Did you know that Cook County Circuit Court judges have been paying less than $1 a month for their health insurance? Did you know they get paid $182,429 annually? Me either. I’m betting both of those numbers are burning you up as you’re reading this. Most of us get paid a lot less and most of us pay a lot more toward our health care. All of this came up this week because Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is planning to propose an end to the $1 or less a month health care arrangement for judges and some others on the county payroll as part of her budget proposal for next year.
Preckwinkle, who succeeded Todd Stroger in the job, needs to close a hole in the budget about $152 million wide and she needs to do it heading into an election year for the 17 county commissioners, so she says she’ll do it without raising taxes and fees.
Chicago Tribune reporter Hal Dardick reported $97 million of the $152 million gap was eliminated by changes to the county health system brought about by Obamacare. Requiring judges and some other county employees to pay more for their health insurance is estimated to save taxpayers $4 million a year.
So how is it they’ve been able to get by only paying less than $1 a month?
I can’t answer that one, but part of the history, Dardick reported, goes like this: Judges have been getting the nearly free health insurance for at least three decades. All but $500 of their annual salaries are paid by the state. So their health care contribution has been calculated only on that $500 portion of their county salary.
Nice deal if you can get it, right?
Yep. If you live in Cook County, you’ve been paying for that $4 million in judicial health care each year.
The good news here is that Preckwinkle seems determined to end the nicety. She intends to propose judges pay between $440 and $1,700 a month if they want to stay on the county plan. Or they could move to a state health insurance program that is cheaper, Dardick reported.
He also noted that county employees whose full salary is paid by the county pay up to $112 a month for their insurance coverage.
Judges aren’t the only ones among 400 people affected by the proposal. It also applies to two dozen part-time crossing guards and to three members of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
Preckwinkle also proposes to cut flexible health care spending accounts that come with $1,500 stipends, according to Daily Herald reporter Jamie Sotonoff, for 260 judges enrolled in HMOs that cost taxpayers another $288,000 last year.
Few things irk private sector workers more than public sector workers who get sweet deals like this one. Few things irk public sector workers more than hearing that some groups within the public sector manage to hang on to their sweet deals.
We frequently hearing from readers, many of them teachers or other public sector workers, who are angry that judges have been excluded from most proposals to change the pension benefits for Illinois public workers. The theory goes that judges should be exempt from changes because some of them likely will have to rule on the constitutionality of changes and, therefore, they would have a conflict of interest.
If that’s so, then how come legislators are expected to vote on changes that will affect them? I don’t quite follow that logic. But for the many of you who have asked, all of the pension reform changes that have been discussed in the past year would apply to legislators, but not to judges.
I’m told that also is the case with the plan currently being worked on by a 10-member bipartisan conference committee of state representatives and state senators. That compromise plan will include and apply to legislators, but judges will be excluded.
In Cook, Illinois’ most populous county, it appears the end may be near for one sweet judicial deal that’s been funded by taxpayers.
Is it fair to exempt judges statewide from pension reform? Maybe I don’t understand the thinking, but that one still doesn’t seem just to me.
– See more at: http://www.rebootillinois.com/?opinion=6235&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=reboot-opinion-pensions-10/9/2013&utm_campaign=an-end-to-$1-a-month-health-care-for-cook-judges,-but-they-still-dodge-pension-reform-10/9/2013#sthash.47ECDmNO.dpuf