CHICAGO (CBS) — Some public university employees have figured out a way to keep their jobs and double their salaries.
CBS 2’s Dave Savini has been investigating this lucrative, yet legal, sweetheart deal involving government pensions.
One beneficiary of this pension law is Mark Wilcockson, a Northeastern Illinois University finance director. Last summer, he retired from the university, started collecting his pension then, two months later, was hired back to do the same job.
“It’s a benefit I earned after 38 years working in the system,” said Wilcockson about his pension.
Before retiring, Wilcockson was earning $168,648. He returned to the job at a lower salary: $123,000.
However, add in his $101,312 annual pension and his income grew to $224,312.16, a 33% increase in cash.
“I’m sure you’re here because of my salary, my range, because it happens to lots of other people,” said Wilcockson. “There’s faculty. There’s people in the mail room that do this kind of thing.”
He’s right and, again, it is all perfectly legal.
Another example is John Hoeppel, a director at Northeastern Illinois University, who retired making $109,596. Two months later, he was hired back earning $96,000. Add in his $97,896 pension payment, and Hoeppel’s income went up 76% to $193,906.32.
CBS 2 found employees at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the City Colleges of Chicago, and Chicago State University who also retired and returned to draw both a university pension and a university salary.
State Rep. Daniel Biss, (D-Evanston) is taking action now to stop this double-dipping practice. He says the pension systems in Illinois are “troubled”. The former University of Chicago math professor says taxpayers are being hit twice and it needs to stop.
“You have people who are able to retire and move to a different job which is often in violation of the spirit of the law,” says Biss.
Earlier this week, Biss introduced legislation to force universities to reimburse the pension system for double-dipping employees. So, if a university allows an employee to retire and collect a $100,000 pension, and then rehires that person, the university would have to repay that $100,000 to the pension system. This could be an expensive proposition and put and end to the practice.
Christina Tobin, of National Taxpayers United of America, has been investigating the university pension system. She says the collecting of two taxpayer-funded checks needs to stop.
“It’s definitely taking advantage of a flawed system,” says Tobin. “Currently the pension system is unsustainable.”
Tobin says the state has failed to sufficiently fund public employee pensions, putting them in jeopardy, as well as the poorly designed pension system itself.
Wilcockson says you cannot blame retirees.
“There’s nothing wrong with what I did,” said Wilcockson.
The real blame, say pension experts, goes to lawmakers who created the system.
Biss’s proposal was prompted by the CBS 2 investigation. If approved, universities would still be able to rehire retirees, but would be required to reimburse the state for pension payouts to rehired employees while they draw a university salary.
Biss said many retirees get around laws against double dipping by being called “temporary employees,” even though they work full time.