Approximately 20 retired and active teachers and state workers met with Matt Trewartha, legislative aide to State Representative Robyn Gabel, in the lobby outside Rep. Gabel’s Evanston office on Dec. 2. They urged that she vote “no” on proposed pension legislation that was scheduled to be considered by the Illinois House and Senate in Springfield on Dec. 3. Mr. Trewartha said Rep. Gabel was en route to Springfield.
A similar rally was planned at State Senator Daniel Biss’ office in Skokie.
After years of wrangling, Illinois legislative leaders reportedly reached a deal last week on a way to modify the pension system for teachers and state government workers. The estimated unfunded liability in the pensions is now over $100 billion, using assumptions – such as a high rate of return on the funds held in the pensions – which some experts say have the effect of substantially understating the unfunded liability.
The deal worked out by the legislative leaders reportedly would establish a payment plan to eliminate the unfunded liability by 2044, allow a retirement system to sue the State if a required payment were not made, decrease employee contributions into the system by one percent, limit the cost of living increase, skip some cost of living increases for current workers, raise the retirement age by up to five years for workers younger than 46, and create a 401(k) defined contribution plan that a worker could opt into instead of continuing with the state pension plan.
The savings due to these changes are estimated at $160 billion, although some groups are asking that the cost savings be determined by an actuary and spelled out for the public.
Mr. Trewartha said the bill incorporating the deal was released at 11 a.m. on Dec. 2.
Pankaja Sharma, a teacher at Niles North, a resident of Evanston, and an organizer of the rally at Rep. Gabel’s office, said, the proposed legislation is unfair, unconstitutional and an attack on the working class and retired people. He said, “The real problem is a funding problem, not a pension problem.”
He and others present called for a progressive income tax that they said would provide a fairer tax and increase revenues.
He asked Mr. Trewartha to convey this message to Rep. Gabel: “Stand up for the working class. Stand up for what’s right. You can’t vote for this.”
One teacher attending the rally was critical that a 325 page bill was released on Dec. 2, and legislators were expected to vote on it the next day, Dec. 3. “That is not giving justice to us or to the State of Illinois,” she said.
“Our teachers have shown time and again that they are willing to work to solve a pension problem that they did not cause,” Paula Zelinski, president of the District Educators Council (the teachers union for School District 65), told the RoundTable. “We teach our students to collaborate with one another, but that is not the respect we have been shown by members of the Illinois legislature.”