President Klickna: Focus on facts in pension debate



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:

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

President, Illinois Education Association


  1. Retired, in-service, and pre-service teachers are being made the whipping boy for our state government’s financial mismanagement.

  2. What an elitist comment! Most of retirees have their mortgages paid off –so we’ll just take away their cola cause they’re old and they have their houses. What else could they possibly need?
    What retirees do with their money is no one’s business. What an arrogant assinine remark. We followed the rules and now someone like Brady decides we don’t really need that cost of living cause we’re old and have our mortgages paid? Or maybe we can start paying female teachers less cause their husbands make the most money and they really don’t need all that much. This makes me furious. The government should decide who “needs” the money and who doesn’t? It hasn’t anything to do with need—-it you did the time and played by the rules, it is your money whether you “need” it for mortgages or not. Maybe they should put that into the new teachers’ contracts—when you start to draw retirement, if your house is paid for, you won’t be needing any cola. We are going to let the government decide who needs it and who doesn’t.

    • James S. Beran says:

      I know seniors with mortgages.

      Also, as age creeps up, so do the dental and medical bills that are not fully covered due to cut backs. Paying 20% of the bill for open heart is like a mortgage. Using their logic, retired teaches should qualify for more pension money as it is a case of need.

      I know seniors who have their adult children move back in for a number of reasons. This not leaving home is another reason so many homes are still on the market and another case of need.

      I remember 11 years going to the meeting that explained the 2+2. I even asked how the state expected to pay us. No problem.

      Up to a few years ago the pension was considered a form of deferred compensation to attract the best teachers. Now schools will be satisfied with warm bodies and huge numbers of students in each classroom.

      Some schools now have RIFFing based on “evaluation category.” If the teacher is there 30 years and has a “satisfactory” evaluation, that teacher may be RIFFed by a teacher with 5 years and an “excellent” evaluation. We all know how unbiased teacher evaluations are.

      Before the pension crisis, it was easy to see the bias in evaluations. Those teachers that were constantly in the presence of the superior always received better evaluations and a better budget for classroom supplies. At that time, the evaluation did not affect job security, but is it all a new ball game now.

      “Yes, boss. Yes, boss, Right away boss.” “By the way boss, Mrs. Smith came to class 5 minutes late today.” “Mr. Jones parked his car with one tire on the white line, boss.”

      I know one Washington State Kindergarten teacher that had to meet as many as 128 teaching points in a classroom evaluation. She grew tired of arguing that she had met the criteria. On one evaluation day, she wrote them all the points on the chalk board and checked them off as she did them. That must have been one really frustrated teacher and not the only one I’m sure.

      I know one teacher that was called down because on facebook she said, “I had a hard day.”

      I see a new Pullman Town coming.

  3. Anne Smith says:

    This information should be presented in newspapers frequently. I do not believe the general public realizes that they are being manipulated by these politicians. Many people don’t realize that changes to the pension plan does not effect pension’s of judges. Besides pensions, what about those politicians who voted themselves interest free student loans? Plus, those politicians who would be paid if the government would shut down while our military families and our seniors wouldn’t. We need to find a way to inform the public before they turn on all state employees.

  4. Carol K says:

    We have an article in the constitution of Illinois guaranteeing our pensions. We also have enforceable contracts protecting our pensions. We need not “meet the Assembly halfway”, or any way. The State needs to pay its debt in full.
    They would never be satisfied with any concession we offer. They will always return with a new attack.
    If a bank teller gave your money to someone else, would you make a concession as to the amount of money the bank was holding for you?

    • James S. Beran says:

      Your right!

      IL also encouraged us to retire. I would have lost money if I did not retire and that was in 2006. IL broke the contract, so we should be able to go back to work. Won’t they be thrilled with that possibility.

  5. James S. Beran says:

    I agree. Let’s get the facts to compare apples to apples instead of all this hype. The politicians distort things only because they don’t want us to know the facts. It is their way of manipulating public opinion so they can get what they want. I just read that if the state fully funded the pension system, it would be funded 92% today. Funding of 80-90% is considered a solid pension system.

  6. Jan Cleveland says:

    No one seems to notice that in addition to paying 9.4% of each pay check, and a percenteage into TRIP, we pay taxes just like every other citizen. We have definitely paid our share. I don’t think it is fair to ask retired teachers to pay more or take less in benefits. Many teachers never made much money at their jobs in the first place. By the time we pay for a house and to put our kids through college, there has never been money left over for investment. Maybe legislators need to walk a mile in our shoes.

    • James S. Beran says:

      I just received my real estate tax bill. The new item is how much money goes to pensions for different public worker groups. The numbers seem rather modest.

      “Shared sacrifice” is among public workers. That does not include those in the General Assembly who have sworn to up hold the constitution and serve the citizens. How is that picture different today.

  7. Scott Meyers says:

    I think it is important for you and all of us to start talking about facts that address the misrepresentation of Lord Madigan who claims that Chicagoans pay a double whammy in both city teacher pensions as well as the rest of the state teachers (via income tax). How much more state aid do CPS and other Cook County schools get than state avg? We have to shift the public debate in this direction to compare apples to apples ( if the facts show it) in total state monies to districts and teachers.

  8. Terry Malone says:

    I think all people in Illinois should have a part in fixing the pension mess in as much as the legislators who made bad decisions and failed to pay the states part represented all the people in the state. Let’s get into everyone’s pocket. It’s everyone’s mess to fix.

    • James S. Beran says:

      Very true. Citizens of IL have enjoyed lower taxes and more benefits for 50 years because the General Assembly used the pension system as a credit card. It was done without the consent of the citizens, but they did benefit greatly.

      I’m of the opinion that I should not take any cut. As a compromise, I will take any cut that members of the General Assembly take to their own pension. That would really be a shared sacrifice.

  9. I thought we ALREADY had a funding guarantee!

  10. James S. Beran says:

    We have a guarantee NOW of funding the pension. Why would a new guarantee be any different?

    • Nick Dalrymple says:

      Excellent point James. If they can change our pensions now (with the constitution protects) there is No guarantee that they won’t be changed under a new deal.

      I didn’t like the plan to place the burden for our pensions on property taxes, but I just read that someone paying $7,500 in property tax now would only see their property tax go up about $100 a year. Could this be true? Everyone would then share the burden. (And yes, rents do pay the property tax for the owners.)

      BWT I live in an old rat trp I love and I only pay a small fraction of that in property tax.

  11. James S. Beran says:

    Another cost is the medical, that is not free for teachers.

    Assuming inflation will be 3% forever, without a COLA, the purchasing power of a pension will drop 90% over 30 years.

    “Access to TRIP” is a nebulous term. With the stroke of a pen, the cost could be tripled.

    I also read that a graduated state income tax would go a long way to solving the financial problem. This requires a Constitutional Convention that opens up every area. This could result in losing Constitutional protection for public pensions. The graduated income tax provision probably would not pass, but pension protection sure would end. I see it all as part of their plan to balance the budget on the backs of the public employees.

  12. Lucille says:

    i am thankful you are stating the true facts. Get this message to all newspapers in Illinois, but most of all the television stations. You are the face behind our message and you need to me known, not only by our members, but the citizens of Illinois.

  13. Bob Fair says:

    We also paid into TRIP. I will possibly be depending on TRIP next year being only 59 and my wife on disability.I was on my wifes insurance plan. I retired early with health issues based on the PROMISES given to me.
    A 3% COLA increse AND access to the teachers health insurance plan. NOT one or the other.
    I can’t go back and teach until I am 70. No one will take me even part time.
    I spent numerous hours making financial calculations before making my decision based on the PROMISES I was given when I retired in 2010. Again Illinois politicians cannot be trusted and WE have the stress and financial burden for a funding problem not a pension problem