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No quick answers to long-term pension reform question

Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 2:22 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 3:57 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

PRINCETON — Retired teachers need to become informed and contact their legislators when it comes to pending pension reform legislation, according to John Flaherty, legislative chairman for the Illinois Retired Teachers Association (IRTA).

Flaherty was guest speaker at Thursday’s meeting of the Bureau County IRTA at the Princeton Public Library, with about 20 members present.

According to Flaherty, the IRTC has 35,000 members, but only 17,000 of them have signed up for the Voter Voice email service to keep them informed of issues which affect them. And, much fewer than the 17,000 actually contact their legislators if they have a concern to voice, he said.

Thirty-two bills have been introduced on pension reform this year, with nine of those bills affecting retired teachers, Flaherty said. Only one of those bills passed, but retired teachers were taken out of that bill just before the vote.

Pension reform doesn’t affect just teachers, but also state employees, state universities, legislators and judges, Flaherty said. There could be a comprehensive bill on pension reform coming in a couple weeks, but that’s not a sure thing. Legislators need to make sure all parts of a bill are constitutional, he said.

In another concern, Flaherty said more retired teachers need to contribute to the IRTC’s legal defense fund, which currently has only $100,000 in it. That money would go fast if the IRTC would join a lawsuit against a pension reform legislation, he said.

After Thursday’s meeting, Flaherty said he’s stopped trying to predict what legislators are going to do and when any pension reform legislation will be passed.

When asked what he wants the group to take from Thursday’s meeting, Flaherty said IRTC members need to contact their legislators every time there is a bill concerning the pension reform issue, and to keep contacting them.

“They earned their pension and now they need to fight to keep it,” he said.

In explaining some background to the pension system, Flaherty said the state’s plan has been to have the pension system funded at 80 or 90 percent, but the federal government wants the system funded at 100 percent.

The problem is the state of Illinois has not put in the amount it should have into the pension system each year, Flaherty said. During the past 50 years, it’s been maybe twice that the state has put into the pension system the full amount that it should. In 2004, under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, there was a pension holiday and didn’t pay anything into the system, Flaherty said.

There are no quick solutions to pension reform and nothing will be solved in a year, Flaherty said. To get all the pensions to 100 percent funding would cost $100 billion. That 100 percent funding doesn’t have to happen in a couple years, but the plan is to do it in 30 years. But still, the question is who is going to pay to get that extra funding, he said.

“We used to talk to our legislators and tell them they weren’t funding our pensions, and they would tell us not to worry because ‘we’ are in the constitution,” Flaherty said. “Now all of sudden, they are saying we’ve got to worry. The constitution says ‘you shall not diminish or impair the pensions’, and we’d like the legislators to live up to that.”

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