SPRINGFIELD ——For decades, state lawmakers have drawn criticism when they leave the Legislature and take another government gig with a fat salary that greatly boosts their public pensions, but soon the state might be on the hook for less of those retirement costs for a small group of veteran legislators.
A bill awaiting Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's signature would require the city or county that hires a former lawmaker to pay the increased share of the pension tab, a financial disincentive for such end-of-career political hiring.
That added up to a big windfall: Molaro's state pension nearly doubled, and it is now more than $110,000, thanks to the short job at the city. His duties included writing a 19-page white paper on pensions, an area he concentrated on for years as a point person on pension issues in Springfield.
Molaro is one of the last of his kind. A 1994 ethics law stopped lawmakers from such end-of-career pension sweeteners, but it applied only to newcomers. About two dozen veteran lawmakers still are eligible for the pension spike that the proposal on Quinn's desk covers.
The new legislation first passed the House, with Republican leader Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego as a sponsor. Cross argued that the state should not be on the hook for extra pension costs when another government is responsible for spiking the size of a former lawmaker's retirement check.
The bill got tweaked in the Senate and eventually passed both chambers. The proposal now says a city wouldn't have to chip in to cover the extra expenses related to a former lawmaker's pension boost if he keeps a high-paying job at a city or other public office for more than two years. The initial version did not have a time period.
"If you do work for two years or more at a subsequent job, you know, that's not a sweetheart deal. That's you actually going on with your career, which is a little different situation than what we're trying to address," said Sen. Matt Murphy, the Palatine Republican who sponsored the proposal in the Senate.
The change satisfied Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, chairman of a Senate pension panel. Raoul maintained the new version is "more reasonable."
"Naturally, we want to guard against somebody who will go work a day or a couple of days or a month to just spike up their pension," Raoul said. He also said he wanted to make sure the legislation did not provide a disincentive to hire a former lawmaker who is "qualified to work a job, a legitimate job."