Updated: March 27, 2012 8:19AM
‘Horse - - - -,” growled Cook County Commissioner Bill Beavers over the phone.
Barnyard Bill, the self-proclaimed “Hog With the Big Nuts,” was bloodied but unbowed on Thursday. It was just an hour earlier that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had hit the 77-year-old former cop, former alderman and county officeholder with a four-count federal indictment.
The feds allege that Beavers converted $226,000 in campaign donations to personal use. And allege that he lied to the IRS.
But if Beavers wants to talk about “horse - - - -,” I’m compelled to refer him to Count Two of his own indictment:
“On Nov. 14, 2006, Beavers ‘caused’ a check for $68,763.07 to be paid from Citizens for Beavers to the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago to increase his aldermanic monthly pension from $2,890 to $6,541.”
Ignore, for the sake of argument, whether the money was campaign cash or personal savings. A jury will decide that.
But ask yourself this: Can a Chicago alderman legally bump up his monthly pension payment like that? With an investment so small that he recovers the entire $68,763.07 in the first 18 months? And then keeps on collecting?
The Illinois General Assembly has a huge heart when it comes to the pensions of politicians — their own included. And so in 1990, it made Beavers’ maneuver legal.
Today he collects $91,000 from his aldermanic pension; $16,000 from his police pension, and $85,000 in salary from the county.
Ka-Ching! That’s $192,000. And it doesn’t include a $14,400 annual county office allowance that the feds claim he stole.
Have I mentioned that the jobs of alderman and county commissioner are part time? Or that they, along with legislators and judges, can retire with anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of their final salaries? But aren’t required to work as many years as rank-and-file government employees?
Ordinary city workers, just as one example, have to put in 33.3 years of service to fully retire at 60. Aldermen? They need just 20 years. I’m sure there must be a good reason. Stress, perhaps, since the “elected” among us live in a public spotlight.
As The Hog put it back in 1999, “If you can survive 20 years [as an alderman], then you need a pension and you should have it at 55.
Why should you have to wait?”
A lovely deal.
“Yes, it is,” said former 43rd ward Ald. Dick Simpson, who left office long before pensions got so sweet. Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, just co-authored the recent study of corruption in Illinois.
And arrived at the sad but unsurprising conclusion that Chicago is the nation’s most corrupt city and Illinois is the third most corrupt state. Frighteningly, it may also be the most bankrupt, thanks in large part to the public pensions that have been promised.
It’s fashionable these days to bash teachers and unions and accuse them of being greedy.
But what about political leaders and lawmakers who voted for these pensions? They failed, year after year, to fund them but are among their richest beneficiaries.
And now we look to those leaders to “reform” the system? When and if they ever do, they should write us a check along with it.
From their personal accounts.
Not their political funds.