Putting faces on the pension fight. A letter to Quinn.
April 25, 2012
H/T: Tim Furman
Governor Pat QuinnOffice of the Governor207 State HouseSpringfield, Illinois 62706Dear Governor Quinn:I watched your press conference last Friday where you announced sweeping pension changes for active Illinois teachers. These changes will hurt my family, and I object to them strenuously. My daughter and son-in-law, Beth and Mike Butler, are active teachers here in Sandwich, and they have two children: Brynn, who is three, and Anne, who is one. Your proposal to change the pension formula for active teachers will cause Beth and Mike to pay more into the Teachers Retirement System and receive less in benefits. This will not only impact their ability to earn a living but will hurt my grandchildren as well.I urge you to reconsider your proposal to change the pension system in Illinois, and I offer you a number of clear reasons why you should change your mind.First, Beth, Mike, and other active Illinois teachers have faithfully contributed 9.4% of their salaries to TRS. The State of Illinois has not met its contribution obligation. You are asking active teachers to bear the brunt of the state legislature’s incompetence by raising the contribution amount for active teachers to 12.4%. This is grossly unfair!Second, raising the retirement age to 67 is discriminatory toward female teachers who must take maternity leave to deliver and raise their children. Most of the women teachers in the state use up their sick days when they have a baby, and then they must take more time off without receiving credit for teaching. My wife, Pam was off from teaching for two years when she had our child in 1977. Raising the retirement age to 67 means that women teachers will have to teach well into their seventies, Governor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my great-grandchildren in a kindergarten class taught by a seventy-year-old teacher!Third, reducing the Cost of Living Adjustment for active teachers when they retire will force them to find other employment, and that is almost impossible after age 67. I know, I’m 64 years old, and I’ve been looking for a full-time job since I retired from teaching in 2007.Remember, Governor, teachers in Illinois do not receive Social Security benefits, and your proposal to change the retirement formula will reduce active teachers’ take-home pay. Active teachers like my daughter and son-in-law will not be able to contribute money to a 403(b) account to use as a back-up because they will have to cut their household budget just to make ends meet. Teachers in downstate communities like Sandwich do not make the same salaries as teachers in suburbs like Palatine and Downers Grove. Downstate teachers will be impacted much more negatively by your plan than will teachers in the wealthy suburbs.
Fourth, your proposal is unconstitutional. The Pension Clause of the 1970 Illinois Constitution provides:Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. (1970 Illinois Constitution, Article XIII, Section 5).All active teachers entered into a contract with the State of Illinois on the day they began teaching in the public schools. You are proposing that teachers’ benefits be “diminished,” which according to the above article from the constitution, the state cannot do.What you are doing, Governor, is setting up a long court battle that will waste the taxpayers’ money. I’m no lawyer, but the provision above seems clear cut. Your changes to the pension formula are unconstitutional.Fifth, most political pundits contend one of the main reasons for your election victory in 2010 over Bill Brady was the support of Illinois teachers. Most of the experts thought that Brady would be victorious. But teachers flocked to the polls in droves to vote for you, Governor. I voted for you, my wife voted for you, and my daughter and son-in-law voted for you. And this is the thanks we get for our support? If these changes you propose pass, you will not receive my vote in 2014—that you can count on!Sixth, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago has poured thousands of dollars into its “Illinois Is Still Broke” campaign. The Civic Committee is made up of wealthy business people who pay much less of a percentage of their income in taxes than active teachers do. Plus, you and the legislature continue to give large corporations, such as Motorola, tax breaks. These taxes that Motorola and the members of the Civic Committee are NOT paying could certainly be used to help the state pension system.Seventh, according to my union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representatives of the two teachers’ unions were only invited to four of the meetings of your pension committee. This seems grossly unfair. According to the IFT, representatives of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago were invited to ALL of the pension meetings.Governor, I hope you will stop and consider other solutions to the pension problem. Making active Illinois teachers and school districts bear total burden of reform is unfair. Others must participate as well.Thank you for reading my letter.Sincerely,James G. Wyman