At last night Illinois Policy Institute forum on teacher pensions, one question from Northwest Herald News Editor Kevin Lyons had to do with House Minority Leader Tom Cross’ having characterized a shift in tax burden from the state taxpayer to the local property taxpayer.
Laying out the problems Policy Institute Spokeswoman Diane Rickert.
She explained that there was a $203 billion problem when promised health insurance was included. That’s $41,000 per household,” she said.
She pointed out that disconnecting the setting of pension levels from the payment for pensions was “an anomaly,” that most units of local government set pensions [by setting salaries] and, then, had to come up with the money to pay them.
She pointed specifically to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), to which most government workers who are not teachers, fire or police officers belong. [Police and fire pensions are also financed by real estate taxes.]
Several times during the meeting, Rickert argued that McHenry County taxpayers would continue to be subsidizing North Shore school districts that pay their teachers much more than teachers get paid in McHenry County, if the State taxpayer were forced to continue paying for teacher pensions. The argument seemed to have almost a class envy tinge. She said the Policy Institute favors an immediate shift of incidence.
“Doing it all at once would take 3 1/2 percent of the whole budget,” she estimated. She also gave two examples of a ten-year phase in:
- Cary Grade School District 26 with a $34.5 million budget – $150,000 in year one
- Woodstock Unit District 200 with a $98 million budget – $274,000 in the first year
“I’m pretty such some school superintendents get paid more than that,” she added.
District 47 Board President Jeff Mason answered in a manner that led me to believe that he thought a transfer of financial responsibility was inevitable. He referred to the
- “The test you didn’t want to study for
- “The leak in the roof you didn’t take care of”
Earlier, Mason had said, “We understand this expense is going to be shifted to the school district at some point. “Thirty years sounds reasonable,” he said with a chuckle. Then, five to seven years would give us a chance to ease the shock value to go forward.”
The Crystal Lake School Board President complained that there were “too many cooks–State and local.”
It the financing goes back to local schools, Mason said he thought “that’s where the rules should be set.”
“We need a permanent solution, not a Band-Aid solution.
“Just taking the accountability away from the State will not solve the problem,” Illinois Education Association Spokesman Mike Sayre, a Crystal Lake High School District teacher, added.
The IEA representative made the
- “school boards would have to cut programs to kids,”
- “doing things to affect kids”
argument several times, much to the vocal distaste of the man sitting next to me in the front row.
There were two taxpayer questioners under the only two questions will be allowed policy, one from a teacher or retired teacher and one for everybody else at the forum.
Former School Superintendent Don Bond of Huntley grabbed the “teacher” spot.
He complained his tax bill had gone from $4,000 to $8,000 over the last twenty years.
He had a question, but his point was “Springfield made the mess. Don’t send it to the [property taxpayers]!”
“If you want to keep the problem in Springfield, expect that tax bill to climb and climb and climb,” Rickert replied after pointing out that the income tax had already been hiked 67%.
She pointed to the Huntley School Districts $82 million budget.
Over a ten-year period it would cost $735,000, she said. [I assume that is for the ten years, but my notes are unclear.]
The non-teacher question was asked by Cary Grade School Board member Chris Jenner.
He asked if the legislature would going to shift new costs to school districts, would they take away
- unfunded mandates,
- the prevailing wage requirement that makes building cost 20-30% than for non-government projects
- ineffective life safety code requirements
“The Illinois Education Association has no position,” Sayer answered.
“The onus should be on the politicians in Springfield to remove the onerous requirements,” the Illinois Policy Institute Spokeswoman said.
Mason argued that teachers should be provided with the opportunity to make decisions about their retirement.
The IEA’s Sayer entered the fray again explaining, “When I think of Cary District 26, I know a lot of teachers who have been forced to to teach music and physical education and that’s not what they trained for.
“All things we do for the Illinois Education Association is for the students first.”
The McHenry County College meeting was well-attended, as you can see from the photo below of the dispersing crowd.
With two State Representatives in attendance, people took the opportunity to bend their ears.
Also in attendance were two District 6 candidates for McHenry County Board,Democrat Jay Kadakia and Republican Mary McCann.
Then I went home to write my first article on this event, which is entitled,
“IEA Spokesman Too Young To Know His Union’s Role in the Pension Crisis.”
You can read it here.