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Not all lawmakers lining up to forgo state pensions

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 7:08 a.m. CST

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One local state lawmaker has decided to pass up on the state’s pension system.

But she might not have company among the legislative delegation in the area.

In Illinois, state representatives and state senators in the General Assembly, among other perks, also can participate in a state-subsidized pension system. This legislative pension system allows participating lawmakers to contribute 11.5 percent of their salary, and, depending on their length of service, can convert those contributions into lifetime pensions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As Illinois struggles to reform its public pension systems, a group of state lawmakers opted to forgo participation in the system.

Statewide, about two dozen members of the General Assembly passed up the chance to participate. That number, as of this week, includes state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-South Elgin.

In a prepared statement, McConnaughay, who represents a district that includes western portions of the Tri-Cities and stretches into northern and western Kane County, noted that, after 20 years in elected office in Kane County, including eight years as County Board chairman, she already had accrued a public pension and did not need to amass a second one funded by taxpayers.

But other members of the local delegation to Springfield did not appear to be rushing to join her in that pledge.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who represents much of the Tri-Cities as well as southern and western portions of Kane County, declined to state whether he intended to participate in the legislative pension program.

When asked directly whether he was participating, Oberweis responded by email that he was “sponsoring legislation to end defined benefit plans for all future members of the General Assembly.”

He said under his proposals, lawmakers could participate in “an IRA or 401k-type plan,” rather than a traditional pension. He did not respond to a follow-up question, again asking whether he intended to participate in the pension plan.

State Rep. Mike Fortner, R- West Chicago, said he has contributed to the pension system since taking office in 2006 and had “no plan to change at this point.” He also noted his support and sponsorship of a variety of reforms to all of the state’s pension systems, including the legislative program.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he also intended to continue participating in the pension program. He’s done so since taking office in 2004.

“[Lawmakers] have paid into it like other state employees,” Pritchard said.

And he also noted his support for a variety of pension reform proposals, including changing how pensions are calculated, replacing an automatic 3 percent compounding annual increase with a noncompounding escalator tied to the Consumer Price Index, and raising the eligibility age.

He said those reforms should apply to all state pensions.

State representatives Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, and Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, did not return messages left for them Tuesday.

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