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Our View: New target for pension reform

Published: Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

While the Illinois Legislature finally took a half-hearted swing at pension reform, no one who’s paying much attention believes the crisis is resolved.

Although there have been some tweaks, including a pension salary cap just shy of $110,000 that most taxpayers would equate with winning a major lottery, there are still problems with pensions, which are often too generous to expect Illinois taxpayers to sustain.

One pension issue that remains very common in Illinois is the matter of double-dipping. It’s particularly common for higher-ranking police officers and some school administrators. 

Because their retirement systems allow them to become fully vested in their pension system – often at the ripe, old age of 50 – former police chiefs or school superintendents take identical or similar jobs in other departments or school districts.

The practice is so common, particularly among police chiefs, one barely bats an eye when the next chief comes into town, where he will collect often a six-figure salary while collecting a six-figure – or close to it – pension from his previous employer.

We don’t begrudge the individuals who take advantage of this system. It’s set up quite nicely for them. From the hiring municipality or school district point of view, they’re getting an experienced manager who’s still young enough to do the job, and they aren’t on the hook for the previous pension anyway.

The other bonus is that after about five years or so, the double-dipping public employee often accrues a new partial pension from his new employer.

To use a popular street cliché: Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

Meanwhile, municipal budgets are getting hammered by pension burdens. It’s one of the reasons that the city of Crystal Lake, for example, is raising its tax levy by a whopping 8.3 percent.

Pensions are designed to be retirement accounts. While employees have earned their pensions, they should only be allowed to access them once they’ve retired – not while they’re collecting a new salary and accruing a second pension.

This is another pension matter that legislators should be addressing.

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