Examiner.com | Watchdog exposes Tollway cops taking home millions
August 16, 2012. Springfield. A taxpayer watchdog group examined payroll and pension benefits for employees of the Illinois Tollway System. What they found surprised even their investigators. Among other shocking data, the information revealed that of the five highest paid IL Tollway retirees, four are former police officers, one is a simple office worker, they all retired early and they’re all millionaires thanks to Illinois taxpayers.
The Illinois Pension Scam
At first glance, readers will assume the use of the word ‘scam’ is another example of this column’s plain-talk, frustration and skepticism over the corruption that repeatedly raises its ugly head in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. But in this case, that’s the exact word numerous impartial experts have used to describe the Illinois Tollway System and its pension plan.
Read the June edition of this column, ‘Book calls Illinois Teachers underworked, overpaid’ which details the findings of the book ‘Illinois Pension Scam’. Researchers documented numerous instances where individuals worked only one day on the job and were awarded 6-figure yearly pensions in exchange. In the most criticized instance, a union executive has been collecting more than $1 million per year in pension payouts for working his one day.
In 1953, the Illinois Tollway Authority Act was passed to create a government agency to oversee the construction of Illinois’ tollways. The legislation specifically created the authority for a lifetime of 20 years, upon which all Illinois tollways would be paid-off and reverted to freeways. The Tollway Authority, no longer needed at that point, was supposed to dissolve itself. But like the goose that laid the golden egg, detractors insist the ITA proved too personally enriching for the bureaucrats involved to abide by the mandate.
In 1973, the Tollway Authority didn’t disband. Instead, it has continued to milk drivers for hundreds of millions of dollars in what some call, “unauthorized and illegal tolls”. Now, thanks to the taxpayer watchdog Taxpayers United of America, we see exactly where so much of that Tollway money has gone.
The State united
In December 2011, the Illinois Tollway Authority put into action a “scheme”, as described by critics at the time, to double the government agency’s operating budget. In addition to the record-breaking 67% income tax increase just enacted by the state legislature, the ITA announced a record-breaking 100% raise in toll rates across Illinois. Except the ITA wasn’t waiting. They would begin selling high-interest, sub-prime bonds, using Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation credit rating.
Taxpayers United of America sued the agency, arguing that it doesn’t legally exist in the first place and has no authority to force a toll tax increase without the authorization of the people’s representatives in Springfield. In a blow to Illinois taxpayers, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), used her taxpayer-funded office to represent the ITA against the taxpayers of Illinois. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak sided with the Madigans and dismissed the taxpayer challenge to the toll increase.
Illinois dirty little tollway secret
While it’s no secret to many Chicagoans, those same dumbfounded residents typically don’t understand the Tollway deal Mayor Daley and the Chicago City Council made on their behalf in 2005.
Outrageous and questionable diversions of billions of dollars in Chicago’s finances over two decades led to a gaping hole in Chicago’s yearly budget. A situation that would have garnered national attention and a probable federal investigation in any other city, Mayor Richard Daley simply sold five generations worth of future tax revenue to foreign companies for a one-time payment that would hide the missing taxpayer money for one year – just long enough for Daley to leave office.
For a one-time payment of $1.9 billion, just pennies on the dollar, Mayor Daley and his Democratic allies surrendered the next 99 years worth of Chicago’s tollway revenue to vulture capital firms from Spain and Australia. That $1.9 billion vanished as fast as it was received.
Read the Dec. 21, 2011 edition of this column, ‘Lisa Madigan wins her Toll Tax increase’ for more information.
Illinois Tollway Authority Pensions
Now comes the results of an exhaustive search of ITA records which reveal just how profitable and lucrative the Tollway Authority has been for some government employees. Unlike typical instances of this sort however, the data showed that most of the highest-paid pension amounts were going to Illinois Tollway police officers.
Announcing their discovery yesterday, Jim Tobin of Taxpayers United of America revealed that many of the top 100 pension recipients had already received more than $1 million each. And since many had opted for early retirement, that amount would grow significantly.
“Our organization has obtained the names, annual pension figures and amounts-paid-to-date for former employees of the Illinois Tollway system,” said Jim Tobin, TUA President, “and the list of the Top 100 total pension payouts is very revealing. 20 of the top 24 recipients have already received over $1 million in amounts-paid-to-date, and of these 24 former tollway employees, 22 are retired Illinois Tollway Police Officers.”
View the list of the Top 100 Illinois Tollway system pension recipients (from Taxpayers United of America).
TUA gives us 3 of the top 5 as examples:
1. Policeman Edward Quendens – received to date $1,299,996 – total employee contribution $65,384.
2. Policeman Victor Centanni – received to date $1,212,777 – total employee contribution $49,067.
5. General Office worker Ralph Wehner – received to date $1,207,833 – total employee contribution $148,838.
According to the announcement by TUA President Jim Tobin, the data also shows that these men will be receiving these exorbitant amounts for some time to come. Quendens retired early at the age of 54 and Centanni did the same at age 56.
“These high-flying former tollway employees are getting rich by being paid for doing absolutely nothing,” said Tobin, “It must be nice to retire at age 54 and look forward to getting more than a million dollars over a normal lifetime for not working.”
“Although tollway salaries are funded by the system’s exorbitant tolls, Illinois taxpayers are on the hook for their lavish, gold-plated pensions,” TUA’s Jim Tobin reminds Illinois residents, “All of the recent, back-breaking 67% increase in the state personal income tax is going to fund the over-the-top pensions of government employees. This pension system is unsustainable.”
For more information, visit Taxpayers United of America.
For additional information regarding Illinois’ pension problems, read the April 5 edition of this column, ‘Secret Memo shows No Confidence in Illinois state pensions’.