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Madigan Puts Brakes on Pension Plan: School Board Members React

A plan to shift the teacher pension burden onto local school districts is dead in the water — at least for now.

Relief was tempered with caution Thursday as board members reacted to the news that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was

The plan, part of Senate Bill 1673, was aimed at addressing the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability. More than half — $44 billion — of that is from the Teachers Retirement System (TRS).

“It does give me hope,” said board member Mike Kelly, who has traveled to Springfield numerous times to lobby for school funding reform.

According to Kelly, if Madigan’s plan had become a reality, it would have cost District 202 between $10 million and $15 million per year.

That would have meant more job cuts in a district that’s already .

“We were looking at 200 jobs at the very least if [Madigan’s amendment] was on there, so that’s a big deal,” Kelly said, adding that there would have been no other way to make up that cost.

“These shifts just cost jobs,” he said. “We, for one thing, are tax capped. We can’t levy these things. We can’t go to referendum — people are hurting.”

Fellow board member Rod Westfall remained critical of state leaders, accusing legislators of trying to pawn the state’s debt off on local taxpayers.

“They’ve raided these pension funds,” he said. “Why should taxpayers have to pay twice for what these idiots have screwed up? They’re leaving us to clean up the mess they created, and that’s not fair.”

Kelly’s optimism was dimmed by uncertainty over where the pension debate may head next.

“What that’s going to look like, God only knows, and He isn’t telling us,” Kelly said.

And, as state lawmakers continue budget talks, the fate of education funding is also unclear.

“We don’t know on transportation,” Kelly said, explaining it’s unknown whether the state will continue to reimburse districts at the current rate of 50 percent for transportation expenditures.

“If the allocation goes down, we have to come up with that money,” Westfall said. “They haven’t been paying the full amount for years.”

If legislators vote to decrease the foundation level for general state aid — the amount allotted to school districts per student — it could also mean huge costs to District 202, Kelly said. The current foundation level of $6,119 per student has remained flat since 2010.

“We were told it’s going to be flatlined,” Westfall said, but noted the uncertainty makes it tough for school districts to plan their own budgets.

“No local school district can plan a budget because we don’t know the amount,” he said. 

Madigan pension shift plan dead?

House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, told General Assembly members that Gov. Pat Quinn asked him not to call SB 1673 for a vote.

Earlier in the week, Cross slammed Madigan's pension shift demand, calling it a "poison pill" intended to kill reform legislation.

"It doesn't do us any good to continue to fight," Cross said of the pension debate. "We need to let emotions settle down. We have to be willing to find some common ground on some issues, and I'm certainly willing to do that."

Cross, whose Plainfield office was the site of an last week, said he expects Quinn to call a special session this summer to address the unfunded pension liability.

Click here to view video of Cross' remarks.

Butch June 01, 2012 at 12:34 PM
What happened to the increase in our income tax money? If they are going to pass the pensions to the local level then the first thing is to repeal that tax increase. Madigan and Cross are going to stick it to us. They will do it in the middle of the summer behind closed doors. Hold on to your wallets. Remember this when the elections come around. We need to remove all incumbents.
John Q Public June 01, 2012 at 01:51 PM
It amazes me that politicians can use state workers' pension funds as a play thing for all these years, and now that they FINALLY see the damage they've done they want to pass the bill to tax payers? I may be mistaken, but I haven't seen 1 politician offer to cut his pay, eliminate positions, or cut their benefits/pension. I wonder why? Probably because, unlike many politicians, people go into public service KNOWING that they will never be rich. They do it because they heed a call to serve the public in an effort to make a positive contribution to society. Knowing you have a pension, not an exorbitant one either, that you are contributing to, helped ease the financial strain during your career because the society that you worked so hard to help improve was going to pay you back in your time of need. Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but I'm thinking that messing with the pensions of state workers is the wrong thing to do and the wrong message to send to those that wish to serve the public.
Tom Nosal June 01, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Part of the blame to this whole mess lies squarely on the shoulders of the people in the district who keep re-electing Madigan. He has been in control far too long to do the people of Illinois any good. When are the voters in his district going to wake up? You can't expect the government in Illinois to change when this idiot keeps getting elected.
silentrippy June 01, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Let's not forget about the corporate welfare that Mike Kelly is so proud of to Diageo in Plainfield. Diageo does not have to have nearly $180,000 in property taxes to the Plainfield School District since they have expanded their building. Yet, look at your portion of the property tax bill for the Plainfield School District and it went up by the hundreds. Everyone can thank Mike Kelly and the rest of the school district by allowing corporate welfare to continue.
Face in the Crowd June 03, 2012 at 10:04 PM
If you didn't already know, Downtown Plainfield is a TIF district which means that the tax revenue generated within the district does not go to fund public services, but rather is put back into the pockets of business and developers. The state of IL did not collect over a billion dollars last year due to TIF districts and other tax loopholes that favor (big) business.

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