Quinn unveiled new budget proposals recently and he has that our state has put itself in a precarious position and that we need to take measures to prevent or at the very least delay financial meltdown. We are headed towards a “rendezvous with reality” according to Quinn and eliminating state contributions as a part of Illinois pension benefits is a part of that new budget proposal.
The plan would also cut down on budgets for a majority of state agencies, prisons, and mental institutions in addition to cutting benefits to teachers and professors. The full story by the Chicago Tribune on Quinn’s plan to cut Illinois Teacher Retirement Benefits can be seen there.
The Illinois state government says these cuts will save the state about $92 million. On the other hand, Illinois teachers and unions are countering by saying these cuts would only further add to their struggles with surviving on paltry pension benefits.
This is especially concerning as the need (and the cost) of medical services and insurance rise sharply near and beyond retirement age. Medical costs for our current and soon to be retired teachers are exorbitant and are projected to continue to grow at a rate much higher than inflation. In fact, a retired person in need of nursing care could easily see the uninsured costs of that care more than double what they are paid by their Illinois teacher pension.
The president of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association had this to say “[Our retired teachers] would be forced to make a decision between eating and being able to afford insurance.” That may sound a little bit dramatic to some but for many of Illinois’ retired teachers, it is their unfortunate reality.
It is reported that about 77,000 retired teachers and their family dependents are covered and depend on some degree on the Teachers Retired Insurance Program or the Community College Insurance Program (the other program Quinn’s proposal will cut). These types of cuts are not unprecedented either as state
About 77,000 retired teachers and their dependents outside Chicago are covered under the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program and the Community College Insurance Program. State funding for similar retired teacher costs in Chicago was eliminated last year. As the Chicago teachers have experienced, retired teachers across Illinois would be forced to pay more expensive health insurance premiums if this budget plan passes. Alternatively, individual school districts may pick up some or all of the costs the state will cease paying. That would likely mean higher property taxes in those districts.
Just with everything related to budget issues in Illinois, there is not an easy answer for Illinois teacher pensions and retired teacher health benefits. Illinois has suffered from many years of gross financial mismanagement and there isn’t a quick fix, a magic bullet, and certainly no answer that every group of people will be satisfied with. A combination of spending cuts and revenue increases is necessary.
In teachers’ favor is that there would have to be a change in Illinois law because the current law requires payment of retired teacher health insurance and that many in the public (myself certainly included) feel that retired Illinois teachers with modest pensions absolutely should not have to shoulder an increased burden.
A possible compromise is that teachers and other state workers who are on the higher end of the pension benefit or combine with a spouse to earn over a certain income threshold would start seeing decreased amounts of state contribution to pay for their health benefits.
As with everything else with our state’s financial situation…we will see.