State Senate candidate says legislators should forgo benefits
In response to recent news of Illinois banning retirement pensions for future elected county board members, Plainfield's Michelle Smith, the Republican candidate for state Senate in District 49, stated her position clearly with three words: “As they should!”
"I have been an elected official for over seven years,” Smith said via her Facebook page. “I have never received a salary, pension or insurance benefits.”
Just last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the law to which Smith referred in the wake of one jurisdiction’s struggle to clarify legal requirements for receiving benefits. Specifically, McHenry County launched an investigation of its board members, focusing on documentation of their work hours in order to rule out fraud.
State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), who is currently running to be McHenry County Board chairman, initiated the procedure this month, calling on pension fund officials to examine records on allegations that officials were claiming eligibility in error by falling short of their hourly work requirements.
Three-fourths of the board — 18 out of the 24 members — signed affidavits saying they worked enough hours to qualify; yet, when pension fund Executive Director Louis Kosiba, who was in charge of the investigation, requested that they provide proof, they recanted, saying that they could not document all of their hours.
The McHenry County Board members noted that their inability to authenticate their exact time was partly because a great deal of their work occurs outside of official settings; involves reading documents and talking to constituents, and includes other miscellaneous tasks.
"We need to protect local taxpayers from having their money siphoned off by elected officials who are gaming the system," Franks said. Current guidelines establish a 1,000-hour figure — equivalent to about 20 hours weekly — as the minimum necessary to qualify for pension benefits in McHenry County.
Franks’ concern was that the 1,000-hour requirement would make it “highly unusual” for board members to be eligible for pensions. Although Kosiba said later that the study proved to be inconclusive, it had already raised enough questions at the state level regarding the burden on taxpayers for the law to have changed.
Consequently, Illinois citizens may now see a noticeable reduction in the amount previously allocated for their respective county board member pensions. Despite the uncertainty within the district where the debate originated, the results have gained measurable support from both sides of the aisle.
Additionally, the minimum number of hours required to merit pensions before the law was passed varied from one county to the next, with some stipulating as few as 600 hours to qualify. That strengthens Smith’s argument that part-time politicians should not be rewarded with full time-benefits, especially at the taxpayers’ expense.
Either way, Smith firmly believes that serving as an elected official is reward enough.
“Running for office is about serving your community,” Smith said via her Facebook page. “It should not be about collecting any benefits. These are part-time jobs, they should not come with full-time benefits. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for these. Pensions should be eliminated for all elected officials in Illinois!"
Smith recently critiqued Illinois' leadership as severely in need of change in her campaign with the intention at initiating progress in Springfield. Referring to Illinois’ government as “broken,” she stated that “It badly needs reform but career politicians stand in the way. They fight for their donors, but not their constituents.”
In addition to refusing her own state funded pension — and modeling an example for other legislators to emulate— Smith, the mother of four and co-owner of a small business with her husband, pledged to support both large and small businesses, fight for term limits and strive to create a bipartisan budget as state senator.
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