23 Aug 2014
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Letter to the Editor: Pension Heist

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Letter to the Editor: Pension Heist

Every year, every paycheck, every public school teacher and administrator pays into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) 9.4% of their salary.  Their employer also pays. Illinois teachers don’t earn Social Security credit, thus their pension is what they count on for retirement. They also pay into the Teacher Retirement Insurance Program expecting to have access to health insurance when they retire. 

Upon retirement, they receive a pension based on years of service and salary earned.  TRS retirees do not receive free health coverage.  They pay $600 monthly for insurance on average.  Retirees, active teachers, and school districts pay about 80% of retirees’ insurance premiums. 

Thousands of retirees are not eligible for medicare.  Those that are eligible use the state insurance program as coverage until they can enroll in medicare.  When I became a teacher I agreed to pay my fair share into the pension system.  I signed an irrevocable contract that guaranteed I would pay.  I have lived up to my side of the contract.     

Since 1952 Illinois has failed to pay its share and used the pension system like a credit card.  After sixty years of failure to live up to their side of the contract, the governor and general assembly want to renege on their obligations.  They want me to give up cost of living pension benefits I have earned and paid for so I can have “access” to health insurance that I pay for.  They want to freeze active teachers’ pension benefits to this year’s salary unless they agree to give up cost of living benefits due them when they retire. 

The governor and general assembly want to run from their mistakes and make school districts pick up the state’s portion of retirement costs.  Well, they need to admit their mistakes, and pay for their 60 years of failure.       Illinois’ Constitution says,”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.”  It’s not hard to understand.       

TRS is a good steward of member contributions, earning 9.3% on returns over 30 years.  TRS earned a 23% return last year.  Benefits are good because member contributions of 10% of salary and good financial management have worked.  The State’s failure to do it’s part is the problem.  Most of the increase in pension costs are due to interest the State owes because they failed to pay their share.  Some years Illinois paid nothing, it took pension “holidays.”    

The great pension heist isn’t coming from teachers or retirees.  It’s coming from the corruption and failures of legislators and governors.  My family has lived in Illinois over 150 years.  My father and I span 100 years of service as educators in Illinois.  I’m simply asking that our service be respected.  My pension doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be honored.

Roger Sanders, Oswego

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