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Our view: Unlucky 13 for taxpayers

Reports that retirees from local governments and school districts received extra pension payments in 2013 should be investigated thoroughly. Those “13th payments,” and the $41 million they cost, are unlucky for taxpayers.

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 8:30 p.m. CDT

In recent years, problems with Illinois’ underfunded public employee pension system have often made the news.

Skipped pension payments by the Legislature. Overly generous pensions for certain retirees. Rising unfunded pension liabilities. End-of-career pension bumps for school administrators and teachers.

After several years of debate and consideration, the Illinois General Assembly approved a pension reform package last year that is supposed to help matters. Whether it actually works won’t be known for a while. The compromise failed to completely satisfy any of the contending sides, so perhaps that bodes well.

However, it does not help the cause of pension harmony when pensioners receive more money than they are entitled to.

The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights reported several weeks ago that, last year, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund doled out an extra $41 million to local government and school district retirees in the form of annual bonuses.

Retirees receive 12 monthly pension payments a year. Inexplicably, what’s known as a “13th payment” was also sent out in early July.

The Daily Herald, through The Associated Press, reported that the average bonus for pension recipients for 2013 was about $340, although payments went as high as $7,600.

The newspaper also reported that tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes paid by residents of one county went to pensioners who never worked there.

In the world of Illinois state government, perhaps $41 million isn’t much money. But there is no reason to pay it to pensioners if the money isn’t owed them. Couldn’t a better use be found? (For starters, we can think of some highway potholes that need to be filled.)

Pay retirees what they’ve earned, certainly, but legislators should investigate payments that are not owed them.

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund officials should investigate the practice and appear before appropriate legislative committees to explain it.

Thirteenth payments might be seen as a baker’s dozen by pensioners, but they are unlucky for taxpayers. They should be halted.

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