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posted: 5/9/2013 12:01 PM

Editorial: End retirement payouts for unused time off

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The state is in the grip of a much more expensive debate -- choosing between two pension-cutting plans that could save between $45 billion to as much as $150 billion -- but in the midst of a financial quagmire, saving even just millions of dollars should not be scoffed at.

With that in mind, we take issue with handing former Illinois State Police troopers more than $7.7 million in retirement payouts from 2006 to 2012 because of unused time off.

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Our distaste for this policy has nothing to do with the respect and gratitude we have for the dedicated public service of these 134 former officers. This is simply a bad financial policy, one which is very rare in the private sector.

"Anecdotally, I would say that's not the norm in private industry," Angela Adams, director of human resource services at the Downers Grove-based Management Association, told our Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin in Wednesday's Daily Herald. "Usually, there's a much tighter limit on how much you can carry over from year to year."

Each election season, we hear from gubernatorial and legislative candidates who say they want to overturn every rock to find hidden savings. Here's an example of a rock unturned. And we're fairly confident the rocky road to financial comfort in Springfield is a long way from transitioning to smooth pavement.

To wit: Griffin pointed out that the former state police deputy director, a management position, received more than $96,000 for accrued time off when he retired in mid-2012.

This strikes at the heart of the public- vs. private-sector debate being waged in Springfield today. Unused time just isn't usually carried over from year to year or in the case of sick time, paid out because you managed to be healthy. But in this case, Griffin reports, months of time off can be banked throughout a trooper's career and then paid out at their final salary -- presumably at a much higher rate than when they were to use their time off.

Some of those rules have changed -- troopers hired after 1997 can't cash out unused sick days -- so the $3.6 million in unused sick time payouts will be reduced as time goes on.

But in the years Griffin studied, $2.7 million of the total tab was paid for unused vacation time. Troopers can bank up to 50 days of vacation or 10 weeks.

"Use it or lose it is the reality," said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute. "That's just amazing to have that much time banked."

Indeed it is. Add in the personal, compensatory and holiday time unused and it's easy to see how the retirement bills rack up.

We understand that many of these perks are part of negotiated contracts. But we urge both the employees and the elected leaders to change policies that are much more generous than the average taxpayer in the private sector could get.

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