Illinois Supreme Court reinstates pension for union lobbyist who taught for single day

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — A union lobbyist who qualified a state pension by substitute teaching a class for a day will get his monthly payments reinstated after Illinois’ Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

Former Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyist David Piccioli was the only person to take advantage of a 2007 law allowing him to buy into the state’s teacher pension fund after getting a teaching degree and substitute teaching for a single day at a Springfield elementary school. This was predicated on his time spent as a union lobbyist.

The law was described as a minor “technical” change to the state’s pension law when it was introduced with no financial effects on the state pension fund, but it effectively granted Piccioli a teacher pension even though he had never been a public sector employee, rather a lobbyist representing teachers.

The court’s narrow majority ruled that lawmakers in 2012 unconstitutionally stripped Piccioli of his pension after it had been made public by a Chicago Tribune investigation and the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois refunded Piccioli the $198,000 in retroactive credits he paid into the fund.

“Plaintiff followed everything the law required in order to establish his eligibility to purchase TRS credit for his past union service,” Justice Anne Burke wrote in the court’s decision. “While nothing prevented the legislature from eliminating this benefit for future employees, there is no legal justification for reducing or eliminating the pension benefits plaintiff was awarded pursuant to the 2007 amendment.”

The dissenting opinion said the law that allowed Piccioli to buy into the state pension system of teachers was unconstitutionally special legislation.

“As Piccioli’s attorney admitted at oral argument, the optics created by the facts of this case are not great,” Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote in dissent. “The majority’s background, however, whitewashes those facts.”

Piccioli’s attorney, Esther Seitz, told the court in September that the state’s constitution is on her client’s side, even though it doesn’t look good.

“We admit that the optics aren’t great,” she said. “But that’s because they’re viewed in hindsight.”

Piccioli gets $36,000 annually from the pension fund and could see that annual amount nearly double in the future if the ruling stands. He also get a $33,000 pension from his time as a legislative aide.

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