It began as an idea to drive home for regular people the high cost of government pensions. It has become an ongoing project in a growing number of communities.

Five years ago, the taxpayer advocacy group Taxpayers United of America set out to find out how much former government employees are collecting in pension benefits, and publish both the amounts and the names of who’s getting these checks. The group also estimates the lifetime payouts from those pensions.

“It really rings home for the average citizen,” said TUA’s executive director, Rae Ann McNeilly.

“When people can see that this could be their next door neighbor collecting this money while they are still working (and) only dreaming of retirement, it makes them think twice about where their tax dollars are really going,” said McNeilly.

For example, TUA exposed a scheme whereby former Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters would be collecting a total pension payout of $3.8 million. It also broke the news of the payout due Grand Rapids City Attorney Philip Balkema, a total of $3.2 million.

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TUA, based in Chicago, Illinois, collects pension data in a number of states, including Michigan, and publishes lists of the highest amounts collected by former school, city, county and state employees.

“It was not easy collecting that data,” said McNeilly. Government bodies were reluctant to release the data, she said, even with laws like Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act that require them to do so. But the group was not deterred.

“What we wanted to show was that government workers are not held to the same standards as private sector workers. Not only do government workers retire about ten years before private employees, they collect checks that increase in value year after year based on cost-of-living increases. The lifetime payouts can be outstanding,” said McNeilly.

TUA wants to maintain the momentum it has gathered by getting more people involved. The organization has sponsored workshops in Oklahoma and Nevada, and will hold its first event in Michigan on Nov. 12, 9:00-10:30 a.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing. Workshop leaders will share best ways to use FOIA and methods of overcoming delays, denials and excessive costs. Pre-sale tickets are $5 until Nov. 9. The cost rises to $10 after that.

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See also:

MEA President Inflating Public Pension with $200K Salary While Working for Private Union

Teacher Union Presidents Extract Lucrative Benefits from Schools - For Themselves