Pension scandal no shock in Chicago

By Editorial Board

A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV investigation revealed on Sept. 21 that 23 former labor leaders stand to collect approximately $56 million in pensions from the city of Chicago because of a tweak in a 1991 law. The changes, which were thrown in at the last minute with no debate or public notice, allow city workers to take a long leave of absence from their jobs to work for a union and receive a pension based on that high union salary.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who was one of only 10 lawmakers to slip this provision into the bill, now acknowledges that with skyrocketing pension costs, these changes were somewhat of a bad idea. He is also the only lawmaker of the 10 to remain in office today.

One example is Dennis Gannon, a former labor leader who worked on the city payroll for one day in 1994 before leaving to work for the Chicago Federation of Labor. He receives an annual pension of $158,000, roughly five times the average retired city worker.

Sadly, this is just another example of the corruption that runs rampant in Illinois politics. Whether it’s public universities giving admission to relatives of well-connected people or union bosses and politicians helping each other out behind closed doors, Illinois really takes the cake in political indecency.

The city’s pension system is in a sad state. Something dramatic needs to be done to curb costs, and yet here is a high-profile example of waste. It’s insulting to taxpayers and city laborers who work hard to earn their pensions.

City Hall desperately needs to reform the way union leaders receive pensions. It’s astounding that no one at City Hall who knew this was happening blew the whistle. These pensions, some of which are more than $100,000 per year, are so extravagant that they required special requests from the Internal Revenue Service to implement.

Unfortunately, the state constitution says pension benefits cannot be diminished once they have been earned, so for the moment, these labor leaders will continue to milk city pensions dry. However, Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross said he plans to push for a repeal of the law that would come into effect for any labor leaders who have not yet retired. That’s a very good start.

In the future, this shouldn’t be allowed to happen. The citizens of Illinois deserve better than shady political deals cut in the dark. What’s sad is that it’s no longer surprising to hear of these scandals. There needs to be more oversight into the labyrinth of Illinois government before too many people pack up and leave.