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Out Here: Did unions tacitly OK pension holidays?

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 1:49 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 1:53 p.m. CDT

A couple of weeks ago, I took some heat for a column I wrote about teacher pensions.

I looked at the compensation for a teacher who had contributed $90,706 to the Teachers Retirement System during her 34 years of service. The 72-year-old retired in 2002 and now receives an annual pension of $66,519. To date, she has collected $649,504 in pension payments. If she lives to a normal life expectancy, she'll collect a total of $1.8 million, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative Chicago-based think tank.

Many readers objected to that column, which I wrote because of the state's pension crisis.

The most common argument against my column: Teachers have done their part by making their contributions as required. But the politicians have failed miserably by taking holidays from making payments into the state's teacher pension system.

It is true that our state government has shorted the pension funds. No one can seriously disagree with that. But if teachers are so angry about the pension holidays, you would think their unions would have punished the politicians by withholding their usually generous political contributions.

That didn't happen – in fact, quite the opposite. 

In the 2006 election, the Illinois Education Association, which represents 130,000 teachers, gave $2.1 million to candidates in state races, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. 

At the same time, the Illinois Federation of Teachers donated $1.7 million to politicians, including $515,669 to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. 

That's real money. Many of these very same politicians, including Blagojevich, signed off on the pension holidays.

To be fair, teachers unions look at more than pension issues when they donate money to campaigns. Their members also are interested in other issues, including charter schools, educational standards, their pay, you name it. 

By the same token, politicians have more to consider than pensions; schools, roads and police are other priorities. Yet the teachers unions maintain that before anything else, the state must abide by the state constitutional prohibition on impairing pension benefits, a provision subject to many interpretations.

The unions' argument would carry more weight if they had not showered contributions on the very same folks who shorted the pension systems.

With their donations, did the unions tacitly approve the holidays?

David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. Follow him on Twitter: @DGiuliani_SVM.

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