The Illinois General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) is running on fumes and is in such bad shape some political candidates have promised not to accept pension benefits if elected.
Republican House candidates Allen Skillicorn (District 66), Brad Halbrook (District 102) and Brandi McGuire (District 72) have all vowed to opt out of GARS should they make it to Springfield.
Without major intervention in the form of large taxpayer contributions, GARS, which offers benefits to 294 retired legislators, will reportedly run out of money in less than three years.
Eugene Keefe of Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates LLC said he dislikes government pensions in Illinois because they deceive people into thinking there is enough money set aside to fund the pensions. And when a person retires after 20 years, they believe there is a pile of cash where they will get their pension benefits, which is not the case, Keefe said.
“And the second worst one is the Illinois legislative pension because the Illinois legislative pension is like 17 percent funded,” Keefe said.
At age 67, legislators who have been members of the General Assembly since 2011 can retire and be eligible for benefits after serving a minimum of eight years and receive up to 60 percent of their final average salary after 20 years of service.
Legislators who took office before 2011 are eligible for retirement at age 62 after serving a minimum of four years and receive the maximum 85 percent of their final average salary after 20 years, with annual cost-of-living adjustments.
Legislators can opt out of the pension program, but those who choose to participate contribute 11.5 percent of their annual salary to GARS. Once a legislator opts out of the pension program the decision is irrevocable due to administrative rules within the state pension system.
Keefe said members of the Illinois legislature can make about $80,000 a year and at the end of four years receive a lifetime benefit if they are at retirement age. GARS guarantees 80 percent of a legislator’s highest last years’ salary, and 80 percent of $80,000 is approximately $64,000 a year for the rest of your life, Keefe said.
“To be entitled to the money, you have to put in like 10 percent for a married legislator for four years," Keefe said. "So do the math in your head, 10 percent for a married legislator is like $32,000. The first year they get the $32,000 back and $32,000 more from the fund and then for the rest of their lives they get paid $64,000 that is now back on taxpayers.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Illinois legislators have the fifth-highest legislator pay in the nation.
Currently, more than 20 Illinois lawmakers have made the decision to opt out of GARS in an effort to ease the financial burden on the state’s pension system.
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