State Reps. Keith Sommer and Dan Brady and State Senator Bill Brady (left to right) took questions from McLean County teachers about pension reform during a roundtable discussion at the Illinois Education Association office in Bloomington. (Photo by Eric Stock/WJBC)
By Eric Stock
BLOOMINGTON - Local teachers took advantage of a day off of school to ask lawmakers about their pensions.
The problem is, it's their day off too.
The Illinois Senate adjourned its Lame Duck Session one day early and the Illinois House won't convene until Sunday, but that's not stopping union representatives from across the state from heading to Springfield for a Capitol rally hosted by the labor group We Are One Illinois.
About 40 teachers from McLean County boarded a charter bus this morning to make the trip to Springfield. Prior to that, Illinois Reps. Dan Brady and Keith Sommer and state Senator Bill Brady met with them in a roundtable discussion about pension reform.
Vicki Mahrt, President of the Unit 5 Education Association and board member with the Illinois Education Association, said teachers have been willing to sacrifice.
"To suggest the reason that the pension system is in trouble is because benefits are too good or for any other reason is disingenous," Mahrt said. "The real reason it's in crisis is becsause the legislature hasn't appropriated the money that they knew they were supposed to appropriate for years."
Senator Brady puts part of the blame at the feet union leaders for backing these underfunded budgets which he and his Republican colleagues voted against.
"The fact that (the Illinois Education Association) has supported budgets in the past that didn't fund pensions is a problem," Brady said.
Teachers told lawmakers they trusted them that their pensions would be taken care of.
All three lawmakers said they oppose a proposal that would shift some pension costs to local schools, saying it would be burdensome to cash-strapped districts and would likely lead to property tax increases. Sommer said part of his district, Tazewell County, has a tax cap in place which would further hamper schools ability to recoup its costs.
We Are One is fighting a plan from Gov. Quinn says would require workers to choose between seeing a drop in their annual 3 percent compounded cost of living adjustments in the pensions or losing other benefits.
The group says in a news release it is still analzying House Bill 6258 which would limit cost of living adjustments, increase employee contributions by 2 percent and would have younger employees work longer.
Quinn has said he wants lawmakers to send him a bill by Jan. 9, when the current session ends and new members take office.