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Article updated: 1/24/2013 8:05 AM

Some suburban lawmakers forgo pensions

By

SPRINGFIELD -- As the state's retirement debt grows, several suburban lawmakers have opted out of taking out a pension.

Of the 177 lawmakers that make up the Illinois General Assembly, 23 have chosen to forgo their pensions. Of those, 14 are freshmen.

"This is a freshman class that ran for office in very difficult financial times," said State Sen. Melinda Bush, a freshman Democrat from Grayslake who is declining a pension. "I think it's a signal to citizens that we get it and we are ready to do serious work."

Every member of the General Assembly may be entered in the General Assembly Retirement System, which is the smallest of the five state pension systems. The size of a lawmaker's pension check is decided by a combination of salary and length of service.

Currently, debt in the lawmakers' pension fund makes up just $247 million of the state's overall $96 billion unfunded pension liability. For perspective, that means GARS constitutes less than one half of 1 percent of the state's total retirement pension debt.

Still, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a freshman Democrat from Villa Park, decided to opt out because he said taking a pension would have contributed to the state's financial problem.

"Adding myself to the rolls does not solve the problem," Cullerton said. "(Nor) does it make a healthier pension system."

The decision of whether to opt out is not a partisan one; currently 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats have chosen to forgo pensions.

In addition to declining a pension, state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, proposed legislation that would eliminate pensions altogether for new lawmakers.

"We need to lead by example," said McSweeney.

"There is no reason a part-time job should come with a pension," he added.

The idea of at least scaling back lawmakers' pensions has been in major pension-cutting plans in recent years.

McSweeney proposed other cost-cutting legislation, including a plan that would reduce lawmakers' district budgets by 10 percent, a measure that he estimates will save $1.3 million per year.

Despite these cuts, it is estimated the unfunded pension liability overall grows by $17 million every day.

According to state officials, other suburban lawmakers who are skipping their General Assembly pensions are Rep. Scott Drury, a Highwood Democrat; Rep. Ronald Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican; Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican; Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Aurora Democrat; Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat; Rep. Martin Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat; and Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican.

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