Newly elected state Rep. Tom Morrison raised some eyebrows Tuesday during freshmen legislators' orientation in Springfield when presented with paperwork to join the General Assembly's lucrative pension system.
That's because he opted out a move officials can recall happening just once before.
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"Are you sure you want to do that?" one administrator asked him.
The 35-year-old Palatine Republican, who succeeds six-term state Rep. Suzie Bassi in the 54th House District, realizes that forgoing his pension won't make a dent in the state's $13 billion deficit or $80 billion unfunded pension liability.
But Morrison says he's a proponent of self-sacrifice and leadership by example, and he wasn't willing to become a financial burden on a system he wants to overhaul.
"I want to demonstrate to voters and taxpayers that since cuts have to be made, I'm willing to step forward and make a personal cut," said Morrison, a disaster cleanup franchise owner who defeated Democrat Matt Flamm earlier this month with 62 percent of the vote. "The dollar amount isn't even a blip, but it's the principle."
Morrison won't have to contribute 11.5 percent of his $67,836 annual salary the way the other members of the General Assembly Retirement System do.
But he will lose out on thousands of dollars even if he serves just two 2-year terms in office. After four years in office the amount of time it takes to become vested a current legislator becomes eligible to receive a pension of 12 percent of his salary, along with 3 percent increases if retiring after age 60.
That pension payout spikes to 27 percent of salary after eight years of in office, 45 percent after 12 years of service and finally the maximum 85 percent after 20 years.
Morrison, who's also leaning toward declining the state's health insurance plan in favor of his family's current high-deductible health savings account, said he doesn't fault other legislators for taking part in the pension system. But he does hope others consider following his lead.
"I think legislators should be compensated, but once that service is over, it's over," Morrison said. "I'd like for us to save for retirement just like the private sector does."
His decision is final, as administrative rules within the pension system don't allow him to ever opt back in, General Assembly Retirement System Executive Secretary Tim Blair said.
"We were a little surprised, but it has happened at least once before," Blair said. "He had the statutory right to do what he did and he exercised that."
Morrison said he doesn't know how long he'd like to serve if given the opportunity, but sees his decision as assurance to voters that he's in public service with only the best intentions.
"I think not participating (in the pension system) will take away any thought in the public that I want to run because I'm trying to serve myself," Morrison said.