As Illinois grapples with more than $111 billion in unfunded pension debt, Republican Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger has sought to tie her opponent, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, to the problems that have contributed to the state’s pension crisis.
During a Chicago Sun-Times editorial debate on Sept. 15, Munger said: "My opponent… was on both the city of Chicago payroll and the state of Illinois payroll simultaneously, taking full salary, funding her full pension benefits both as a city worker and as a state worker for 10 years."
Mendoza fired back, saying the statement was Munger’s "latest false allegation" and one that previously has been disproven.
But the Munger campaign since has doubled down on its "double-dipping" claim that Mendoza took two government salaries and paid into two public pension systems, and now is calling on the Chicago Democrat to forgo one of her pensions.
With Munger making Mendoza’s pensions and city/state salaries prominent issues in the comptroller race, we wanted to find out if her allegation of double-dipping is true.
In 1998, Mendoza began working for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development as a project coordinator. Two years later, she was elected to the General Assembly, where she served as a member of the Illinois House from 2001-2011, before winning the election for Chicago City Clerk in February 2011.
To support Munger’s claim, Phillip Rodriguez, Munger’s campaign manager, provided documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests that show Mendoza’s pension contributions into the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago and the General Assembly Retirement System.
According to these records, Mendoza contributed $66,035 into the state pension fund and $34,943 into the city pension fund between 2001 and 2010 -- the time she served as a state representative while also working for the city. As of Aug. 15, 2016, Mendoza’s contributions into the city pension fund totaled $101,736.
Mendoza contributed 9.5 percent of her lawmaker salary and 8.5 percent of her city salary, meeting employee contribution requirements for both retirement systems.
In 2010, Mendoza’s legislative salary was $67,836 and her base city planner salary was $75,036, or a monthly rate of $6,253.
While Mendoza has acknowledged collecting paychecks from both the city and state and paying into the two public pension systems, she has produced documents that challenge the allegation she was double dipping on taxpayer-funded salaries.
In a Jan. 8, 2002, memo to the planning department, Mendoza provided her legislative schedule and requested she not be paid by the city of Chicago on days the Illinois House was in session.
"As you are aware, it is extremely important that during the days that I am in session, I not be paid by the City as well," Mendoza wrote. "It is of utmost importance to me that my records be perfectly clear regarding this matter."
Mendoza listed a total of 44 days between January and May 2002 to reflect her legislative schedule.
This 2002 memo is the only such documentation in which Mendoza explicitly asked not to be paid on days when the General Assembly was in session, but her pension contributions into MEABF also show hours were docked over her entire legislative tenure.
While it’s difficult to discern from the MEABF document exactly how many hours were docked, it does show deductions in both wage earnings and pension contributions during her entire time in the House.
Stacey Ruffolo, a spokesman for MEABF, noted unless requested, employees usually have their hours docked for disciplinary reasons.
In defending her pensions during the editorial board debate, Mendoza said her city pension will be less because she wasn’t paid for the days she was in session.
Mendoza also said she will fold her two pensions into one as GARS and MEABF are reciprocal retirement systems, though records show she has not yet applied for reciprocity.
"I also chose to not take the more lucrative pension that I could have taken when I was elected city clerk; I just went ahead and continued to be in the regular Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund pension instead of the Cadillac plan pension," Mendoza said during the debate.
Munger said: "My opponent… was on both the city of Chicago payroll and the state of Illinois payroll simultaneously, taking full salary, funding her full pension benefits both as a city worker and as a state worker for 10 years."
Although Mendoza did request not to be paid by the city on days the House was in session, records from both GARS and MEABF show she still paid the full required rate for employees into both retirement systems.
In addition to the 2002 memo that identifies the days she would be in session, the document from MEABF reflects deductions in earnings, hours and pension contributions, which coincide with the General Assembly’s normal legislative schedule.
Munger is correct when she claims Mendoza was on both the state and city payroll, and that she fully funded two different pensions, but she is incorrect in saying Mendoza collected her full salary from the city. Records show a deduction in earnings during her tenure as a state lawmaker.
For these reasons, we rate Munger’s claim Half True.https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/ee7f0cba-9c86-4fd2-8203-84d28bb4a361
Email correspondence, Phillip Rodriguez, Leslie Munger’s campaign manager, Sept. 16, 2016
Email correspondence, Christie Lacey, communications associate, Susana Mendoza, Sept. 21, 2016
Phone correspondence, Stacey Ruffolo, spokeswoman, Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, Sept. 21, 2016
Document, Susana Mendoza’s pension contributions to the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, accessed Sept. 16, 2016
Document, Susana Mendoza’s pay rate as a state representative, accessed Sept. 16, 2016
Document, Susana Mendoza’s pension contributions to the General Assembly Retirement System, accessed Sept. 16, 2016
"Comptroller hopefuls wrangle over pensions, state spending," Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 15, 2016
Springfield legislative schedule memo, Susana Mendoza, Jan. 8, 2002 (accessed Sept. 21, 2016)
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