It’s practically a fantasy come to life: work a single day and get a golden parachute that will guarantee one’s retirement in comfort and luxury. Only in Illinois, it’s not just a fantasy, it’s a dream come true for two high-ranking union officials who worked a single day in a public school. Thanks to a loophole in the law that the state legislature inserted into a “reform” law, that one day as substitute teachers will cost Illinois taxpayers a few million dollars in pensions:
Two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience were allowed to count their years as union employees toward a state teacher pension once they served a single day of subbing in 2007, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation has found.
Steven Preckwinkle, the political director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and fellow union lobbyist David Piccioli were the only people who took advantage of a small window opened by lawmakers a few months earlier.
The legislation enabled union officials to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom. They just had to do it before the bill was signed into law.
The state paid both men $93 for their one day of substitute teaching, but that’s just an appetizer. Piccioli will receive $1.1 million by the time he turns 78, and $1.7 million if he lives to 84, but that puts him in the cheap seats compared to his colleague. The Chicago Tribune calculates that Preckwinkle will get $2.8 million by the time he turns 78, and almost $4 million if he lives to 84. Their pension payments will exceed $100,000, or more than twice the average household income in the US — for working households, not retirees.
Guess where the loophole originated? You get three guesses, and the first two don’t count:
Although the bill received bipartisan support, the benefit to union officials was sponsored by Springfield Democrats showered by IFT campaign contributions during the 2006 elections.
“The people that are on the inside and understand the process are going to be able to make the system work for their advantage,” said Kent Redfield, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. “That this legislation got a hearing and got considered and passed is a reflection of that close relationship between the IFT and the Democratic leadership.
“It feeds into the cynicism about all the deals, that it’s an insider’s game and that the system is rigged.”
That’s not cynicism, especially in Illinois. It’s reality. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that the union pushed for this loophole and just coincidentally two of its officials immediately exploited it.
Illinois taxpayers recently got hit with big tax increases, thanks to Governor Pat Quinn and a Democratic legislature, thanks to the state’s inability to control its costs. Just think where these millions of dollars could have been spent other than to line the pockets of union lobbyists. Why, the money may have gone to teachers who spent more than a single day in the classroom. Remember this when unions — and Democrats — posture themselves as the saviors of the middle class.