Todd Mertz is an Illinois teacher pension activist.
Dear President Klickna and the EA Team,
I, and others, have major concerns and are disappointed with the IEA Pension update on June 13th.
It appears to us that the IEA is “softening us” for some concessions ahead. I’m sure you can understand this perturbs us. Please correct me if I am wrong with any of these historical facts below:
*Current and former legislators decided to spend our money elsewhere for decades (this includes Madigan’s leadership).
*The public has benefited from the use of our money for over six decades.
*Legislators’ pet projects were funded for political gain and public popularity, using the “required” state contribution.
You write, “We must think about what we can/should do that will ensure the pension systems are able to deliver the promised benefits for decades going forward.” However, we have promoted a list of solutions from reliable sources (see attachment) that would raise billions of dollars. We have been thinking and we have been making suggestions to our legislators on dozens of ways to implement revenue solutions. However, it appears that the legislature wants teachers to take the hit. And in a very real way, the IEA June 13th newsletter sounded like IEA agrees with them. Why would we make any concessions when they aren’t considering the many solutions we have suggested to fix this problem? Has there been any attempt to seek solutions as we have all suggested?
You write, “Manage change or be managed.” Manage what changes? Will change be perceived as a willingness to capitulate? Will the General Assembly be willing to be managed and pay what is necessary from now on – as well as what is owed? Is managing change paying down the unfunded liability by the very people who paid into the system already? Can you tell me or all of us what might be “changeable?” What might be “manageable?”
Am I wrong, or don’t we have both the IL and US Constitution behind us? IL is one of 10 states that have a pension clause in the state constitution; we are one of just four states in the entire nation that have a strong pension clause and two of those four states’ courts (MI and AZ) have recently sided with the teachers.
You state, “Our members have told us repeatedly that they would be open to paying more to ensure they receive the pensions they have been promised.” How many people took this survey, when were they surveyed, and were they informed and educated IEA members? Do they know about all of the attached revenue solutions to close the unfunded liability and that as of at least recently, the GA was not considering any of them? Paying more for our promised pensions “impairs and diminishes” our benefits–and is unconstitutional–at least that is what the IEA claimed just recently–especially during the SB512 scare.
You write, “But, fair, constitutional change is in our members’ best interests when it helps ensure every past, current and future IEA member gets the pension he or she has been promised.” OK, so now this is a bit confusing. In this fair, constitutional change you are discussing, how is every past, current, and future IEA member going to get the pension he or she has been promised? What has been promised for the last 40 years is the current pension law. So how can we change that and still get our promised benefits?
Isn’t it true that Quinn’s own Pension Modernization Task Force concluded that Illinois teachers pay one of the highest contributions rates in the entire country (9.4%) while only receiving exactly average pension benefits compared to all 50 states? In fact, a quote from your IEA Pensions, Just the Facts Please document (see attachment) from November of last year stated, “An AON report showed that when comparing Illinois to like states, Illinois teachers pay 15% more for their retirement benefits.” It also states, “Additionally, AON’s research found that Illinois teachers receive a lesser benefit from their colleagues in other states even though they pay more for their benefit.”
How can the IEA justify to it’s teachers that we should pay more while our legislators do nothing or very little to solve the pension problem any other way but on teachers’ backs? What real consideration would be involved? Would it be that the GA promises to pay their already promised (required) contribution? Is that fair consideration?How do we know that the GA won’t try and again “impair and diminish” our pensions next year…or in the next three years….or the next five years….or ten, etc?
In many districts throughout the state, teachers’ salaries have been frozen for years and/or they are required to pay a significant increase in their health care. How is a larger contribution going to impact them? Is asking teachers to pay more than 9.4% (I believe the 2nd highest amount in the country behind Missouri) going to solve this problem and really keep Fahner and the Civic Committee at bay for long? I doubt it. Do you think they will ever be happy until our pensions are fully dissolved?
You write, “Unless we adjust pensions as part of a larger strategy for addressing the state’s underfunding problem, the unsustainable pressure on the state budget will continue to increase.”
What about all of the solutions we have been stressing over and over again? The fact is, the GA wants teachers to adjust their pensions and now it sounds like the IEA is agreeing?
From what I understand, the GA isn’t interested in our solutions that would raise billions of dollars per year.
You write, “We have made it clear to the governor and to the legislative leaders of both Houses and parties that we are willing to make some difficult choices that will be necessary to stabilize the systems.” What sort of difficult choices are you talking about? Should we be making difficult choices when:
1. We didn’t cause the problem (IEA and the legislators agree on this).
2. We pay the 2nd highest contribution rate in the country and yet only receive average benefits.
3. Many teachers have already suffered a few years of pay freezes and increased contributions to health care.
4. The GA isn’t doing anything to change any of Illinois’ revenue problems.
5. The GA won’t agree to make a promise on its already made promise to fund the employer’s contribution.
6. IL has a strong pension clause in the constitution.It is our belief that they want and will test this in the courts at some point. They seem to all openly admit that it will be tested no matter what.
Here is my most fervent concern:Why negotiate anything away before the constitutionality of any of these bills is determined? They want a court case. They will get a court case whether or not we try our hardest to avoid it. If we do negotiate, and forthcoming bill(s) are deemed unconstitutional, we will have negotiated away benefits unnecessarily–benefits that we have paid for and earned.
Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you.