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Pension reform and teachers

Area educators are not happy with the pension reform bill passed this week by the Illinois General Assembly.

However, Gov. Pat Quinn thinks it’s a win/win piece of legislation which he says will erase a $100 billion liability and restore fiscal stability to Illinois. The new plan reduces annual cost-of-living increases for retirees, raises the retirement age for workers 45 and under, and imposes a limit on pensions for the highest-paid workers.

“Today, we have won. The people of Illinois have won,” Quinn said. “This bill will ensure retirement security for those who have faithfully contributed to the pension systems, end the squeeze on critical education and healthcare services, and support economic growth.”

However, the new legislation, which Quinn signed on Thursday, will not go through without a fight from opponents.

Jim Bachman, executive director of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association (IRTA), said the legislation clearly violates the pension clause of the 43-year-old state constitution. The IRTA, which represents 35,000 retired teachers, will file suit to block enactment of legislation that would radically strip retired public workers of their constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefits, Bachman said.

“The language locked in to the state’s most fundamental law is crystal clear,” Bachman said. “Membership in any public pension in Illinois shall be an enforceable contract, the benefits of which cannot be impaired or diminished. Those aren’t my words, nor are they words composed by members of the IRTA. Those are the words crafted by our constitutional authors, subsequently voted into law by the people of Illinois.”

On Thursday, Phyllis Fasking, who serves as president of the Bureau County Retired Teachers Association, said the pensions are constitutionally protected, and she hopes the Supreme Court judges decide in their favor.

This is a no win/win situation for the teachers, Fasking said. They’ve had increases in insurance, and now they are facing cuts in their pension. There are some retired teachers who are already receiving support through the state organization and that number will probably increase if the pension reform is upheld, she said.

The general public may not realize that teachers don’t pay into Social Security but into their pensions, Fasking said. Teachers depend on their pensions, and for many, it’s their only source of income. At her age, she can’t go out and get another job. It’s sink or swim time, Fasking said.

Retired teacher John Young of Princeton said the pension issue is a problem that was caused by the legislators. It is not a problem of the unions or anyone else. If the money that was promised would have been funded as it should have been, instead of using it for pet projects, then there would not be a problem.

Young said it is very difficult to encourage young people to go into education today, which is a very bad thing. The future is nothing like it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago for teachers, he said.

The legislators are not looking down the road and looking at the impact of this pension reform bill, Young continued. They are trying to put a Band-aid on the issue and not looking at the long-term effects.

As Princeton High School Board president, Young said the school district should be able to weather this, other than the impact on individual teachers. However, it could become very hard to keep good educators in the smaller school districts. With the cap placed on the retirement funding, a lot of good teachers may think about moving elsewhere where they could get more money.

Retired teacher Lynne Weber said she’s disappointed the legislators in Springfield can’t come up with a solution that would be fair, rather than taking money from people who have paid into their pensions and were counting on that amount of money, as they were promised.

When she retired, she was quoted an amount of what she would receive, and that’s how she planned, Weber said. Some teachers may have to look at working longer for the same benefits. There is also the concern of how this affects active teachers, she said.

Again, she’s disappointed in Springfield, that the legislators couldn’t work together to come up with a different solution. As taxpayers, people have the duty to become better informed on the people who represent them and to remember that when they go to the polls to vote.

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