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.

Every time I think I cannot possibly be any more cynical about public pensions and salaries than I already am, I find some new data to prove me wrong yet again. Yes it’s true; I am still not cynical enough.

How is it possible in this time of want, where the Illinois Department of Human Services is cutting $90 million from services for poor children and the needy elderly, we still feel obligated to take taxpayer dollars and fund public pensions at 200% of a public employee’s salary?

As you look at the following table of TRS members with pensions greater than their ending salaries ask yourself this question: what public good is being served by this use of tax dollars? And furthermore, why isn’t this considered to be immoral?

Name School Begin Annual pension Ending Avg. Salary Pension Greater $
Smith, Annette T Peoria SD 150 155,352.96 75,860.66 79,492.30 Elementary Teacher
Zender, Frances T Community HSD 155 146,430.00 98,904.96 47,525.04 High School English
Watson, Arcelia R Paxton-Buckley-Loda 10 100,498.20 63,570.00 36,928.20 Middle Sch Teacher
Emmons, Joyce R Bradley School District 61 100,602.12 66,639.75 33,962.37 Special Ed
Ellman, Jean SEJA 804 NSSED 115,986.96 92,846.20 23,140.76 Social Worker
Wassell, Fred J New Berlin CUSD 16 76,308.48 53,648.13 22,660.35 Biology Teacher
Roth, Ruth C Morton CUSD 709 91,056.48 77,674.32 13,382.16 High School English
Burtzos, Ioanna Downers Grove GSD 58 87,352.44 78,525.82 8,826.62 Social Science
Ford, Gordon H Springfield Sch District 186 75,575.16 67,754.91 7,820.25 Psychologist
Gordon, Melva E Peoria SD 150 79,020.12 71,771.72 7,248.40 Elementary Teacher
Vondrak, Edward Thornton TWP HSD 205 108,729.72 101,513.50 7,216.22 Phys ED
Ferguson, Ronald L Winnebago CUSD 323 74,911.68 68,724.04 6,187.64 Administrator
Lovett, Marna D Rockford School District 205 85,494.72 79,421.85 6,072.87 Elementary Teacher
Hauptman, Gail C Olympia CUSD 16 74,043.36 68,196.65 5,846.71 Special Education
Full, James C Freeport School District 145 75,487.08 71,112.97 4,374.11 Drivers Ed
Parker, John E Granite City CUSDist 9 76,996.56 73,051.31 3,945.25 Administrator
Hwastecki, Ralph P Northbrook-Glenview SD 30 85,473.36 83,067.28 2,406.08 Elementary Teacher
Giannamore, Frank T Mundelein CHSD 120 128,830.08 127,352.12 1,477.96 Guidance Counselor
Kinnan, Anna P Oak Park ESD 97 106,994.52 106,427.35 567.17 Elementary Teacher

These pension amounts are allowed by both the TRS and SURS using a series of calculations, which, if they exceed the normal pensions at 75% of salary, are given to the employees via a lifetime annuity.

This is another example of legal corruption.

We have this false idea that all corruption involves illegal actions. As we know the public pension system in Illinois was constructed in a legal framework of unlikely premises and assumptions that basically had no chance of long-term success. Instead, career politicians used it to reward long-term campaign contributors.

In effect the pension system is a form of money laundering, whereby those who give money to politicians get their investment back many times over in salaries and benefits. That is how $45 million in political contributions by Illinois teachers K-University resulted in a $45 billion TRS pension deficit, 1,000 times the contributions received.

State employees who work a normal 45-year career will retire on more income than when they worked.

State employees are a group we haven’t talked much about but on the whole they have the best pension deal in the state. A state employee who works from age 21 to age 66 (like most of us do in the private sector) will retire on take-home pay 20% or greater than when he worked.

That’s because he gets 75% of his pay plus Social Security. So if he was making $80,000 and retired after 45 years he would get $60, 000 state pension and about $24,000 in Social Security or $84,000/yr. Additionally upon retirement he does not pay Social Security (7.65%) or pension contribution (4%) or state income tax (3%). Therefore his take-home pay goes from $68,000 to $84,000.  Yes his retirement take-home exceeds his working salary.

Notice that by paying only 4% into the state pension he gets $5,000/mo retirement income while paying 6.2% into Social Security he gets $2,000/mo. He pays less and gets more thanks to the generosity of the Illinois taxpayer.

How many private sector employees do you know who will be retiring on more than they made when they worked? Not many I would bet.

What the next governor should do.

The next governor should campaign on the theme “Hit the reset button on pensions.”

Let’s take all public retirement benefits back to where they were in 1970 when the pensions were guaranteed. Get rid of early retirements, get rid of free health care and let’s start over from that point.

How could the public employees complain? That is what was guaranteed, so that’s what you will get. All the upgrades and increases folded into the plans in exchange for political contributions since then will be reversed.

In February this year there were two non-binding referendums on funding public pensions.

Here is the exact question asked: “Shall the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor take immediate steps to implement meaningful pension reform which will relieve the unsustainable burden on local taxpayers?”

By overwhelming margins of 87% and 91% voters approved implementing “meaningful pension reform.” In November at least 12 more communities will vote on this exact issue. I predict that the outcome will result, once again, in overwhelming approval of “meaningful pension reform.”

That should prove beyond a doubt that comprehensive pension reform is supported by a large majority of Illinois taxpayers and any successful politician is going to be out front in implementing this most important of reforms.

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this email address.