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Public pension and salary ‘double-dippers’ targeted in new bill

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Updated: December 20, 2013 6:33AM

This summer, the Metra patronage scandal erupted after an allegation that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan tried getting the rail agency to give a raise to a campaign worker who held a state job.

Tempers once again flared after the Sun-Times revealed that the raise request — which Madigan said he later withdrew — came even as that worker, Patrick Ward, was already drawing a public pension roughly equal to his $57,000 annual salary.

A new bill in Springfield, however, would ban such practices.

The new legislation, dubbed “Retirement Means Retirement Act,” proposed by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, takes aim at so-called “double dippers”: public employees who draw a public paycheck at the same time they draw a public pension.

Franks said while Ward is one example, he’s hardly the poster child for the practice. He says the legislation would address anyone — from state lawmakers to school superintendents to those in law enforcement who retire from one public job because they’ve maxed out on their pension, then take another public job as they begin to draw pension benefits.

Franks pointed to school superintendents and police chiefs who retire on a Friday only to return the following Monday with a new title, new salary — and drawing a pension— all while staying in the same office.

“I see a lot of people who retire and just end up in another government job shortly thereafter,” Franks told the Sun-Times. “That’s not what this system was designed for, but it’s a major loophole that they’re able to exploit …We’re going after the abusers — and we know who we’re talking about. Some of these guys make more than the president in retirement.”

For years, local and state governments have taken part in the practice, arguing they don’t want to lose experienced professionals to a pension system designed to require workers to continue kicking into their retirement even after they maxed out of the benefits they can receive.

“The bill is discriminatory, and if applied to current workers and retirees, it is unconstitutional,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Local 31. “The modest pension of a teacher or police officer is their life savings that they earned and paid for from every check. If a retired sheriff’s deputy with a $30,000 pension and no Social Security can’t make ends meet, who is Jack Franks to say they can’t take a part-time job in security at a local school or library?”

Franks argues that language in the bill would also give an incentive to long-term employees to stay put rather than retire. That’s because now, in many public positions, those who max out on pension benefits they receive must continue paying into the system even though they’re not drawing from it. Franks said that could be fixed: If you’re maxed out on benefits you can receive, you would no longer have to kick into the system if you’re not yet drawing from it.

“I’m not aiming to hurt the folks who worked hard all their lives and get a return,” Franks said, saying he’s targeting the “upper echelon.” He also argues: “Don’t retire if you don’t want to retire.”

Twitter @natashakorecki

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