Only in Illinois' broken system can one 'buy your way into a pension plan,' says state Rep. Bailey
In Illinois state Rep. Darren Bailey’s (R-Xenia) mind, the maddening dysfunction comprising Illinois’ pension system can be capsulized in a single, recent episode.
“I think it sums up the whole system,” Bailey told SE Illinois News, referring to the story of David Piccioli now being eligible for a Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension after working just one day as a substitute teacher. “If state leadership refuses to address these issues, we will only see more of this. We will only get ourselves in deeper trouble.”
A longtime union lobbyist for the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), Piccioli took advantage of a 22-year-old law that paved the way for IFT officers to be deemed eligible for teachers' pensions based on service in the union and earning a teacher's certificate, toiling in a classroom and paying past-owed employee dues. The Illinois State Supreme Court upheld Piccioli’s standing in a 4-3 decision after he earned a teaching certificate and paid $193,000 to TRS for contributions he owed over a decade-long period.
The state high court’s ruling reaffirmed a previous verdict asserting that retirement benefits promised to public workers cannot be "diminished or impaired" even though pension debt for the cash-strapped state has ballooned beyond $134 billion.
“The sad thing is I’m not surprised that the system allows for this kind of loophole,” said Bailey, who won in the 109th District in November with more than 75 percent of the vote. “I’m more perplexed than anything but when you see what I have in the time I’ve been in Springfield, it’s not that surprising. It’s a shame, but it’s the kind of the thing you come to expect.”
While already pocketing an annual state pension of $35,436 for work after his certification, Piccioli said he isn’t sure how much more his new subsidy will bring. He also receives a $33,780 annual pension for work he did on an Illinois House staff for at least a decade.
“We’ve got to get this all under control and start living within means,” Bailey added. “That means all the loopholes like this have got to go. You shouldn’t be able to buy your way into a pension plan.”
The 109th House District includes all or parts of Clay, Edwards, Effingham, Jasper, Lawrence, Richland, Wabash, Wayne and White counties.