If it bleeds, it leads. Good news is no news. That is the usual rule.
But a steady diet of bad news is demoralizing. And the struggle to clean up Illinois is going to take a long time. So we will need all the morale-boosting we can get.
Sometimes good things do happen, even in the Prairie State.
So, it is with great pleasure that we share with you a little good news from Springfield.
But first, a historical detour.
At the time of this country’s founding, everyone understood that serving in political office was not a full time job, and it was not a lifetime career. Most elected officials in the early days of the United States, and in the early days of Illinois, went into politics after they had established themselves in some professional field. Political office was just one stage of a successful life, typically a late stage, not an all-consuming vocation.
As a result, back in the old days, no one would have thought of having a pension system for lawmakers. Legislators did not go to Springfield the way young men once went into the steel mills or the auto factories, expecting to work for decades and get a pension at the end of it. But as defined benefit pensions faded out in the private sector, they took root in the Illinois legislature.
At the very moment when Illinois is facing a pension crisis, we are pleased to see that some Illinois legislators are leading by example—and out of their own pockets.
Some members of the freshman class of lawmakers have chosen not to accept pensions for themselves. They are making a strong, personal commitment to restoring common sense to Illinois government.
According to information provided by the General Assembly Retirement System, these serving state legislators have chosen not to receive pensions for their part-time employment. The honor roll is posted here on the right.
These freshmen lawmakers are showing their commitment to reform by not participating in a corrupt and failing system. We commend them, we wish them luck, and we hope they will bring real reform to the state, including the pension system.
There are just as many lawmakers, however, who have “bucked the trend” and accepted a pension. They can drop out of the system at any time in their first 24 months of service. A list of those lawmakers is available here.
Feel free to contact them and suggest that they join the trend. Without a pension far down the road to distract them, they will be liberated to work hard for a few years in order to make the state a better place. Then, they can bring their intelligence and talents back into rough and tumble of the private sector, where the rest of us engage in real economic activity. We sink, swim, or tread water—as fate and our own efforts dictate.
We want to especially commend Reps. David McSweeney, Jeanne Ives, Brad Halbrook, and Josh Harms. They have sponsored HB92, which would phase out the pension system for legislators beginning in 2015. HB92 would freeze lawmakers’ pensions to the amounts they have already invested in the system. It provides that no participant shall accrue service credit on or after January 14, 2015, and no member shall become a participant on or after January 14, 2015. If HB92 is enacted, the curtain falls on the pension system for lawmakers starting in 2015.
And fear not for the wellbeing of our Illinois legislators if their pension system is wound up and ended. They are well compensated. Their average annual compensation is $66,876. That is not a bad chunk of change for a part-time job. Comparatively, Illinois legislators rank among the highest paid lawmakers in the United States.
The entering class of legislators have sent a signal and started a trend. We hope that they will build on this good start, and that we will have other opportunities to cheer and support their efforts in the future.
To all who have chosen not to take a state pension: Thank you!