Excessive Pensions for Government Employees is a Moral Issue

Illinois, as well as many other states, face an unfunded liability problem chiefly because of excessive pensions for government employees.

The Illinois Family Institute has reported that an overwhelming number of research studies over the past decade have proven that strong families composed of a mother and father in the home produce a healthier society. Similarly, a large body of social science data points to family decline as a major contributing factor behind of some of the most serious problems confronting Illinois and the nation. IFI works to reduce these factors that threaten family stability and strives to create a political and social environment where families can thrive and prosper.

That “thrive and prosper” part has been difficult for many Illinois families as taxes continue to rise and businesses continue to leave the state. It is not a profound statement to say that economics is also a moral issue. That social science data noted above includes a lot of references to the money pressures on families. The strain caused within many households leads to their coming apart.

Illinoisans have been subjected to two and a half years of the political leadership in Springfield sparing over the state’s finances. Until just weeks ago, Illinois didn’t even have a budget. Included in the budget that finally passed was a lot more tax dollars to pay for government employee pensions.

Currently, 25% of the state’s budget goes to paying for incredibly generous pensions and health care benefits for retired government employees.

IFI has posted three articles about the Illinois government employee pension systems. If you missed them, be sure to go online and read them. It is not enjoyable reading but it is important.

Why is IFI picking on the poor government employee’s pensions? To answer that, you first have to realize that many tens of thousands of retired government employees are not poor. Here’s just one fact for you to take note of: the average retired Chicago public school teacher’s pension is about $75,000 — which is four times that of the average Social Security recipient’s pension.

Why are retired government employees like Chicago public school teachers enjoying such lavish pensions? You might not like the answer.

In the three articles posted at the IFI website some of the more outrageous examples are highlighted — such as the 17,000 retired Illinois government employees enjoying six-figure pensions.

Many of the facts are disturbing. For years I have referred to Illinois’s public pension systems as legalized theft from taxpayers. Why so harsh? How else can you describe someone paying into a fund about $154,000 over the course of their working years and then expect $2,200,000 in pension benefits from taxpayers during their retirement years? Those are just the Teachers Retirement System numbers, provided by the respected Illinois Policy Institute.

The title of one IPI article is, “Total unfunded debt for state and local governments in Illinois now totals $267 billion.” Which means that each Illinois household is on the hook for a $56K in government-worker retirement debt.

If you are not shocked yet, let me try with a few more inconvenient truths.

Public employee compensation expert Bill Zetter highlighted many egregious examples of excess. Here are just three of his headlines:

“Work for the state 5 years, pay in zero, get $130,000 pension: work for yourself 45 years, pay in $260,000 get $28,000 Social Security. Anybody see a problem here?”

“Is $224,000 per year too much compensation for a drive’s ed teacher? How about $1,174 per day for an art teacher or $149/hr for an English teacher?”

“Pension Insanity: $75,000 salary turns into $155,000 pension for one kindergarten teacher I guess it’s OK though; it’s for the kids.”

Is more money needed for “the kids” or to fund employee pension systems?

The worst part of all of this is that Illinois public officials, including conservatives, have known how bad this pension problem is but have lacked the courage to do anything about it.

As for Governor Rauner, he continually boasts about wanting to spend more money on the K-12 system. Where does he think a lot of that money is going? I’ll give you one guess.

Here is the bottom line: Government should get out of the employee pension business. After decades, it has proven incapable of being trusted with tax dollars for employee pensions.

Bankruptcy laws exist for just these kind of circumstances. The Illinois government employee pension systems are insolvent.

Another critical issue is also typically ignored: Looking at just the teacher union contracts with local school districts, they are premised upon the fiction that government employees and government officials (in this case elected school board members) can legally contract not only with under-aged Illinois citizens, but also unborn future taxpayers.

IFI’s mission is to educate “citizens so that they can better influence their local communities and the state.”