SPRINGFIELD — A former lobbyist for an Illinois teachers union has lost his battle to retain an enhanced pension benefit obtained through a 2007 law that allowed him to count past years as a union employee toward a teacher pension.
Sangamon County Judge Ryan Cadagin this week determined the provision in the law that benefited retired Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyist David Piccioli represented “unconstitutional special legislation.”
The legislation allowed union officials to get into the teacher pension fund and count previous years as union workers if they obtained teaching certificates. They had to do classroom work before the legislation was signed into law. Piccioli substitute taught for one day.
Cadagin noted the law contained a cutoff date that only allowed the benefit window to union employees who had become certified and done teaching service before the 2007 law took effect.
“I joined the system legally,” said Piccioli, 67, who retired at the end of 2012. “I obeyed all the laws. I had no hand in passing any of these laws. … I paid all the contributions.”
Piccioli said he paid into the teacher pension system to buy credit for his past IFT years, spending about $190,000 to cover costs for roughly a decade of time with the union. He said the money was refunded, along with earned interest after the General Assembly passed a law in 2012 eliminating the provision allowing the pension maneuver.
Piccioli sued to reverse the 2012 law.
Had his effort to get a teacher’s pension been successful, Piccioli could have boosted his annual pension from the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System from more than $31,000 to an estimated $67,000, Piccioli said. He added he may appeal the decision.
Attorney Carl Draper, who represents Piccioli, said his client deserves the bigger teacher pension because the state high court has ruled a public worker’s pension cannot be diminished or impaired. Draper said among Piccioli’s options are to ask Cadagin to reconsider his ruling, or appeal directly to the Illinois Supreme Court because the case involves a law being found unconstitutional.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, called Piccioli’s attempts to cash in “outrageous” and “greedy.”
“It’s audacious, first of all,” Raoul said, to push for the bigger pension when lawmakers are “trying to figure out what we can do going forward to get public pension funds back to a place of stability.”