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CHICAGO (CBS) – The Better Government Association is denouncing the latest examples of alleged government pension manipulation, uncovered by a Chicago Tribune investigation.
WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports legal loopholes have allowed Chicago aldermen and former Mayor Richard M. Daley to super-size their pensions.
According to the Tribune, two years after he was first elected mayor in 1989, Daley briefly rejoined a pension plan for state lawmakers, staying long enough to become eligible for benefits worth 85 percent of his mayoral salary.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports
Before he had been elected mayor, Daley had served in the Illinois Senate for eight years, although had not been a lawmaker for nearly a decade when he became mayor.
The move ultimately allowed Daley to draw a $183,778-a-year pension when he retired after 22 years as mayor – about $50,000 more than he would have received without the pension move, according to the Tribune.
The same year Daley boosted his own pension, he also helped push through a pension sweetener plan for aldermen, which made them eligible to get up to 80 percent of the salary they earned in their last month of work. All other city employees get only 70 percent of their average monthly salary from their last four years of work.
BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw said it’s tough to come up with adjectives adequate to describe the pension deals politicians arranged for themselves.
“Outrageous, insidious, sneaky,” he said.
Shaw said the politicians are gaming the system.
“The sad thing is it’s going to cost us tens of millions of dollars,” Shaw said. “It’s unfair to taxpayers, but it’s also unfair to regular rank-and-file workers who put in 30 or 40 years to get decent pensions, only to see the politicians like ex-Mayor Daley, and all of the Chicago aldermen receiving pensions that are probably two times what they deserve.”
Shaw said the only encouraging news is that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has called for broader pension reform from the General Assembly before the November election.
Typically, state lawmakers have held off on controversial issues like pension reform until right after the fall elections, and even then their measures have only scratched the surface of the problem.
“Madigan’s comments … that they have to come up with a pension bill this spring, before they pass the budget, is perhaps the most encouraging sign thus far,” Shaw said. “It doesn’t wipe out the bad stain and the bad smell of these pension scams, but at least it could go a long way towards solving the long-term problem.”
Shaw said if the politicians who benefit from lucrative pension deals had a conscience, they’d give back the excess money gleaned from their pension sweeteners.
“I think that if any of these people are decent citizens, they should be giving back this excess, and going back to a pension that reflects what everyone else gets, not these super-sized pensions. It’s ridiculous,” he said.