STUMP » Articles » Public Pension Watch: No Pensions for Politicians (plus Scott Walker) » 12 March 2015, 07:25

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Public Pension Watch: No Pensions for Politicians (plus Scott Walker)  


12 March 2015, 07:25

No, this is not going to be about criminal politicians who get their pensions yanked away.

This is about run-of-the-mill politicians deciding not to participate in the traditional state pension systems:

37 lawmakers decline pensions while state faces unfunded liability

SPRINGFIELD – Four years ago, state Rep. Tom Morrison walked into a state office and announced he didn’t want a pension.

“I got a blank look in response. The General Assembly has an incredibly generous pension plan, and I was told I was the first legislator to choose not to participate in more than 14 years. I guess I was a trend-setter because today one-sixth of the General Assembly doesn’t participate,” the Palatine Republican said.

Indeed, documents obtained by Illinois News Network through the state Freedom of Information Act found that 37 lawmakers have opted not to participate in the General Assembly Retirement System.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, said she opted not to take a pension so she could be more objective when dealing with state pension reform.

Others who have decided not to participate in the pension plan say they don’t aspire to spend decades in the legislature.

There are arguments for and against pensions for politicians — for example, if the politicians don’t have pensions themselves, then they don’t have direct skin in the game when it’s time for pensions to be cut. Or they won’t take too close a look into how pension funds are administered, etc. After all, it won’t be their money that goes poof with unwise investments.

On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to be career politicians (for a variety of reasons), and traditional pensions tend to have great value only if one has decades of credit in the system. As well, politicians have incentive to goose pensions if they will get to partake (and assume that the pension can’t go bust, or if it does, it will be after they’re dead.)

But, on the gripping hand, one usually sees that politicians’ pensions tend to be in their own fund separate from, say, police or teachers pensions or even your generic governmental office worker. Politicians’ pension funds often are underfunded for a variety of reasons, but don’t you start thinking that just because their funds are low that they will get shortchanged. That’s not how it works (at least in Illinois).

So I don’t really see that politicians participating in pensions really aligns their interest with making sure the pensions are well-run.

On the whole, I prefer politicians not getting pensions at all.

And what about Scott Walker? Take a look at this story from March 2010:

A plan to cut pensions of elected Milwaukee County officials to match trims approved earlier for other county workers was defeated by the County Board Thursday on a 7-7 vote.

Backers said they would likely try to pass the pension cut again in a few months. They held out hope that some of the four members missing from Thursday’s meeting, plus a replacement for a vacant seat, might change the outcome the next time.

Voting in favor of imposing a 20% cut in future pension credit for supervisors, County Executive Scott Walker and a handful of other elected county officials were: Supervisors Mark Borkowski, Paul Cesarz, Christopher Larson, Joseph Rice, Joe Sanfelippo, Jim “Luigi” Schmitt and Peggy West.

Voting against the pension cut were supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic, Willie Johnson Jr., Theo Lipscomb, Michael Mayo Sr., Johnny Thomas, John Weishan Jr. and Lee Holloway.

The 20% pension cut has become entangled with county labor negotiations, as well as Walker’s Republican run for governor. Walker hopes to pressure county unions to accept the pension cut, along with other concessions, that were listed in the 2010 county budget.

Well, was there any more follow-up after this failed (from Walker’s point of view) vote?

Yes, there was.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker filed a legal document giving up his right to 25% of any county pension he gets — again.

Walker initially took the pension waiver plunge in 2002, declaring he would give up a 0.5% increase in the so-called “pension multiplier” used to calculate public employee pensions. On March 16, Walker did it all over again, filing another legal waiver saying the same thing.

Walker compared the move to a long-wed couple renewing their marriage vows.

“It reaffirms what we did before — renewing our pension vows,” Walker said. Because spouses have pension property rights, Walker’s wife, Tonette, also signed the waiver on the dotted line once again.

Okay, more of a repetition than a follow-up, but you see what I mean.

Scott Walker did not outright refuse the pension, but he did refuse the sweeteners that were given. I need to look to see what, if anything, he changed with respect to his pension when he became governor. Still plenty to dig up about him personally.

There is more to the Milwaukee County pension story in general, but that will have to come another time.

FWIW, if anybody knows of public pensions connections of any other possible Presidential contenders for 2016, please email them to me at

As it was, I had forgotten Walker’s pension connection from his County Executive days, and it took a comment at Althouse to wake me up.

I’m not really all that interested in doing the same frontrunner analysis other political blogs do — I just want to focus on my particular topics, and most specifically pensions. I am interested in any party’s politicians and their interactions with pensions, whether personally (as with Walker above) or in terms of being a decision-maker.

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