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updated: 1/29/2011 2:26 PM

End pensions for Illinois legislators

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Legislators in Illinois are well compensated. In fact, at a little under $70,000 a year for part-time positions, they're among the most highly paid state lawmakers in the nation.

We don't begrudge them that, although in tough economic times like these, they probably ought to act as role models and voluntarily return a percentage of their pay as an indication that they understand everyone must sacrifice in the cost-cutting.

But by and large, while it's a part-time gig and many legislators have other jobs, it's a demanding position if you're going to do it right and the pay isn't really out of line.

However, pensions, that's another matter.

These are part-time jobs. This is public service. Why should legislators build a retirement out of them?

At a time when the state budget must take severe cuts, legislative pensions ought to be one of the cuts on the table.

These pay out with as little as four years' service and reach as much as 85 percent of the final salary after 20 years. Without being subject to state income taxes.

It's not just a matter of equitable cost-cutting, although that's important. It's also a matter of staying in tune with constituents. How can a legislator remain detached enough to objectively critique the level of pensions public employees are drawing if he or she is drawing a generous pension at the same time?

State Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo has proposed legislation that would remove members of the Illinois General Assembly taking office in 2013 or later from the state pension system.

He's pushing the measure as a way to help the state save money. Although the savings itself would be fairly small, it would send a message that legislators are serious about cutting costs.

"I can't think of anywhere else a person can work part-time and receive a pension, let alone a pension as lucrative as those received by Illinois lawmakers," Franks said.

We agree, and we endorse his legislation.

Some critics of Franks say his legislation can't pass and that he's just attempting to grab headlines with it.

Perhaps. How can anyone know his motive? But the merits of the legislation are sound, no matter the motive.

That being the case, we think Franks -- and all other legislators, for that matter -- should go one step further, and voluntarily refuse their pensions or return what they have.

There are, we concede, legal questions whether a legislator can actually withdraw from the pension program. But there's nothing in the law that prevents anyone from giving money back.

One way or another, when it comes to pensions, Illinois lawmakers should join the real world.