Nation, not just Illinois, will cover Blagojevich's costs
Between his prison sentence and congressional pension, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will cost taxpayers about $350,000 over the next 12 years, the minimum time he will have to serve on his 14-year corruption sentence.
But consider this: If he'd been acquitted of the federal charges against him, his total pension over the same period -- which he could have begun collecting on his 55th birthday Dec. 10 -- would have amounted to nearly $1 million, most of that from Illinois taxpayers.
Though his misdeeds largely took place within the Prairie State, the cost of justice for them is being borne by the nation. That's because he's going to a federal prison and will receive a federal pension.
Blagojevich has to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence imposed Wednesday, according to U.S. Bureau of Prison officials. That's just a little less than a dozen years. He is due to report to prison Feb. 16. And like former Illinois politicians convicted of corruption before him, Blagojevich will likely be classified as a low- or minimal-security risk. Federal prison officials said low-security inmates cost taxpayers $25,378.45 a year to keep behind bars, and minimum-security prisoners cost $20,987.50. Not counting any potential adjustments for inflation, that translates to at least $302,003.56 or $249,751.25, respectively, if Blagojevich serves 85 percent of his sentence, or 11.9 years, as anticipated.
Additionally, once Blagojevich turns 62 in December 2018, he can begin collecting a federal pension worth about $15,000 a year for his six years of service as a U.S. Congressman, according to officials in the U.S. House of Representatives Chief Administrative Office. Because the pension is subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment of roughly 2 percent that compounds annually, Blagojevich will have amassed more than $77,000 in pension payments if he is released on schedule in 2024.
The federal government has no rules that disqualify former congressmen from retirement benefits if they are convicted of felonies, according to the Federal Office of Personnel Management.
But Illinois does. And Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has opined that Blagojevich's conviction on corruption charges committed while in office allows the General Assembly Retirement System to disqualify him from his pension. Blagojevich stood to receive a $64,500 state pension next year that he could have begun collecting this month.
Instead, he will likely receive a refund of the $129,176.86 he contributed to his state pension during his six years and one month as governor and four years as a state representative, said Tim Blair, executive secretary of the retirement system for state legislators and statewide officeholders. He may receive less if the federal government uses that money to cover the $20,000 in fines that were part of his conviction.
Madigan's opinion will save Illinois taxpayers more than $900,000 that Blagojevich would have received in pension payments over the next 12 years if he had been acquitted. Blagojevich's 3 percent, compounded-annually cost-of-living increases alone would have amounted to more than $140,000 during that time.