In 1989, then-state Sen. Calvin Schuneman, R-Prophetstown, predicted trouble for Illinois' pension system as legislators passed perk after perk to make their retirements more rewarding.|
One of the major perks he opposed was a cost-of-living increase, which went from 3 percent annually to retirees using a simple interest formula to a 3 percent annual COLA using compound interest.
Now 86 and retired, Mr. Schuneman said the difference changed pension calculations and contributed to some major problems with the state's estimated $85 billion unfunded pension liability.
He voted against the measure in 1989, but to no avail.
"Generally speaking, I opposed every pension increase because we (General Assembly) were not putting money in to fund pensions already approved," Mr. Schuneman said. "I thought it was a serious issue.
"I was trying to draw attention to the fact that we were not properly funding the pensions."
The problem, Mr. Schuneman said, is that the General Assembly Retirement System pays out more than legislators pay in. He said that, in 1989, he told legislators they would pay the price for compounding 3 percent COLA increases annually.
"Nobody wanted to put any money in to fund pensions," Mr. Schuneman said. "It was simply a procedure for disaster. The disaster has caught up with us."
Very few legislators, or those on pension committees, understood how they worked, he said.
"Most people in the legislature are not experts in pension law," he said. "There were votes for outlandish things. One entitled union members to receive state pensions."
The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn Thursday. Illinois Municipal League legislative director Joe McCoy said the General Assembly Retirement System will be included in a pension reform bill this year.
Retired state Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, agreed the state pension systems need to be overhauled.
"I think some steps will be taken for this pension proposal," he said. "It will fix the part where some legislators were leaving the legislature and going and getting a job in administration and upping their pension by a new salary. It will take care of the compounding interest."
Mr. Schuneman said he believes state legislators are trying to fix the problems this year.
"But the state constitution guarantees those benefits to people who already have them," he said. "So, the court is going to have to decide what that means.
"I guess the court, being the recipient of pensions themselves, are probably not going to rule against their own best interest."
Mr. Schuneman said he doesn't know how to fill the void of multibillions in unfunded pension liabilities.
"I don't know how in the world they'll come up with that money unless it's through higher taxes," he said. "It's really frustrating when the legislature does things a member knows is just irresponsible.
"It's such a frustrating position to be in. I let it be known at the time," Mr. Schuneman said. "When the house isn't on fire, nobody thinks it's ever going to catch fire."
Sample of Illinois Pension Recipients
-- Former Gov. Jim Edgar: $134,853 annually; $1.252 million total to date. His total contributions: $164,657.
-- Former Gov. James Thompson: $131,031 annually; $2.023 million total to date. His total contributions: $84,966.
-- Former Attorney General Roland Burris: $129,162 annually; $1.743 million total to date. His total contributions: $134,680.
-- Former state Sen. Dennis Jacobs: $94,146 annually; $561,526 total to date. His total contributions: $152,087.
-- Former state Sen. Todd Sieben: $88,403 annually; $303,931 total to date. His total contributions: $144,717.
-- Former state Rep. and Judge David Hultgren: $78,402 annually; $408,285 total to date. His total contributions: $70,831.
-- Former state Sen. and Judge Clarence Darrow: $76,017 annually; $974,695 total to date. His total contributions: $32,200.
-- Former state Sen. Cal Schuneman: $64,474 annually; $951,226 total to date. His total contributions: $60,013.
-- Former state Rep. Mike Boland: $50,806 annually; $50,806 total to date. His total contributions: $116,065.
-- Former state Rep. Ben Polk: $30,013 annually; $571,375 total to date. His total contributions: $53,108.
-- Former state Sen. Don Wooten: $12,137 annually; $189,257 total to date. His total contributions: $15,000.
Source: Chicago Tribune and the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS)
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