OK, let’s set the scene: you have these two guys named Steven Preckwinkle, and David Piccioli. Preckwinkle is the Director of Political Activity for the Illinois Federation of Teachers; Piccioli is one of its Legislative Directors. Neither is an actual teacher. Both of these men are getting to that age (Preckwinkle is 59; Piccioli, 61) where they’d like to retire, but… they’re lobbyists – which means that they’re union officials, not teachers. However, the Illinois legislature in 2007 passed legislation that allowed teachers union officials to be grandfathered into the state teachers pension system, with their union employment counting for the purposes of determining a pension – just so long as those officials had been plugged into the system by the time that the law had been signed. So Preckwinkle and Piccioli went out, got their teaching certificates, each subbed for a day – and thus became eligible to participate in a generous pension system originally designed to benefit teachers, which are generally held in higher esteem than are either union officials or lobbyists, and for excellent reasons.
The only entertaining thing about this is that Preckwinkle at least may not actually be able to take advantage of this loophole after all; the union lobbyists are ‘only’ being permitted to buy into the aforementioned generous pension system, and the recent economic woes are making it difficult for the poor lobbyist to make all the back payments. We are still talking about almost four to six million dollars being paid out to these individuals over the next two decades, which is still one heck of a bargain if either can scrape up the cash. And, again: this was a pension designed to be generous to teachers. Real teachers, not people who substitute taught for a day.
The annoying thing, of course, is that this is all perfectly legal. The Republican Party of Illinois is asking pointed questions about the passage of the law to Attorney General Lisa Madigan (Piccioli is a former staffer of Madigan’s father Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan*); unfortunately, this questioning may be perceived as being a bit weakened by the fact that the law originally passed in the Illinois House 109 to 6, and the Illinois Senate 55 to 0. Which is not to say that this particular loophole will necessarily stand up under scrutiny; but it really would be useful if we started having a bit more daylight between the two halves of what John Kass calls the Illinois Combine…
*Welcome to Illinois!