There’s corruption – and then there’s Illinois.
As more light is being shed on the abuse of Chicago’s public pension systems through the process known as “double dipping,” taxpayer and public employee outrage has reached new heights, and understandably so.
A recent Chicago Tribune piece describes how eight Chicago labor leaders will soon be eligible to draw upon multiple pension systems simultaneously, and by doing so, collect retirement benefits of $400,000 to $500,000 annually. All told, each of these double dippers stands to collect nine to ten million dollars in total pension benefits throughout the course their retirement.
The practice of drawing upon multiple pensions is theoretically prohibited by Illinois state law. But as these eight union leaders argue, the statute banning double dipping is vague and certain exceptions exist which legally allow for double dipping. To them, they’re just following the law. To taxpayers, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.
Understandably, public outrage has been tremendous. The average Chicago public employee receives a yearly retirement benefit of only $29,000 and does not have the luxury of legislative loopholes engineered by their union. Taxpayers are equally upset. As city pension funds approach insolvency, taxpayers are forced to prop up the failing systems while union leaders shave off hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal benefits. As Illinois State Rep. Tom Cross put it, “Even by our standards here in Illinois, it’s beyond belief. It’s insane.”
Unfortunately for Ohioans, the practice of double dipping is not an Illinois phenomenon alone. A growing number of Ohio double dippers partake in the “retire/rehire” process, where public employees retire, begin to collect their pension, and then are rehired back at their previous position only days later at the same or even an increased level of pay.
A 2010 report by the Ohio Newspaper Organization found that over 25 percent of Ohio’s public school superintendents are double dippers, with many drawing annual pension benefits of over $80,000 while continuing to collect salaries in excess of $100,000. At a time when the State Teachers Retirement System is begging for a taxpayer bailout and countless local school districts have tax levy increases on the ballot, it is obvious that the practice of double dipping must end immediately.
As public pension reform is debated in the upcoming months, halting the practice of double dipping is just one of many issues that must be addressed.
Let’s not let Ohio become Illinois.