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Schaumburg: Here's why pensions need fixing

The public pension news this week didn’t originate out of Springfield, where lawmakers wasted another week without passing real reform.

Instead, pension news originated out of Chicago and the Taxpayers United of America’s annual study of the top government pensions in Illinois.

This year’s study expanded to look at the top 200 government employee pensions. In the past, TUA’s list included the top 100. The group, led by president Jim Tobin, said it included the second 100 pensioners because there are so many six-figure pensions. In fact, the top 200 pensions are all over $189,000 per year.

No. 1 on the list is Tapas Das Gupta, who retired from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Gupta received a pension payment of $439,672 last year. To date, Das Gupta has collected $3.4 million in pension payments. TUA estimates he will receive a lifetime pension payout of $5.3 million based on a life expectancy of 85 years old and a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment compounded annually.

If you think Das Guptas’ lifetime payout seems high, let me introduce you to Larry K. Fleming, who retired from Lincolnshire-Prairie View School District 103 at age 55.

Fleming last year received a pension payout of $258,163. His estimated lifetime pension payout is – wait for it – $11.9 million. That is not a typo. Of that nearly $12 million, TUA reports that Fleming’s employee contribution is 2.8 percent.

Fleming’s pension payout last year didn’t make the 2012 top 10 list. He wasn’t even in the top 20. Of the top 10 pension payouts last year, nine retired from UIC. The lone non-UIC employee was Beverly Lopatka, who retired from DuPage High School District 88 and checked in at No. 4 with a pension payout of $399,652 in 2012.

Lopatka gives Fleming a run for his money when it comes to the race for top estimated lifetime payout. Because she retired at age 56, her estimated lifetime payout is $11.5 million. And if you thought Fleming’s employee contribution toward his lifetime payout estimate was low, get a load of Lopatka. She checks in with an employee contribution of 0.8 percent.

I’m clearly in the wrong business.

Locally, retired District 300 Superintendent Norm Wetzel remains the most compensated public retiree in McHenry County. Wetzel, who retired at age 55, had a pension payout of $232,370 last year. He’s collected $2.1 million in pension payments to date and has an expected lifetime pension payout of $7.9 million.

He’s the only local retiree to make the top 200.

These clearly are the most extreme examples when it comes to pension payments in Illinois. There are far more people pulling in far more modest pension payouts.

But these examples illustrate why the system is broken. They demonstrate the unsustainable pension system that has been built and desperately needs fixing.

As has been the norm, we sit and wait for state lawmakers to do something about it.

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Northwest Herald. He’s seen better power plays from youth pee-wee hockey teams than the Blackhawks are showing. Reach him at 815-459-4122 or via email at jschaumburg@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Schaumy.

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