Chicago Sun-Times | Group warns of more property tax hikes for teacher pensions

Taxpayers United of America’s Executive Director, Jared Labell, and TUA’s recent report detailing how the unsustainable Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund’s financial failures are leading to historic property tax hikes in the city, were the featured story in the Chicago Sun-Times by columnist Fran Spielman.

CTPF Sun-Times scanMayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to impose a $250 million property tax increase for teacher pensions on the heels of the largest property tax hike in Chicago history.

But that could be only the beginning of the hits Chicago homeowners and businesses will have to take.

After evaluating data on 25,000 pension recipients, Taxpayers United of America warned Thursday that Chicagoans could be “taxed out of their homes to prop up” a Chicago Teachers Pension Fund with more than $10 billion in unfunded liabilities and nearly 33 percent more retirees than it had a decade ago.

Last year, 28,114 beneficiaries together collected $1.3 billion in pensions from the teachers fund.

The average retirement age was 61. The average annual pension was $51,454 compared with a median household income in Chicago of $47,831.

But 974 of those teacher pensions topped $100,000. Another 14,420 teachers and administrators received retirement checks that exceeded $50,000.

Former Chicago Schools Supt. Manford Byrd was identified as the pension kingpin, the study shows.

He collects an annual pension of $190,634 — with an estimated lifetime payout of more than $2.5 million — even after paying just $126,561 into the fund during his long career with the Chicago Public Schools.

The highest estimated lifetime payout of more than $6.1 million will go to Kevin Huber, former executive director of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. Huber gets an annual pension check of $91,541. During the course of his career, he made $235,332 in pension contributions, only 4 percent of his “lifetime payout,” the study shows.

Yet another example is former Deputy Supt. Robert Saddler. He has collected $2.17 million in pensions since retiring in 1993 at the age of 59. His annual check is $169,225. That’s $60,890 more than the $108,335 in contributions Saddler made to the teachers pension fund during his career, the study shows.

Jared Labell, executive director of Taxpayers United, noted that the $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction approved last fall is being phased in over four years.

“Combine those scheduled increases with other proposed property tax hikes for teacher pensions and other city employees and the result is a toxic blend of bad news for Chicago’s finances and taxpayers,” Labell said in a news release.

“Taxpayers are understandably shocked by the first round of tax hikes appearing on their property tax bills this summer. Unfortunately, those bills will grow exponentially worse if no action is taken. Taxpayers must demand accountability from CPS, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago City Council and Mayor Emanuel. If we do not act now, taxpayers risk being taxed out of their homes to prop up the city’s insolvent teachers pension fund.”

Emanuel is still trying to negotiate a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union that includes the equivalent of a 7 percent pay cut.

Teachers have threatened to strike for the second time in four years to maintain the so-called “pension pickup” granted to teachers years ago in lieu of a pay raise.

But Labell maintained that the $250 million property tax increase for teacher pensions that Emanuel agreed to impose in exchange for a $600 million state bailout for CPS “does nothing to solve the fundamental problem.”

“These pensions are unsustainable. To fully fund these pensions, the Chicago City Council would have to drastically raise property taxes far beyond the historic increases they have already approved. However, bankrupting taxpayers and driving property owners out of Chicago is no solution to this financial mess,” he said.

Teachers union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin could not be reached for comment about the Taxpayers United study.

The union has been pressuring Emanuel to propose an array of local tax increases to fund CPS. The mayor has been unwilling to entertain them for fear that it would let Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly off the hook.

The most recent comprehensive financial report of the teachers pension fund shows that government pension payments have increased by 73 percent over the last decade — from $751 million in 2006 to $1.3 billion last year. The number of retirees has increased by nearly 33 percent over the same period.

Sangamon Sun|Legal experts: Mautino should lose pension if convicted

Taxpayers United of America’s Executive Director, Jared Labell, was quoted by Sangamon Sun about Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s state and federal investigations into questionable campaign spending.

Following a recent move by Illinois lawmakers to have Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino removed from office amid state and federal investigations into questionable campaign spending during his tenure as state representative, questions have been raised about whether Mautino should lose his pension if convicted.
Legal experts said he should.
“If convicted, he absolutely should lose his pension,”  Jared Labell, executive director for Taxpayers United of America (TUA), said. “Term limits take on a new meaning in Illinois, considering how many government officials end up serving terms in jail.”
Under Illinois Pension Forfeiture Law, pension benefits of any public employee can be revoked for any felony conviction related to official duties. The final decision on whether to revoke such benefits is left to the trustees of individual pension funds.
Other states are pursuing stricter pension-forfeiture laws. In New York, legislators are pushing a pension-forfeiture bill that would allow any state public official convicted of a felony related to public office to be stripped of all pension benefits.
Currently, New York law permits the state to strip away pension benefits from state officials convicted of crimes related to their public office who were hired after Nov. 13, 2011 — when a 2011 ethics-reform law became effective. But under current law, the state cannot touch pensions of state officials hired before then, regardless of convictions.
Things are different, however, in the Land of Lincoln, as former Gov. George Ryan found out.
Following his 2006 conviction on 18 counts of criminal activity, the General Assembly Retirement System of Illinois (GARS) Board voted to suspend Ryan’s pension. Although he appealed the board’s decision to the Circuit Court of Cook County, arguing that he should not be deprived of pension benefits accrued from his years of government employment prior to his criminal conduct, the court upheld the board’s decision, and Ryan lost all pension benefits.
Ryan’s case is proof that Mautino may very well lose his entire pension accumulated over 24 years of service in the General Assembly.
Mautino began serving as auditor general in January after being appointed by the General Assembly in October. Shortly after taking office, questions began surfacing after probes into his campaign records as a member of the General Assembly revealed questionable spending.
Mautino’s disclosure reports revealed more than $200,000 spent on gas and vehicle repairs over a span of 11 years at Happy’s Super Service in Spring Valley, which is Mautino’s hometown, and more than $200,000 in irregular payments to Spring Valley City Bank since 1999.
Labell said TUA did not support Mautino’s appointment to auditor general last year because he was “a terrible steward” of tax dollars while serving in the General Assembly. So naturally, as a taxpayer advocacy group, the idea of Mautino serving as auditor general “seemed ridiculous to us,” Labell said.
Earlier this month, 20 Republican legislators filed a joint House resolution, HJR 158, calling for Mautino’s removal from office. The lawmakers have asked House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Dist. 22) to bring the resolution to the House floor at the General Assembly’s next scheduled meeting.
“If the public outcry is sufficient, he can be forced out of office by the loss of public trust,” Labell said. “Once government officials are under serious investigation and uncooperative, I see little reason for taxpayers to rejoice to subsidizing their income.”
After repeated inquiries from legislators for Mautino to respond to their requests for information, many began calling for his resignation amid looming investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“I think those calling for resignation now are trying to move the story to its logical conclusion, even without full due process, perhaps in an effort for him to receive a reduced sentence,” Labell said. “Perhaps it’s because the investigation is dragging on or it’s just political posturing. But in any case, there’s enough corruption in Illinois politics to go around, and on behalf of beleaguered taxpayers, we’re happy to see officials resign.”
Attorney Eugene Keefe of Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates said that Mautino “will certainly lose” his pension if convicted and said his firm did not support Mautino’s appointment, which he chalked up to being “wholly political.”
Keefe said the cloud of suspicion looming over Mautino is troubling.
“They are calling for his resignation as the evidence, gossip and stories about him and his use of campaign funds are very embarrassing,” Keefe said.

American Legislative Exchange Council| The Williams Report: A look at fiscal headlines from statehouses nationwide

Taxpayers United of America’s Executive Director, Jared Labell, was quoted by American Legislative Exchange Council about pension reform.

State Budgets

Illinois: Governor Signs Stopgap Budget — But Relief from Stalemate Proves Temporary
A deal cut by Illinois lawmakers and Governor Bruce Rauner will keep state government running for another six months. Just minutes after the spending measure was signed, the two sides resumed trading barbs.
Massachusetts: Baker ‘Rightsizes’ the State Budget
Governor Baker signed a $38.92 billion state budget last week, after cutting $256 million from the original bill. The savings resulted from roughly 300 line items and 500 earmarks vetoed.
North Carolina: Governor Signs State Budget
Governor Pat McCrory signed a $22.3 billion state budget into law on Thursday. The budget includes raises for teachers and state workers, as well as a middle class tax cut.
Pennsylvania: Vape Shops Hit Especially Hard by New Taxes in State Budget
In the aftermath of product-specific tax hikes, “vape shops” across Pennsylvania are struggling to remain afloat. Vaporized nicotine is often used by those looking to quit smoking, and yet it is treated the same as cigarettes under the new law. Even nicotine-free vapor products are now heavily taxed.
Texas: Budget Dance Begins
It’s time for the “Texas Budget Two-Step,” according’s Mark Lasheron. The dance began with a joint letter from the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House to every government agency, calling for 4 percent reductions in their spending requests. Various interests groups have already responded with panic.

Pension Reform

National: The Funding of State and Local Pensions: 2015-2020
A new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College finds the funded status of state pension plans further declined in 2015 under new GASB rules. The study authors warn that, if markets fail to recover this year, “funding will drift lower.”
California: CalSTRS Tanking Teachers Pensions to be Politically Correct
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System has pledged to invest heavily in “low-carbon strategies” both at home and abroad. “The losers will be the retirees and the taxpayers,” writes the California Political Review. “CalSTRS, the teachers’ pension system does not even pretend to be investing for the betterment of the retirees.”
Illinois: State Pension Reform Needed to Avoid ‘Catastrophic’ Fate
A new report from Taxpayers United of America (TUA) confirms the unsustainability of public pensions in Illinois. Jared Labell, TUA’s executive director, specifically faults Article XIII, Section 5 of the state constitution, which “unfairly chains generations of taxpayers to an uncontrolled financial burden created by the disastrous decisions of politicians in Springfield.”
New Jersey: Pension Reform at a Crossroads in the Garden State
Erica Jedynak asks her fellow New Jerseyans: “Do we have the courage to reform a broken pension system that’s driving us towards insolvency?”
Rhode Island: Worried About Risk, Pension Fund Managers Mull Conservative Investment Approach
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner stressed the need to be “a little more risk-averse,” but did not say projected returns should be lowered accordingly.