Ann Maher and Steve Korris May 29, 2014, 5:14pm

Illinois legislators who altered pension plans of state employees exempted two groups with the weakest plans - themselves and judges.

As they tried to prop up a statewide system with a dreadful funding ratio of 41 percent, they chose not to fix a judicial plan at 28 percent or their own plan at 16 percent.

An annual report from their joint committee on retirement systems shrugs off the gap between assets and liabilities for judges and themselves.

“Although the judges’ retirement system and the General Assembly retirement system have the poorest funded ratios, these two systems are much smaller and their unfunded liabilities are thus more manageable than the three larger systems,” the report says.

As of last June 30, the Judicial Retirement System (JRS) faced about $2.2 billion in accrued liabilities while holding about $611 million in assets.

Last fiscal year it paid out about $114 million to 755 former judges and 323 survivors.

That equaled more than $105,000 per person.

The plan for state employees paid out about $28,000 per person, and the teacher plan paid out about $45,000.

The four to one pension gap between judges and regular state employees doesn’t surprise the plan’s executive director, Tim Blair.

“Their salary is about four times that too,” he said in a May 29 interview.

He said an appellate court judge can make $200,000.

“It’s a completely different group of employees," he said. "State employees have wide variations in salary.

“You have to remember that judges are not coordinated with social security. Their entire retirement comes from this retirement system.”

Last fiscal year the state contributed about $88 million to the plan, and 962 active judges contributed about $16 million through payroll deduction at 11 percent.

For investment purposes, the plan commingles assets with those of legislators, teachers, university employees and state employees at the state board of investment.

The plan owns about five percent of the net position of the investment board.

For actuarial purposes it assumes a seven percent return on investment, 3.5 percent annual raises, and three percent inflation.

It assumes that three fourths of judges are married to spouses four years younger.

Judges can retire at 60 with 10 years of service, or 62 with six years.

They can retire at 55 with 10 years, for lesser benefits.

They get 3.5 percent of final salary for each of the first 10 years of service, and five percent a year after that up to 85 percent.

They get automatic annual increases of three percent.

The General Assembly plan faced about $320 million in accrued liabilities as of last June 30, while holding about $52 million in assets.

Third Circuit, Fifth District and a local Supreme Court judge receiving benefits from JRS bring home a total of $183,783.25 per month. In a year, that adds up to $2,205,399.

Since these 18 jurists left the bench between 2003 and 2012, the JRS has paid them a total of $12,745,231.46.

These figures do not reflect the benefits received by the late Moses Harrison, who retired as a Supreme Court justice in 2002, and who passed away in 2013. Harrison was paid the most among the group at $15,167.38 per month and would have collected more than $2 million in retirement.

The 18 local judges were among 1,078 who received annuities from the JRS in 2013 and make up about 16 percent of the total number of retirees and beneficiaries paid by the system. There are another 22 inactive participants entitled to receive benefits but who are not yet receiving them.

More News