Will Quinn Cash In On Pension Front?
Beaten by Republican Bruce Rauner in this month's general election, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn soon will be leaving public office.
But he still might collect a public-sector paycheck.
Quinn has not said if and when he'll be cashing in on a public-sector pension, but he is allowed to receive a $136,000 annual pension from the taxpayer-supported State Retirement Systems when he exits office in mid-January, according to records and interviews.
Quinn, 65, started working in state government in 1973 as an aide to then-Gov. Dan Walker. He's worked on and off ever since – also serving as state treasurer, lieutenant governor and, finally, governor – cobbling together nearly 20 years of state-government service overall.
The way the pension system works in Illinois: State employees contribute a small share of their paychecks (4 percent at a minimum) toward future payouts, and taxpayers and pension investments cover the rest.
Over the years, Quinn has contributed a total of $190,847 toward his state pension, according to interviews and public records.
That means Quinn could recoup his investment in less than two years. And if he lives another 20 years, an average life expectancy for a man his age, he would (absent pension reform) collect a total of more than $3.6 million, we found.
Quinn's yearly pension in 2035 could reach an estimated $238,476, thanks to generous cost-of-living raises that compound at an annual rate of 3 percent. (Again, this is assuming there's no pension reform.)
Such cost-of-living increases are helping fuel the financial problems with the state's five employee-pension funds, which collectively carry unfunded liabilities of more than $100 billion. In layman's terms, that means the systems aren't even close to having enough money to pay future pension obligations.
That $100 billion figure – when compared against government revenues – is the worst in the country, according to a recent report from credit ratings agency Moody's Investors Service.
Quinn's camp wouldn't say what Quinn's plans are after he leaves office or if he will take his pension immediately. A spokesman, Grant Klinzman, reminded us that Quinn has been committed to fixing the pension mess, saying via email: "Last year Governor Quinn helped pass urgently-needed, comprehensive pension reform that will eliminate the pension debt over the next 30 years."
Klinzman is referring to a bill signed late last year by Quinn that would dramatically reduce state pension benefits, including his own, by tamping down the 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments and raising the retirement age.
But the state courts haven't yet decided whether those changes are legal, so the bill hasn't taken effect. Labor groups and others argue it's unconstitutional to change benefits already earned.
Either way, Quinn stands to collect payments from two separate state retirement funds that fall under the State Retirement Systems umbrella: The State Employees' Retirement System, or SERS, and the General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS.
Checks from both funds would total more than $136,000, year one, if the courts kill pension reform, according to the State Retirement Systems.
If the reform measure takes effect, Quinn stands to receive a lot less in retirement. In the first year Quinn could receive $84,000. His pension payouts would increase from there – but likely at a slower rate.
Either way, most of the money would come from GARS – the pension plan for former General Assembly members and statewide elected officials that is among Illinois' most-generous retirement plans.
In either scenario, Quinn's initial retirement benefits would not exceed those collected by two other ex-governors.
Pension records show former Gov. Jim Edgar receives $205,425 in pension benefits – $147,357 from GARS and $58,068 from his days teaching at the University of Illinois. Former Gov. Jim Thompson gets $143,181 in state pension benefits, records show.
Ex-Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich lost their state benefits due to federal corruption convictions.
Rauner, a multi-millionaire, will not collect a salary as governor or accept a public pension and has "proposed moving legislators and state elected officials to a 401k-style system," his spokesman Mike Schrimpf says. But Rauner otherwise has been light on specifics.
Before Quinn was governor he was lieutenant governor under Blagojevich and state treasurer. Quinn also worked for Walker, as we said, and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. Under a reciprocity agreement, the time he spent as a city employee with Washington is allowed to count toward his state pension benefit. But it's unclear whether that city time was ever applied to Quinn's state pension.
In the 1980s Quinn was elected to what's now known as the Cook County Board of Review, a three-person panel that rules on property tax appeals. Records show he withdrew from the county pension plan and received a $9,000 refund.
Klinzman indicated Quinn is not focused on retirement right now. "Over the next two months in office, the Governor is focused on the transition and raising the minimum wage," he said.
This column – a new regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing on the Chicago Sun-Times' political portal Early & Often – was written and reported by the Better Government Association's Patrick Rehkamp and Andrew Schroedter. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 386-9201. Rehkamp's Twitter handle is @patrickrehkamp.