SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are dead set against Rod Blagojevich getting another dime from Illinois taxpayers.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are dead set against Rod Blagojevich getting another dime from Illinois taxpayers.

The General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, Board moved today to ensure that the former governor would not collect any of his $65,000-a-year state pension.

The board adopted a rule that will require it to meet and review any application from a person convicted of political corruption during his time working for the state. The board must approve pension benefits before a pension check can be sent. For most Illinois retirees, the checks are sent and then the GARS Board reviews eligibility.

In December, Blagojevich turns 55, age of retirement, and could have taken advantage of a loophole that would have allowed him to apply for pension payments despite his conviction. The law does not define someone as a convicted felon until sentence is imposed. Blagojevich is awaiting sentencing and no date has been set.

The former governor took the first step toward becoming ineligible for a state pension in June, after a federal jury found him guilty on 17 of 20 counts of corruption.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook said the GARS board will not meet until April, months after Blagojevich would have been eligible to begin drawing his pension.

“The real question was a timing one, making sure that we meet before (GARS) staff just starts issuing checks,” said Nekritz. “We would not have been able to recoup that money once it was sent.”

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said Illinois is trying to avoid a scenario it experienced with former Gov. George Ryan who served one term from 1998 until 2002 and was convicted of racketeering charges in 2006.

“I’m trying to avoid a freak show, where we would have a convicted felon, a second governor in a row, sitting in a federal penitentiary and applying for his pension benefits,” Franks said. “It’s clear that (Blagojevich) is not going to be eligible for his pension, so I’d like to give him back all of his money, with interest.”

Ryan lost his pension after a lengthy series of court challenges, many while he was serving his own six and a half year corruption sentence.

If Blagojevich loses his pension benefits, he could receive a $128,000 refund for the money he paid into the system during his six years as governor and several years as a state legislator.

The former governor, however, can collect a $15,000-a-year pension from his time serving as a U.S. representative. He served in Congress from 1996 to 2002 when he ran for governor.

David Morrison, deputy director of the political watchdog group Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the pension mess is just the latest caused by the former governor.

“Blagojevich’s mess will take years to clean up — not just the corruption legacy, but the damage that the former governor did to state government and public trust,” Morrison said.

The move to padlock Blagojevich’s pension came on the same day that the Illinois Supreme Court revoked his license to practice law. That, too, was a consequence of his conviction, though the former governor had not practiced law in years.

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