SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A new statewide poll shows the efforts of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and other politicians to win public support for proposals to cut pensions for teachers and other public employees has failed. Rather, it shows voters overwhelmingly believe teachers are entitled to their full retirement benefits and that politicians should find fixes to the pension mess that do not punish current or retired workers.
The poll, taken in early August, also indicates a controversial proposal to shift state pension costs to local school districts could cost state legislators votes this November.
The statewide poll of 600 frequent voters (margin of error plus/minus 4 percent), conducted in early August by Normington, Petts and Associates for the Illinois Education Association (IEA), shows 68 percent of voters believe teachers should receive their pensions as they were promised. Voters maintain that opinion even when reminded about the state’s budget problems.
“Gov. Quinn and the state legislative leaders have been bashing teachers over pensions for years, but our poll shows the public supports teachers, not politicians,” said IEA President Cinda Klickna.
The percentage of frequent voters who believe teachers should receive their full pension increases from 68 percent to 75 percent when voters learn teachers are ineligible for Social Security and that the crisis was caused by politicians who spent money that should have gone to pensions on their own state priorities instead.
Following are some highlights from the poll:
• Only 5 percent of voters believe teachers and college faculty are to blame for the current $83 billion pension deficit, while 58 percent believe it’s the legislature’s fault.
• Voters strongly oppose any proposal that would reduce pension benefits for current retirees.
• Voters are concerned about the proposal to shift the state’s pension costs to local school districts. Fifty-nine percent polled feel that switching the state’s pension cost to local school districts would be a bad idea, though opposition lessened when it was proposed that the shift take place over 10 years (45 percent both for and against). Most (51 percent) said they would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who voted for the shift.
According to Klickna, Gov. Quinn should rethink his plan to rally the public against teacher pensions in September and instead, start meeting with the Illinois labor coalition to develop a fair and constitutional plan to fix the pension crisis.
“The governor needs to work with the unions, not against them,” Klickna said. “The framework developed by the union coalition offers the opportunity for the governor and other politicians to get on the right side of the pension issue, the side the voters support.
“The voters aren’t fooled by the attacks on teachers and other public employees,” she added. “They reject the schemes cooked up by a handful of millionaires. They want us to all work together to do what’s best for Illinois.”
In their proposed framework for addressing the pension crisis, members of the We Are One Illinois labor coalition have asked that the following be part of any pension legislation:
• A guarantee the state will, going forward, make its payments to the pension systems;
• A commitment by the state to close loopholes allowing big corporations to avoid paying their share; and
• No pension cuts for those already retired.
If the state will agree to those conditions, the coalition unions have said their members would be willing to generate billions of dollars for the pension systems by increasing the amount individuals pay for their pensions.
According to Klickna, the unions representing teachers, firefighters and other public employees know a solution to the pension-funding crisis has to be found and have ideas that would help stabilize the pension systems. However, the state’s elected leaders have ignored the unions’ ideas.
“The poll shows the voters are saying, ‘Enough.’ The politicians need to listen to the voters,” Klickna said.
From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue