Illinois pays six-figure salaries to nearly 5,000 teachers who will not set foot in a classroom this year via the state’s beleaguered pension system, according to a new study.
Lawrence Wyllie, former superintendent of the Lincoln-Way school system, draws nearly $300,000 each year in retirement and there are 99 more officials who are paid more than $15,000 per month from the system, according to a new report from OpenTheBooks.com.
The large payouts Illinois distributes to retired school administrators and teachers is driving the pension system further underwater, according to Adam Andrzejewski, who founded the transparency group.
"Public sector payroll, pensions and perks in Illinois has no basis in private sector reality," Andrzejewski said. "These employees are not in charge of revenues. The revenues are coerced."
The Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), the largest pension program in the state, has seen its debt grow explosively in recent years. The system reported that it is nearly $56 billion short of meeting its retirement payments over the next 30 years—up 7 percent from 2012.
These payouts will grow: Every retiree receives annual 3 percent boosts each year for cost-of-living adjustments.
School employees contribute about $700 million to the system over their lifetimes, according to the report, but first year pensioners alone withdraw $561.5 million in a given year. The average retiree will have withdrawn his lifetime contribution within 15 months of retirement.
Taxpayers will not receive any fiscal relief from the state: Illinois guarantees pension benefits in the state constitution, meaning that without miraculous investment returns, taxpayers will have to shoulder the burden.
Gov. Pat Quinn has attempted to enact major structural reforms to the system, but union pressure led the Democratic legislature to block these attempts. State Senate President John Cullerton dismissed the massive pension debt as a non-crisis in a recent interview.
"The executives at the TRS are reporting that the system could run out of money as early as 2016, that’s a taxpayer crisis by anyone’s measure," Andrzejewski said.
The state has the worst funding ratio of any pension system in the country with debt estimates ranging from $100 billion to nearly $300 billion. The average family of four would have to pay from $300,000 to more than $880,000 to close this gap.
"The total annual wages of Illinois are only $294 billion, and annual Illinois gross domestic product is $644 billion," Andrzejewski said. "With $100 billion of unfunded pension liability, the question is, ‘who is left to pay for this mess?’ That’s a crisis verging on bankruptcy."