The latest version of pension "reform" legislation introduced by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, is an improbable step backward in efforts to save public pensions. Foremost in its regression is language that impairs and diminishes the constitutionally guaranteed pension benefits being received by current retirees. There is one indisputable fact that cannot be ignored: Cutting or diminishing benefits to those already retired is a violation of the Illinois Constitution.
Furthermore, it is important to remember why these guarantees exist in the first place. Today, the unfunded liability of the Teachers' Retirement System is around 50 percent. When the authors of our Constitution crafted the language we abide by today, the unfunded liability of the public systems was virtually the same. A teacher's pension is a result of a solemn promise between the employee and the employer (constitutionally, the State of Illinois). At every juncture teachers, as the employees, held up their end of the bargain: They spent a career in the classroom, imparting priceless knowledge to young people in return for a middle class salary and the promise of financial security in their post-teaching years. They contributed 9.4 percent of their income to that retirement security and were not entitled to contribute to Social Security. To protect working men and women from the arbitrary nature of future General Assemblies and their tendency to misappropriate budgets, the constitutional authors guaranteed the retirement security of public workers by specifically determining that pensions are enforceable contracts under the law.
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Until this legal guarantee is seriously addressed in negotiations over public pensions, we will not be able to seriously address pension reform.
Illinois Retired Teachers Association