Editorials

The taxpayers penalized again

Not many workers get 6 percent annual pay bumps in the four years before they retire, but it happens all the time for educators in Illinois, the better to boost their pensions. Hard to believe but this is an improvement. The raises used to be so out of control that 10 years ago the state created a penalty to discourage abuse.

The penalties don’t always get the job done. In Southwestern Illinois, generosity with taxpayers’ money resulted in $1.8 million in penalties in the last decade.

No wonder the state’s pension systems are $111 billion in debt.

Locally East St. Louis School District 189 had the biggest number of employees get end-of-career, penalty-producing raises – 67 employees, for a total cost of $514,787. But perhaps the most egregious pension sweeteners were given to former O’Fallon School District 203 Superintendent Russell Clover.

The school board in just four years boosted his annual salary by $57,000 – from $151,000 to $208,000. The last four years are used to calculate pensions. Clover now collects $175,000 a year in retirement plus 3 percent raises compounded annually. His lifetime payment is estimated at $4.04 million; he paid in $213,000. Wow.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, in an attempt to rein in this sort of spending, wants to lower the penalty-free rate to the actual cost-of-living. That makes great sense. Changing pensions is unconstitutional according to the state Supreme Court, so holding the line on the pay that determines those pensions would be the next best thing. But lawmakers won’t go along; the legislation, like so many other changes Rauner wants to make, have gone nowhere.

Despite Illinois’ deep financial problems, Illinois is one of four states in the nation that spends more on education today than it did before 2008 and the recession. Too bad we’re not spending that money more wisely.

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