Guest Column: Facts often ignored in coverage of public employee pensions

Cinda Klickna

By Cinda Klickna
President, Illinois Education Association

As a career teacher, facts are very important to me. Without facts, we’d have chaos in our classrooms.

So, it’s frustrating to see that facts are usually ignored or misrepresented in media coverage of Illinois public employee pensions.

For example, a recent report about a proposal to reduce the cost of living allowance (COLA) for those already retired from the state pension systems suggested the COLA isn’t really important to retirees because they don’t have mortgages.

As State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, put it, “Upon retirement, most people have their house paid off.” A reader might infer from this that the COLA is needed by just a virtual handful of our retired citizens.

Yet, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 712,000 Illinoisans older than 55 are still making mortgage payments. More than a quarter-million of those folks are 65 or older.

Perhaps in the circles in which Sen. Brady moves, mortgages are rare. However, he probably doesn’t hang out with retired educators. For them, mortgages are reality, and the COLA helps keep the wolf from the door.

That’s just one example of the way that the absence of facts has distorted the pension discussion. Did you know the following:

u Teachers pay 9.4 percent of every paycheck to the pension systems? The pension problem occurred because the state failed to make its payments.

u About 80 percent of all pension recipients do not receive Social Security; their pension is their entire life savings?

You also might not be aware that public employees have done nothing wrong to cause the pension crisis. Yet, they are being asked to, in effect, pay for the bad decisions of past legislators and governors.

The education employees of Illinois love our state, and we’re willing to help fix the problem, even though it will mean some personal pain. But it’s unreasonable and unfair to expect people who’ve done nothing wrong to bear the entire burden.

Looking forward, it’s crucial that the state not repeat the mistakes that created the crisis. Any pension agreement must include a guarantee that the state will make its payments and spare the taxpayers and the retirees any additional pain.

One last fact: All taxpayers, including retirees, need protection from politicians who will do anything to avoid responsibility. A funding guarantee must be part of any proposal to fix the state’s pension mess.

Cinda Klickna is president of the Illinois Education Association, an association of more than 133,000 members composed of Illinois elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty and staff, educational support professionals, retired educators and college students preparing to become teachers.

From the July 4-10, 2012, issue

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