Editorial: Why do we still have pension double dipping?

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 12/12/2018 6:04 PM
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  • Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District Chief Mitch Crocetti works full time while getting a pension from his 30-year career with the Wood Dale Fire Department.

      Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District Chief Mitch Crocetti works full time while getting a pension from his 30-year career with the Wood Dale Fire Department. Rick West | Staff Photographer

It's the kind of thing that gives public pensions a bad name. A firefighter works a job for 30 years, then begins collecting a pension while moving to another full-time firefighter job and beginning to work toward another pension.

At least 15 fire chiefs in the suburbs have that arrangement, making six figures in a second job while collecting a pension, in most cases also six figures, Daily Herald investigative reporter Jake Griffin found.

We can't blame the firefighters for taking advantage of an overly permissive law, but we also can't see the fairness in such an arrangement at a time when high taxes in part related to skyrocketing pension costs threaten to drive some other retirees out of their homes and out of Illinois.

Let's agree on one thing: No public employee who retires should be able to collect a pension while moving down the road and getting the same full-time taxpayer-funded job in a different town. That's double dipping. More power to anyone who can get such a deal in the private sector. Our objection deals with those whose salary and pension largely are paid by everyday residents of our towns.

Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville sponsored a bill that ends a similar perk for police as of Jan. 1.

He says he'll introduce a similar bill in the next General Assembly aimed at preventing double-dipping among firefighters. It deserves bipartisan support.

The problem in part is a symptom of Illinois' hundreds of separate police and fire pension boards. Each fire and police department has its own pension board, not only making it easier to double dip but also making it harder to ensure good management, investment returns and pension funding.

Lawmakers, towns and fire districts need to move on ways to decrease costs and increase effectiveness, most likely by consolidating pension systems.

Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District Chief Mitch Crocetti told Griffin he blames the towns and fire districts for shirking pension funding over the years, creating a near-crisis that's coming down on public safety employees who risk their lives on the job.

He's right. Many local officials failed to address their funding obligations, another argument for finding a different model for fire and police pension management. In fact, many of them approved the hiring deals that resulted in double dipping, so their complaints about costs are disingenuous.

Crocetti argued smaller fire districts benefit because experienced firefighters who are receiving pensions might work for lower salaries in their second careers. True again, but it's an argument for consolidating those small districts rather than for continuing the status quo.

Once a light shines on a problem like double dipping, we can't pretend not to see it. It's not fair to taxpayers, and it needs to change.

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