August 8, 2016 Print

The total cost for the Illinois legislature is staggering — an estimated $32 million per year, according to a recent study from Atlas Network partner the Illinois Policy Institute. “The Cost of Illinois’ Lawmakers” examines salaries, health care, dental plans, pensions, per diem disbursements, and mileage reimbursements for Illinois state lawmakers.

“For decades, Illinois politicians have been doing what’s best for themselves and for those who keep them in power, not what’s best for ordinary residents,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at Illinois Policy Institute and co-author of the report. “This politician-created system rewards lawmakers with overly generous benefits, all paid by taxpayers, even as those same politicians have driven Illinois’ economy into the ground. State lawmakers consistently pass legislation that serves their own interests and those of government workers and unions — at the expense of all Illinoisans. Corruption and a pay-to-play system have become the norm in the state, and Illinoisans won’t prosper until that culture changes.”

One particularly egregious example of irresponsible spending is the Illinois lawmaker pension system. The study notes that lawmakers can retire after 20 years of service and earn 85 percent of their final salary, along with 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustments.

“The average retired lawmaker who had 20 years or more of service receives an annual pension payout of nearly $96,000, and that lawmaker’s estimated total payout over the course of retirement will total more than $2.1 million,” the study explains. “However, those retirees on average each contributed just $127,000 toward their pensions, meaning they will earn back what they directly contributed after less than two years in retirement.”

Benefits for individual lawmakers can rise far above those averages.

“The retiree collecting the most lucrative pension is former state Sen. Arthur Berman, who left office in 2001,” the study continues. “Berman receives an annual pension of $230,000 and can expect to collect over $3.3 million over the course of his retirement. Because he contributed less than $110,000 to his pension over the course of his 22-year career, Berman will have only directly contributed 3 percent of what he is expected to receive in total pension payouts (6 percent if investment returns on his contributions are included).”

The lawmakers’ pension system demonstrates that no matter the fiscal condition of the state, rarely are there ever any consequences for those responsible for creating the mess. Their salaries are guaranteed, their health and dental care are guaranteed, and their pensions are guaranteed — all at the expense of the taxpayer.

“This report is just one step in making Illinois lawmakers more accountable to taxpayers,” Dabrowski said. “By exposing the unfairness of legislator pay and benefits, we’re demanding better terms and more responsible leadership from our lawmakers. The same games that politicians and special interest groups play in Illinois are being played across the nation and around the world. Career politicians and their supporters will do anything to keep their power, regardless of the costs they impose on their constituents. This report should serve as a call to action for citizens to keep their politicians in check.”