Teachers troubled by pension vote referendum
By Jenette Sturges and Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com November 1, 2012 4:34PM
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Updated: December 6, 2012 6:06AM
There are at least a few people who will understand the long, oddly-worded, and ultimately kind of confusing question on the ballot Tuesday.
“We don’t want our protections diminished in any way,” said Ron Nickerson, president of the Aurora Area Retired Teachers Association. “We’ve been urging our members to vote no on it.”
That question reads, in part:
“If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote NO on the question.”
The statewide Illinois Retired Teachers’ Association is urging voters to reject the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would require that super-majority — meaning 60 percent — vote of government bodies to increase benefits for public employees.
Which means that, should a group of teachers, police, or other public workers ask for a pension increase, fewer years to collect, or some other sweetener, approval would require super-majority votes by each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly, as well as the governing body of each unit of government, school district or pension or retirement system, according to a statement from the retired teachers group.
It would affect pensions for local government officials and public school teachers as well as fire and police personnel and other public employees.
“This is a serious threat to young people who aspire to enter the teaching profession,” said Sandra Woolcott, president of the Elgin Area Retired Teachers Association. “If approved, a constitutional amendment would inject severe restrictions into the collective bargaining process and teachers’ rights to fight for fair contracts.”
While the pensions and rights of already-retired public employees would likely not be affected, Woolcott said it is “unconscionable” to require 60 percent approval by a government body to reward those teachers, among others, and a mere 51 percent to penalize them.
“We’ve been against it because the protections in the constitution that were passed, we felt, protected benefits and rights, and this changes it to a more politicized situation,” said Nickerson. “We want it to remain the same way it is with all the protections provided under the constitution.”
The constitutional amendment comes at a time when Illinois is struggling with a substantial unfunded pension obligation. But even supporters who say that the referendum will mean more local control over the cost of pensions said it will do little to fix the problem, especially in the near term.
“It’s not bad policy,” said state Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, “but it’s nowhere near solving the problem we need to solve when comes to the costs of pensions. It doesn’t do anything to solve the pension crisis we have today. It does nothing in regard to the budget problem in the spring. All of us voted on it last spring, but we all had understanding that it was far from the work that needs to be done to solve the pension problem.”
Legislators said that the amendment would not likely affect votes in the General Assembly, where past votes to increase pension benefits have rarely been close. Where it could make a difference, said state Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, is in local school board votes, “especially as we talk about the cost shifting of the pensions.”
Legislators have discussed shifting the cost of pensions from the state to local school districts, and Noland said he expects to “see something in the January session,” after the November elections, on that issue.