Blagojevich Appointee Could Get $40K Pension Boost

Thursday, Jan 22, 2009  |  Updated 9:24 PM CDT
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Blagojevich Appointee Could Get $40K Pension Boost

Illinois House Democrats

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has lambasted Blagojevich's "parade of political appointments," including Kurt Granberg.

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Kurt Granberg's tenure as the state's conservation chief might be short, but it will be lucrative.

The former state representative started work Thursday as director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a move that will likely boost his eventual retirement pension by $40,000 a year.

Granberg was appointed by an impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces a Senate trial over his ouster starting Monday.

A 55-year-old lawmaker from Carlyle who spent 22 years in the General Assembly, Granberg did not seek re-election last fall. He resigned his seat before the House voted to impeach Blagojevich, who is charged with mismanagement and political corruption.

If Blagojevich is removed, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn would take over as governor and could replace agency heads such as Granberg immediately. Quinn would not say whether he'd replace Granberg. But he lamented Blagojevich's "parade of political appointments" to DNR, including Granberg.

As a retired legislator, Granberg was eligible for an annual pension of $73,000, or 85 percent of his $85,900 legislative salary, according to an Associated Press analysis of state records.

With his new job, pension rules allow him to base retirement pay on his $133,273 DNR salary, for a $113,280 paycheck. It will increase 3 percent per year after age 60.

Granberg, whom Blagojevich appointed a week after the House impeached him, said he didn't take the job for the benefit bump, but to promote state parks and natural areas and use them to fire up a lagging economy, particularly in southern Illinois.

"I'm not in it about the money," Granberg said. "I enjoy the public service and I enjoy the challenges."

Illinois needs a natural resources professional with experience in the field, Quinn said Thursday.

"A retired politician is not what the people of Illinois want or need in such a sensitive conservation position," Quinn said.

Granberg, who needs Senate confirmation to stay in the job, sees no reason he can't work with Quinn.

"We both want to work for the people, get things done for the people," Granberg said. "I've always had a pretty good reputation in the Legislature, both chambers, both parties, and I think I could be helpful to the lieutenant governor if and when he is governor."

The agency's first director under Blagojevich was another former House Democrat, Joel Brunsvold of Milan. He presided over deep budget cuts to the agency, which oversees natural areas and wildlife and regulates fishing and hunting. He resigned in December 2005; at the helm since has been acting Director Sam Flood, who started in Blagojevich's patronage office.

"A parade of political appointments to such an important public health agency is disappointing," Quinn said. "We need to address that."

Blagojevich spokeswoman Katie Ridgway said the governor named Granberg because he will work with all sides "to determine the best way to preserve and cultivate Illinois' natural resources while understanding our state's current budget constraints."

"Director Granberg is in this for the long haul and looks forward to a long tenure at the department," Ridgway said.

Granberg served with Blagojevich in the House and generally has supported him as governor. His campaign fund donated $15,000 to Blagojevich during his 2002 campaign. Granberg said he had planned to donate that money to whomever the Democratic nominee was that fall.

He confirmed he quit his seat early to avoid the impeachment tally, but only because he was tired of Democratic bickering, not because he feared the wrong vote could cost him the DNR appointment.

Granberg, a longtime advocate of conservation and environmental issues, is among a dwindling number of legislators who can take advantage of sweetened pensions. A 1995 reform limits anyone elected in 1994 or later to their General Assembly pension, even if they take a higher-paid state job afterward.

Granberg said he sponsored that legislation and wanted that provision added to stop the abuse of ex-lawmakers cashing in on short-term stints in new jobs. But he wouldn't turn away his pension because he plans to earn it.

"I'm sure I'll accept it, but I have no intention of drawing it, at least for the foreseeable future," Granberg said. "I have no intention of quitting. There's a lot to be done."

State records filed earlier this week show Granberg took $50,000 out of his campaign fund Oct. 6 for personal use. A 1999 state law allows officeholders to spend campaign money they had in their accounts on June 30, 1998, for personal needs if they pay taxes on it.

Granberg said he initially intended to take money from the fund to pay off his car, which he used primarily for work as a legislator, but took a bigger chunk when the stock market tumbled because he needed cash to make improvements to his home. He said he would consider replacing the money later.

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