10 years of retirement, $1.2M in pension income. That's what average judge in Illinois receives.

  • The average retired Illinois judge left the bench 10 years ago and has received more than $1.2 million in pension benefits since then.

    The average retired Illinois judge left the bench 10 years ago and has received more than $1.2 million in pension benefits since then.

 
 

The average retired Illinois judge left the bench a little more than 10 years ago and has received more than $1.2 million in pension payments during that time.

Meanwhile, the average Social Security recipient in the U.S. has been retired for more than 17 years and has received less than $250,000 over that period.

A Daily Herald analysis of Illinois pension data shows that retirees in five other statewide public pension plans also are averaging more money in retirement benefits compared to Social Security recipients -- but in many cases those public pension recipients are receiving Social Security payments as well.

With an average annual pension of $146,472, Illinois' 914 retired judges contribute to a 74% increase in six-figure public pensions over the last four years across Illinois' retirement systems. While benefits have grown, Illinois' unfunded pension liabilities have ballooned to more than $134 billion as a result of years of inadequate funding by state lawmakers -- some of whom are now also receiving publicly funded pensions.

The 323 retired lawmakers and statewide officeholders in the General Assembly Retirement System on average have been out of office 12.7 years and been paid $693,502 in pension benefits over that time, although about a third of current lawmakers have declined pension participation. Currently, 37 Republicans and 17 Democrats are not participating in the system.

"The number is growing, and it should be, for two reasons," said Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. David McSweeney, who is one of them. "One, we have to lead by example. Legislators who refuse to take this pension show we are serious about addressing the pension problem and not adding to it. And the second thing is that this is a part-time job."

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Attempts to rein in Illinois' pension costs have been thwarted in court, with judges citing a constitutional provision that public pension benefits can't be "diminished or impaired." In an attempt to curb future costs, legislators created a second tier of public pensioners in 2011 who will have to work longer and have pensions capped, but it will be years before those employees retire.

Until then, change would require a constitutional amendment -- which requires both a legislative and public vote -- and consensus on what should be done, said Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan government research organization that specializes in Illinois tax and financial policy. He said the "most expensive benefit" is the 3% compounded cost-of-living adjustment applied to all public pensions in Illinois except those under the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. IMRF pensioners receive an annual increase, but it's always 3% of their starting benefit. They also receive a bonus payment ranging anywhere from a few cents to more than $7,000 each July, depending on the size of their pension.

The new tier of pensioners will see cost-of-living increases based on inflation.

Msall's group gave a tepid endorsement of the state budget this year, saying it did almost nothing to address the state's pension funding problem. Gov. J.B. Pritzker ultimately agreed to drop plans to defer a nearly $1 billion pension payment and instead bumped it up by $200 million after state revenues came in higher than anticipated. That move did little to assuage Msall's concerns.

"There has to be a compromise solution, and it just becomes more and more clear with only $200 million in new money earmarked for pension payments," Msall said. "That's a drop in the bucket."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The analysis shows the average retirees in IMRF, the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees' Retirement System, the Illinois Judges' Retirement System and the General Assembly Retirement System have been paid between $161,389 and more than $1.2 million since leaving their public sector jobs. Some retirees' benefits are boosted by other public employment that they are allowed to carry over to more lucrative retirement systems through a state-granted reciprocal agreement between the funds. The analysis did not include those receiving survivor, disability or other types of benefits.

Among Illinois public pension recipients, according to the analysis:

• The average retired judge has been collecting a pension for a little more than 10 years and received $1,255,295 during that time. They are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits for their work as judges.

• Retired legislators and other statewide officeholders average a pension of $65,277. The 323 retirees in that system have been out of office an average of 12.7 years. The average General Assembly retiree has been paid $693,502 in that time. They do not receive Social Security credit for their work as lawmakers.

• There are more than 109,000 retired teachers and school administrators with an average pension of $58,860. The average TRS retiree has been collecting a pension for almost 13.2 years and has received $637,152 in the time. TRS retirees do not get Social Security benefits for their work as educators.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• State university retirees average a pension of $40,691. There are 58,691 retirees in the system. The average retiree has been collecting a pension for a little more than 11.2 years and has been paid $385,859 during that time. These retirees are not eligible for Social Security benefits.

• The 60,952 retirees in the state employees plan have an average pension of $39,505 and have been receiving a pension for almost 11.4 years, on average. During that time they have been paid $380,533. They are eligible for Social Security benefits.

• IMRF is the largest statewide system in Illinois, but it has the lowest average retiree pension at $17,617, according to the analysis. The more than 120,000 retirees have been collecting a pension for more than 10.4 years, on average. They received $161,389 in that time. They also receive Social Security benefits.

• The average Social Security benefit in 2018 was $17,532, according to data on the Social Security Administration's website, with 23 percent of couples and 43% of unmarried recipients relying on it for 90% or more of their retirement income. The average recipient has been receiving a benefit for almost 17.5 years and has received $248,728 in that time.

Got a tip?

Contact Jake at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602. And go to dailyherald.com/subscribe to access the entire Suburban Tax Watchdog archive.

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