Guest Blogger: Jim Weaver on Illinois Pension “Reform”

This was a rough week for public employees in Illinois as the state legislature narrowly passed pension “reform” measures that will take a lot of dollars away from public retirees. On Monday, the day before the legislative vote, the Daily Herald editorialized in favor of the pension package.

My friend and colleague Jim Weaver wrote a response to the Herald that I’m pleased to present here. (The Daily Herald allows comments on its editorials and articles, but all comments are automatically routed through Facebook, and they tend toward oversimplification and name-calling.)

Jim is a veteran teacher and coach with many family ties to Illinois public education. His voice is passionate, and the perspective he provides here is one I haven’t seen offered elsewhere. — GA

Jim Weaver

Jim Weaver

Where in the proposal (or ANY pension reform proposal) is the part where the politicians offer to cut or eliminate THEIR OWN pensions along with the teachers? We are only in this mess because the state of Illinois (per its politicians) have illegally skimmed money from the pension fund for years, while at the same time not meeting its legal obligation to pay into the pension fund. That is where the shortfall comes from.

During that time, teachers have continued to pay 9.4% of their annual salary into that pension fund, having done so in good faith since its inception, without ever being asked if they wanted to opt out. This while in their SAFE pensions, politicians can make up to 85% of their salaries (10% more than teachers can make in their pension) and only have to serve in office for 20 years to do so (15 years less than a teacher). Politicians argue that attaching similar changes to their own pensions would barely make a dent in the crisis, so why bother? You bother because you made this mess; not the teachers or other public workers who have been paying into that system for their entire careers in good faith that the state would legally and appropriately take care of the money it was entrusted to secure. Oh, but now, according to the brilliant editorial above, there will be a “FIRM requirement on the state to make its promised annual payments.” And the Editors of the Herald bought this? There has ALWAYS been a requirement that the state would make promised annual payments. But now that it’s a “FIRM Requirement,” then the state will REALLY follow through this time. It won’t be like last time. Promise…Yep…Feel better now!

As an analogy, speak up nice and loud if in your personal life with your own checkbook, you would let someone steal money from you for decades (as the state has taken money from the pension fund), and then when they are bankrupt from mismanaging the money they stole from you, you would be ok with handing over your retirement savings as well, to help them fix their financial problems, because, you know, there’s no other way to help them fix their issues.

Would the Daily Herald be OK with this if the state did this to their business? Yet they feel the deal “deserves approval?” Excrement! The state has no more right to the money in the pension fund than it does money from the Daily Herald‘s checkbook, or money from anyone else’s 401K for that matter. I don’t see the Herald stepping up and offering to write a check. Oh, that’s right, again with the “wouldn’t make a dent” excuse.

So here’s an idea. Hey politicians. Hey Governor Quinn. Come and put YOUR pensions into the proposal along with the public workers whose pensions you are threatening. The system DOES need fixing, now that YOU’VE busted it, so once you present a plan where your own pensions and futures are at risk, I will try to see this situation differently. Not before.

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28 Responses to Guest Blogger: Jim Weaver on Illinois Pension “Reform”

  1. Siege says:

    fantastic insight. This guy really knows what he’s talking about.

  2. Becky Shaw says:

    Well stated. I just believe it is wrong and immoral (and should be illegal) to reduce a promised pension benefit at or near the end of a person’s career, public or private. Employers should not be allowed to make a promise, on which workers base their retirement savings plans, and then break that promise at the point at which the retiree, or near retiree has no way to compensate for the loss. Period. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and keep the promises you make.

  3. Moe says:

    This guy has no insight at all. This is just bashing politicians for not including their own pensions into the bill, which I’m sure 99% of voters would agree should have been done. Bashing aside, yes the state promised to fund teacher pensions. But if there are teachers reading this comment, what do you propose to help bridge the deficit in the pension fund? State pensions are currently 43% funded. The new plan proposes cuts that will enable the State to fund the plan 100% by 2044. I get that nobody wants to see their retirement get cut, but at what point do you have to realize that the bucket can’t be kicked on farther down the road. This is a situation similar to building the Illiana Tollway. It doesn’t make sense to build it now, but in 25 years we’re going to be happy we did. I know our politicians haven’t been the best, but this is a plan that will ensure that you even have a retirement pension when you retire. Federal social security is supposed to run a deficit in 2033! Now that is a nightmare. Plus, Fitch is positively looking at this bill as an indicator that they could raise our credit rating which will further save Illinois millions in interest payments.

    • Jeff says:

      The pension system would be funded if the crooks in office didn’t skip payments. What’s to say they will make their payments now? Because of a promise? It is a legal issue, but who goes to jail for this theft? If my company didn’t pay its social security for employees than we wouldn’t be in business. The teacher’s have paid 9.4% out of each check, we only pay 6% for social security.

    • jo morrison says:

      “Politicians haven’t been the best…” Seriously?? They have gone from bad to worse!! I still don’t understand how their legislative jobs are even considered full time. Better than bankers hours for sure. Our credit rating is all they care about and the buddies around the state to whom they are repaying favors. Illinois’s bad reputation is due to actions of our politicians; it is certainly NOT because of retirees. Curious….are you a retired teacher? Live in IL? Just wondering so I can understand how you view the world as you do.

      • Moe says:

        I live in Illinois and my soon to be wife has been teaching for two years now. It is not ideal personally that she will not be getting these awesome benefits that pensioners are getting right now. Blaming politicians for this mess is not a solution. Yeah they took funds and borrowed money from that pension fund. You should actually be mad at the TRS trustees! How can you not put 100% blame on the mismanagement of that pension system on them? They sat back for decades as Illinois politicians took money from the fund. There were many opportunities for the TRS board to put their foot down, or figure out a reform plan themselves! So when pensions are being cut, just remember all the money the teacher’s unions spent on lobbying no one with a good idea to make the fund solvent.

    • kady says:

      This guy absolutely has perfect insight in regards to this situation. You are obviously not one of the many who are being affected by this bill. While I may not be able to propose another solution (as politics and/or finance is not my field of expertise), it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options to consider. Many teachers, myself included, have money in social security as well from other employment, but our Social Security benefit in retirement is reduced because we are receiving a TRS pension–which means we are being screwed from both directions.

  4. John Neubauer says:

    Take it a step further. Totally cancel the legislative pensions. Then there’s no incentive to hang around Springfield for a lifetime which it was never meant to be anyway.

    This is maddening and I do believe it will be found unconstitutional after Quinn is re elected. Quinn. Madigan, Cullerton and Company are scoundrels and deserve the boot but their GOP counterparts are just as bitter of oills to deal with. Illinois is bankrupt of ideas and of true public servants in state and most local government.

    I do t have the answer but I know that none of the best answers are currently in Springfield. If someone is out there with some vision and is not corrupt, please come forward to save us.

    • Stacy Metoyer says:

      Wow, this is a great article, and perfectly said! Not the teachers fault that the politicians have been irresponsible! Teachers work very hard and should not have to lose money period.

  5. I disagree. They needed to go a lot further. Defined benefit pensions with government employees are a conflict of interest. It’s impossible to compare private sector employees vs govt sector-because in govt there is no risk of losing your job-and your pension is guaranteed. I agree that politicians pensions ought to be defined contribution as well.

    In education, superintendents regularly jack up their salary the last few years of their career to artificially increase their pension.

    Wrote a post How Much Does A Teacher Really Make a long time ago and the math proves out.

    • Jay says:

      No risk of losing your job?! Have you seen the Danielson model being used in schools? Basically it allows an administrator to use semantic criteria to rate the effectiveness of staff. If a staff member (teacher, office employee, counselor, nurse, and aide) earns 1′s, the administrator is on the hook for helping that staff member develop a plan of improvement within 30 days. If improvement is not found, the employee can be terminated after the review of the second evaluation. Here’s what’s sick… the administrator can issue 2′s to that staff member. The admin is off the hook for assisting the staff member in making improvements, and then the staff member can be terminated at the end of the school year. Danielson can be used to eliminate tenured teachers and to threaten established teachers not to make waves when an administrator makes them change a grade, cow to a helicopter parent, or challenge new policy.

      How many superintendents are there in the system versus how many teachers or support staff? Yes some superintendents abused the system, but the reason we remember the “$400k” retirees is because there have only been 7 or 8 of them that have exposed the abilities to corrupt the system. This is not solely a “education” problem, as we take a look at Bobbi Steele and Roland Burris taking temporary appointments of periods less than 18 months to higher political posts to nearly double their pension benefits. Teachers who have 40 quarters into Social Security are penalized heavily to prevent a “double dip”; and unlike many administrators do not have the ability to take on a high-paying consultant role or a part-time position in another district without threatening their pension benefits (and paying penalties on top of repayment).

      The pay for someone who has the education level of a public school teacher in the private sector is substantially higher. But you probably believe the fairy tales that teachers only work the 300+ minutes the kids are in the building; that 48 minutes with a great teacher actually will magically overcome the effects of what happens the remaining 23 hours and 12 minutes of each day; and that if what happened to the pension system had happened in a corporation or non-profit organization the person accountable wouldn’t face potential charges of embezzlement or misappropriation of funds. You get what you are willing to pay for, and if you are going to turn teaching into a McJob; then you better not bitch about the results…

    • Katie says:

      I read your post “How Much Does a Teacher Really Make” and your subsequent comments. As a proud educator and someone who chose my profession not for money but for passion, I resent your lack of respect for educators. The fact that you even wrote this article demonstrates that. I am wondering if your father, who was a teacher I understand, feels that his pension was something that he did not deserve or work for?
      I hear a lot about merit pay for teachers, but what are you using to “quantify” teacher effectiveness? They are CHILDREN, not sales, stocks, money, etc. How do you find the equation that allows for special needs children, children living in poverty, children that are abused or whatever else shows up at the classroom door?
      I understand your concerns about teachers who are working from bell to bell. I am sure all teachers have seen one or two. However, I don’t think that eliminating unions elevates issues or even leads to better education. Without my union, what would stop my school board from letting go of me because I received my Master’s Degree and now make more money. We could save a lot of money if we just hired first year teachers with base salaries in the $30,000′s. We could also save pension money too!
      I get that education needs reform, but I don’t see how writing a post that generalizes teachers as overpaid, underworked, and not worthy of a pension that they paid for, helps. I am also wondering why an investment banker feels qualified to write posts on education? I would never write a post about investing or trading because I understand that I am ill-qualified to share opinions about something that I know little about. I am frustrated that you feel so entitled that you are finding more means to share your opinions that are unfair and disrespectful.

  6. Dave Gonet says:

    Thanks for the insight. It is helpful for those who are spoon fed the “news” directly from the Illinois business interests. What has galled me is that the last two decades has resulted with the state of Illinois never meeting its obligation, but the additional runway at Ohare, which uses no additional tax money, was reported to be a freebie. These “freebies” that came fast and furious from Springfield in the last 20 years have had a price tag, but the political experts were able to ride the pork all the way. Well, the time to pay up is here. In an answer to those the refuse to look at pension as a legally guarded commodity, I say that your thinking is backward. Pension funds should be protected for everyone in both the public and the private sector. We need to broaden our expectation of what our worth is, not contract it.

  7. Bill says:

    In response to Moe, got to love his comment that nobody likes to see their retirement pension cut. That is quite an understatement to me since I am 70 years old, did NOT teach in the Chicago or suburb area and am NOT drawing a huge pension. I guess that I should go out and look for another job at my age. Sounds like a plan to me because I am sure Walmart will be happy to have me be a greeter at the front door. I was not able to pay into Social Security and I HAD to pay into the pension program for almost 40 years. Last but not least, your comment that “this guy has no insight at all” is just plain ludicrous. OMG!

    • Moe says:

      “Where in the proposal (or ANY pension reform proposal) is the part where the politicians offer to cut or eliminate THEIR OWN pensions along with the teachers?” That is not insight, that is called blasting politicians. Anyone can write a blog and say politicians are terrible. Also, I had a talk with my dad yesterday since he draws a pension from the state. He was smart enough to plan for retirement by not relying on a pension. Pension plans in essence are savings plans that you don’t have access to until you retire. They exist as a number, but it is not tangible like a savings account at your bank. They are not meant to increase your wealth. The onus is always on yourself to plan for retirement outside of what the state draws out of your paycheck. I’m sorry Bill that your pension is being cut from an annual 3% increase to a rate that mirrors inflation, but I don’t believe that decrease is going to make you bankrupt.

      • Mr. D says:

        Moe, I’m sure that many teachers and state employees are being smart and saving their own money for retirement. I’m in my 3rd year of teaching, and I have been contributing about 5% of my take-home pay into a Roth, on top of the 9.4% that is already taken out of my pay. I realize that the possibility exists that I will not have the pension I have been promised, or perhaps any pension at all. Does this mean that I or any other teacher should not be outraged? We pay into our pension year after year, it is not some prize we are awarded to us at the end of our careers. We put money into our pensions on the assumption that they will be there in the form promised to us when we reach retirement. I’m young enough to adapt and deal with it if I have to, but what about all the current retirees or those about to retire? How is this pension deal anything but a decades long bait-and-switch?

  8. Jim says:

    where were the Trustees for the teachers on these funds? why were they not “screaming bloody murder” all these years? How could they keep increasing the BENEFITS when they were under funding – It has to get fixed……..and yes the Legislators should agree, 1 term = 1/3 of the penision, 2 terms = 2/3 of the pension – 3 terms and more = full pension….It would save MILLION$

  9. Great article; he’s absolutey correct. Every single politician and union leader should be forced to give up their entire pensions before 1 single worker should lose a dime on theirs. The time for talking is now over. It is time to take action.

  10. Dan Hageman says:

    It is too bad, but I believe those riding in the wagon far outnumber those of us pulling the wagon. So we who worked, contributed, and believed will continue to be blamed for the problems. Unless of course this new “double secret” probation forces them to fully fund the pension. I am skeptical!!!

  11. ILteacher says:

    As a teacher married to another teacher, I will tell you this. We understand that changes have to be made. We’re not asking that we not have our pensions touched- we’re asking that, as we didn’t create the mess, we not be asked to fix the whole thing. As the author states, have government put their money on the line, reduce their own benefits. All we ask is for fairness. Do people understand they are asking teachers to teach until they are 67? Who wants someone of that age in a classroom? Where are the new teachers going to teach when no jobs open up? This “solution” creates more problems.

  12. KJ says:

    Politicians can make more than 85% of their income. They receive a pension bonus ever year past 20 years. Don’t remember who created the law, but when he retired he went from $75,000 as a State Rep to $130,000 pension retiry.

  13. Please note: Honest differences of opinion are welcome. However, please be sure your comments are both accurate and respectful. There is enough name-calling in the world, especially on the issue under consideration here.

    Let’s use this space to show how clear-minded, articulate thinkers communicate with each other, even when they disagree.

    Thank you.

  14. Mark says:

    Why are they having such a great time at all the teachers’ expense. # laughing thieves.
    From the Washington Post, Governor Quinn’s private” celebration’…too chicken to face ‘the people’.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/ill-pension-fight-could-create-deeper-fiscal-hole/2013/12/04/f937744a-5d41-11e3-8d24-31c016b976b2_story.html

  15. Jweav14 says:

    Mark. Thanks for your post because I followed the link and in the comments section below the article, there is a great comment from a poster called “generation politics” who summed this situation up perfectly and succinctly with this:

    “Just so I understand this correctly……..The state borrowed money from the Illinois Teachers Pension and reformed the law so they don’t have to pay it back?
    Bravo Illinois you guys truly are a model for states everywhere.” Smirked…and smiled. At least some people get it.

  16. paddi says:

    The biggest issue business folks and many citizens don’t understand is that teachers cannot control “inputs”. IN business I can change supplies and get quality control for my supplies. Stell and be measured and if it comes in off specs, I get another supplier.

    Kids are not like this! Even where schools control which students enter “a little bit”, like Catholic and private schools, student performance soars. Public schools have to take all comers!

  17. dean says:

    SB 2404 was a better reform plan and a bit more gradual, but only what Madigan wants seems to be considered. I would of liked to see a sliding scale on the COLA. if you make $40K, $60K, $80K per year on your pension, you basically get the same raise. Some fat cat supt. have really abused pensions with their bonuses and has stirred up alot of bad press for teachers. We need to make it an issue for our politicians to answer “Why not your pensions too”?

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