| Image courtesty of Taxpayers United of America
Two Edwardsville pensioners, whose combined annual pension is almost $476,000, made the top 400 in Tax Payers United of America's 10th Annual Report of Illinois State Pensions.
More than 15,000 state pensioners in Illinois each collect more than $100,000 a year while more than 92,000 annually collect more than $50,000, according to the report issued June 23.
| Image courtesty of Taxpayers United of America
“Nearly 75 percent of these top government pensioners are collecting more than $200,000 a year in taxpayer-funded pensions,” Taxpayers United of America Executive Director Jared Labell said in the press release that announced the report. “These government pensions accumulate to multi-million dollar payouts over a natural lifetime, and for many government retirees, they will collect more than their total contributions to their pension fund while employed within two years of retirement.”
Taxpayers United of America is a Chicago-based tax watchdog group that was founded 40 years ago this month.
The report analyzes data from Illinois’ General Assembly Retirement System (GARS), Judges’ Retirement System (JRS), Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), State Universities Retirement System (SURS), State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).
Taxpayers United of America is not the only group pointing to pensions as a contributing factor in the state's present financial crisis. Southern Illinois University Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Director David Yepsen told the Madison - St. Clair Record earlier this month he predicted it taking several years of bringing pension deficits into balance.
There also has been an analysis of how much taxpayers in Madison County would have to pay if they were to fund existing pension debt. Tax bills would at least double, that analysis showed.
The Taxpayers United of America report lists actual pension amounts, particularly those paid to the top 400 pensioners in the state.
Labell said that it is difficult to break all those figures down by county and determine how much Madison County taxpayers contribute toward the pensions of those 400 and more.
"Unfortunately, the six pension funds (five state funds, plus IMRF) did not provide sufficient data to accurately breakdown all of the pensioners by county," Labell said. "However, our research shows that there are about 300 government retirees in the Madison and St. Clair area collecting pensions of at least $100,000 annually. While those are staggering numbers, the six-figure threshold isn’t enough to be included on our list of Top 400 pensions. Nearly our entire list contains pensions in excess of $200,000."
Among those 400 are David Werner and Morris Cooper, both retired from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, who are No. 76 and 156 respectively on that list and who draw their pensions via the State Universities Retirement System.
Werner, chancellor of Southern Illinois University from 1998 to 2004, receives an annual pension of $252,704, more than the $246,018 he contributed to the fund, according to the report. Cooper, who remains professor emeritus in the University's Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology department, receives an annual pension of $223,187, slightly less than the $226,656 he contributed to the fund, according to the report.
"Nearly 90 cents of every income tax dollar sent to Springfield during the 2011-2015 67 percent income tax hike went to funding the state pensions," Labell said. "So taxpayers in the Madison County area are losing out with the rest of the state.
Taxpayers United of America also suggests some solutions in the report, including short-term and long-term policy changes.
"Firstly, the defined benefit pension system is always a financial risk, so defined contribution 401(k)-style plans are preferable, and new hires should be transitioned immediately," Labell said. "Current employees should also be allowed to transition to these new plans. Decreased cost-of-living-adjustments are necessary, as well as increased retirement ages and contribution totals to their own government pensions."
Long-term solutions must include amending or repealing the pension-protection clause, Article XIII, Section 5, of the Illinois Constitution to make substantive changes to the government pensions in the state, Labell said.
"Allowing municipalities, school districts, and other taxing districts to reorganize through Chapter 9 bankruptcy is another option to protect taxpayers and restructure unfunded liabilities," he said. "Federal legislation to expand the US bankruptcy code would preempt state level prohibitions to making necessary reforms and override the Illinois Constitution’s pension-protection clause. This is the most difficult but systemic reform of Illinois’ unfunded government liabilities."