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Senator backs retired teachers

Bivins guards interests of pensioners

Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Keith Erhart

We are very fortunate to live in a nation of rules and laws. Citizens in the 45th Senate District should be proud to have elected Sen. Tim Bivins to represent us in Springfield.

Bivins took an oath to defend both the Illinois and U.S. constitutions. Bivins has consistently stated that he will not support a pension bill that would reduce the pension or cost-of-living increases for retired teachers, as this would violate both constitutions.

There are 94,760 Illinois retired teachers. There are 2,265 retired teachers living in the 45th Senate District who receive an average pension of $37,358. These retired teachers do not receive Social Security for their teaching service, and most will not qualify for Social Security spousal benefits. For many, their modest pension is all that they have.

In 1970, the delegates at the Illinois Constitutional Convention were concerned with the previous legislatures of the 1950s and 1960s who had been underfunding the Illinois pension systems. Those delegates wanted to protect retirees from the irresponsibility of some past and future lawmakers and governors. The delegates voted to add the pension protection clause to the Illinois Constitution.

The delegates’ concerns were very real.

Since the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention, every active teacher has contributed 100 percent of required contributions to the Teachers Retirement System. In that same 43-year period, the state has NEVER once contributed 100 percent of its annual share to TRS!

So, what did the state do with the money? The Illinois Legislature, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, redirected the contributions that should have been made to the pension systems to pay for public programs from which the citizens of Illinois have benefited.

For more than 60 years, the state Legislature has used the pension systems like a credit card. This overspending in other programs, without enough revenue to pay for TRS, has amassed a debt of unparalleled proportion.

The debt, called unfunded liability, and the interest on the debt have grown for decades. The state has not kept its fiscal house in order, taking “pension holidays.” The legislative leaders constantly told retirees, “Don’t worry, you will be paid as contracted. Remember, you are protected by the constitution!”

As can happen with a credit card, the interest on the debt far exceeds the annual “current” contribution. If the state had made its contributions all along as the workers had done, the “current” cost is all that the state would need to pay. For this year, the state will contribute $2.7 billion to TRS, but only $800 million is for “current” need. The other $1.9 billion is to pay off the accumulated debt.

In both public and private life, some people find themselves in extreme financial distress. They have overspent on non-binding expenses, will not accept responsibility, want to blame others, and expect someone else to bail them out.

The state is trying to get out of its constitutionally guaranteed financial contract with retirees.

Thank you, Sen. Bivins, for honoring your oath of office.

Note to readers – Keith Erhart is the legislative representative of the Ogle-Lee Retired Teachers Association. He taught 35 years with fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Mount Morris and Oregon school districts and hearing-impaired students in Whiteside and Carroll counties.

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