Quad-City Times | AFSCME, taxpayer group disagree on Illinois pensions

Taxpayers United of America’s operations director, Jared Labell, was quoted by Quad-City Times in an article about Taxpayers United of America’s recent pension release for both Rock Island County and Moline.

Visit website to see pension information

According to Jared Labell, of the Taxpayers United of America organization, the group’s website lists individual pensions of Rock Island and Moline municipal, Rock Island County, Rock Island County government teachers and Black Hawk College retirees. Visit www.taxpayersunited.org to see the list.

Rock Island County taxpayers bear the burden of millions of dollars in pensions that retired educators and municipal workers will collect for years to come, according to a Chicago-based taxpayers group.

Taxpayers United of America made a presentation on that contention — one of several presentations throughout the state — Wednesday at the Rock Island Holiday Inn.

But a representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, counters that most Illinois retirees receive only modest pensions.

Jared Labell, operations director of the taxpayers group, said about 930 Rock Island County teachers collect at least $50,000 annually. Statewide, more than 12,000 Illinois pensioners collect six-figure pensions, and more than 85,893 retirees collect more than $50,000, he said.

“On average, these government pensioners contribute only about 5.5 percent to their own retirement payout,” he said. “In the private sector, employees pay 15 percent of every dollar they earn into Social Security for an average pension of only $15,000.”

But Anders Lindall, public affairs director at AFSCME Council 31, Chicago, calls the taxpayers group and similar organizations “pension-cutting lobby groups.”

He said the average pension in the state is $32,000 a year.

“We’re talking about the life savings of teachers, police, firefighters, nurses and other public-service workers who live in our communities throughout Illinois,” Lindall said.

Eight in 10 of those workers are ineligible for Social Security, Lindall said. “So, their modest pension is their primary, if not their only, source of income in retirement.”

When they are working, teachers, police officers and other public employees pay significantly into their own pensions, Lindall said. He said workers typically pay 8-12 percent of every paycheck toward their pension.

 “The pension debt, which is real, is caused not by employees doing anything wrong; they always pay their share. It’s caused not by benefits being too expensive, and it’s certainly not caused by the few radical exceptions — outliers — that these pension-slashing lobby groups like to trot out,” Lindall said.

The taxpayer group’s Labell gave examples of local retirees with pensions near or surpassing $100,000, including Calvin D. Lee, former superintendent of Moline-Coal Valley School District, who according to the taxpayer group’s research, receives $197,826 in annual pension payments.

Another retiree, former Rock Island County Sheriff Michael T. Huff, receives $97,291 in annual pension payments, Labell said.

AFSCME’s Lindall said the pension debt was caused by legislators who didn’t set aside enough money to pay benefits. “It’s regrettable that they (the taxpayer group) attract any attention at all. They’re not adding anything productive to the conversation.”

He said it’s important to understand that the problem is the decades-long failure of politicians at the state level to set aside adequate resources.

“The answer is ending that practice and for the state to pay what it owes,” Lindall said. “Many people have talked about ways to make those costs more manageable — for example, re-amortizing the pension debt — a mathematician’s word for refinancing your mortgage.”

Creative and constitutional solutions like that that should be considered, Lindall said.

The taxpayer group’s Labell suggests putting new state employees on a 401(k) retirement plan. He emphasized that he is not demonizing people who receive pensions. Pointing out what someone is making through a pension “puts a more ‘real’ spin on it,” he said.

The average person’s Social Security pension is $15,000, he said. Compared to that, the pensions he discussed “are just astronomical,” he said.

“We are technically these peoples’ employers,” Labell said. “I think we have a right to know this information.”

Taxpayers United of America calls itself a “pro-taxpayer, nonprofit, non-partisan organization,” Labell said, adding that the organization is “not indebted” to any political party.

AFSCME represents mostly public employees at all levels of government and is the largest public employee union in the country with 1.4 million members.

The Herald News | Pension issues highlighted in Taxpayers United report

Taxpayers United of America’s operations director, Jared Labell, was quoted by The Herald-News in an article about Taxpayers United of America’s recent pension release for both Will County and Joliet.

TDHArtThe two top police officials in Elwood also get two of the highest pensions from the Joliet Police Department, according to a report last week from Taxpayers United of America.

 “Hard-earned money,” Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said when asked about his $120,000-plus annual pension from his 31 years with Joliet, where he retired in 2011.
Both Hayes and Elwood Commander Pat Kerr retired from Joliet to take jobs as the No. 1 and 2 officers in the Elwood Police Department. Kerr’s pension also tops $120,000, according to Taxpayers United.
“I think in today’s economic climate, regardless of what field they’re in, many retirees from one company go to work for another company,” Hayes said, noting that he knows educators in the public sector and engineers in the private sector who have done the same thing.
A look at the list of pensions compiled by Taxpayers United shows some other retirees working elsewhere.
Steve Engledow, chief of the New Lenox Township Fire Department, is a retired deputy chief from Joliet with an annual pension of $116,000, according to Taxpayers United.
The second-highest government pension in Will County is the $239,000 paid to John Harper, who retired as superintendent of Plainfield School District 202 in 2014 and became principal at Providence Catholic High School.
Jared Labell, director of operations for Chicago-based Taxpayers United, agreed that private sector employees also retire with a pension only to make more money working elsewhere.
But Labell said private businesses are harder pressed to put pension plans in line with revenues.
“At the very least, that has to be determined from the business perspective that if we’re giving that percentage to our employees, we also have to stay afloat as a business,” Labell said.
Taxpayers United has been on a pension crusade for months, spotlighting government pension benefits for state employees and in counties across Illinois. The release of Will County numbers was its latest report aimed at drawing attention to the size of government pensions.
Labell said Taxpayers United does not want to change what retirees are getting. But it does want to see changes in what new employees get and even what current employees put into their pensions.
“We understand that people who decided to be police officers and teachers went in with expectations,” he said.
But Labell said he hears from young police officers and teachers worried retirement money won’t be there because of government pension problems.
Hayes, who also is president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said he, too, hears that concern from young police officers.
“They’re asking if these funds are sustainable and if they will be available in the future,” Hayes said. “It is important that we make some changes so the system is sustainable.”
One of the top pensioners at Joliet Junior College is Andy Mihelich, a former administrator who gets $138,000 a year. Mihelich is retired, but active. He is chairman of the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees and just ran an unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Joliet.
Mihelich said he has been prepared for his pension to be capped.
“I thought there would be pension reform in Illinois,” he said. “I’ve been waiting, but no one in Springfield seems to want to do anything.”

Killer Taxes Choke the Life Out of Will County

View as PDF Chicago, IL – Taxpayers United of America (TUA) has released its most recent government pension study exposing individual pensions for Joliet municipal, Will County, Will County government schools, and Joliet Junior College retirees.
“Across the 5 state pension funds, there are more than 12,154 government pensioners collecting six-figure pensions and over 85,893 pensioners collecting more than $50,000 where the local per-capita income is about $30,377 and the state debt per capita is $24,959,” said Jared Labell, TUA’s director of operations.
“266 Will County government teachers are drawing more than $100,000 in annual pension payments and 2,092 are getting more than $50,000! On average, these government pensioners contribute only about 5.5% to their own retirement payout.”
“Until 2011, Joliet was the fastest growing city in the region but that growth has slowed to just .85% in 2014. Government is the problem – government is the largest employer in Joliet and government payroll and pensions come from taxation. Government jobs don’t create wealth or growth – they simply siphon more money away from individual taxpayers.”
“The Joliet police and fire pension funds are in abysmal shape, each funded only about 50%.  Worse yet, Joliet’s IMRF liabilities are only about 35% funded. This is putting services in jeopardy, as pensions for services rendered in the past are competing for tax dollars needed for current services.”
“Taxpayers already are contributing four times as much to the pension funds than the government employees themselves, so for every dollar an employee puts into the fund, you and I put in 4.  Forcing taxpayers to pay such a heavy portion of someone else’s retirement is criminal.”
“It is time to protect the future of taxpayers who have been scammed by politicians and union thugs into going along with a system that creates and constitutionally protects a special class of government elite.”
“It’s also time for union leadership to have a frank discussion with the rank and file, educating them on the inevitable collapse of an unsustainable crony system designed to siphon money from taxpayers for the benefit of the few. The unions should use those dues forced from members to bail out the pension system rather than use those funds to elect political cronies who keep them in power.”
“Take a look at John R. Harper who retired from Plainfield SD 202. He gets $239,019 in annual pension payments. Retiring at only 54, his taxpayer funded pension payout will accumulate to more than $11 million! And his personal investment in that payout? A mere 3.2%.”
“Then there is Daniel T. Tapper, retired from Will County government. He gets $122,126 in annual pension payments and because he retired at only 50, those payments with compounded annual cost of living adjustments will accumulate to $6.4 million! His personal investment was only about 2.6% or $166,905.”
Click to view pensions for

“The average Social Security ‘pension’ is only about $15,000 a year and taxpayers pay 15% of every penny they earn for that modest payout.”
“This government pension system is the single cause of Illinois’ critical financial situation and it is mathematically impossible to tax our way out of this situation. 80% of local taxes go to fund government employee pay, pensions, and benefits.”
“The Illinois government has failed us; local governments have failed us. It is in everyone’s best interest to solve the pension problem before the system completely collapses. It is no longer a matter of ‘if’ it will collapse, but when.”
“Immediately place all new hires into 401(k) style retirement savings accounts, increase member contributions to their retirement fund, increase retirement age for full benefits, and increase member contributions to 50% of health care premiums. Anything short of these reforms will do nothing to permanently solve the problem. If it takes a Constitutional Amendment, then we need to get that on the ballot as soon as possible!”