said. “I don’t know about Rep. Meier in particular, but it is very common for legislators to introduce bills that sound good to the constituency even if they aren’t likely to pass.”
Meier agreed that there wasn’t a good chance for the bill to make it through the legislature.
“If you were a betting man you would bet against a bill (passing) like this,” he said. “But would you want to be the person on the committee who says, ‘Yes, we get paid, but everyone else doesn’t’?”
WELCOME ABOARD, MICHAEL!
A journalism intern joined my office this week. His name is Mike Billy and he holds bachelor’s degree in journalism from California University in Pennsylvania. He recently finished an internship with the New York Post. We are looking forward to having him with us.