Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cost-of Living Adjustment (COLA) of the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System

Illinois Pension Code: 40 ILCS 5/16-133.1) (from Ch. 108 1/2, par. 16-133.1) Sec. 16-133. (Automatic annual increase in annuity):

(a) Each member with creditable service and retiring on or after August 26, 1969 is entitled to the automatic annual increases in annuity provided under this Section while receiving a retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity from the system. An annuitant shall first be entitled to an initial increase under this Section on the January 1 next following the first anniversary of retirement, or January 1 of the year next following attainment of age 61, whichever is later. At such time, the system shall pay an initial increase determined as follows:

(1) 1.5% of the originally granted retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity multiplied by the number of years elapsed, if any, from the date of retirement until January 1, 1972, plus

(2) 2% of the originally granted annuity multiplied by the number of years elapsed, if any, from the date of retirement or January 1, 1972, whichever is later, until January 1, 1978, plus

(3) 3% of the originally granted annuity multiplied by the number of years elapsed from the date of retirement or January 1, 1978, whichever is later, until the effective date of the initial increase. However, the initial annual increase calculated under this Section for the recipient of a disability retirement annuity granted under Section 16-149.2 shall be reduced by an amount equal to the total of all increases in that annuity received under Section 16-149.5 (but not exceeding 100% of the amount of the initial increase otherwise provided under this Section).

Following the initial increase, automatic annual increases in annuity shall be payable on each January 1 thereafter during the lifetime of the annuitant, determined as a percentage of the originally-granted retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity for increases granted prior to January 1, 1990, and calculated as a percentage of the total amount of annuity, including previous increases under this Section, for increases granted on or after January 1, 1990, as follows: 1.5% for periods prior to January 1, 1972, 2% for periods after December31, 1971 and prior to January 1, 1978, and 3% for periods after December 31, 1977.

(b) The automatic annual increases in annuity provided under this Section shall not be applicable unless a member has made contributions toward such increases for a period equivalent to one full year of creditable service. If a member contributes for service performed after August 26, 1969 but the member becomes an annuitant before such contributions amount to one full year's contributions based on the salary at the date of retirement, he or she may pay the necessary balance of the contributions to the system and be eligible for the automatic annual increases in annuity provided under this Section.

c) Each member shall make contributions toward the cost of the automatic annual increases in annuity as provided under Section 16-152.

(d) An annuitant receiving a retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity on July 1, 1969, who subsequently reenters service as a teacher is eligible for the automatic annual increases in annuity provided under this Section if he or she renders at least one year of creditable service following the latest re-entry.

(e) In addition to the automatic annual increases in annuity provided under this Section, an annuitant who meets the service requirements of this Section and whose retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity began on or before January 1, 1971 shall receive, on January 1, 1981, an increase in the annuity then being paid of one dollar per month for each year of creditable service. On January 1, 1982, an annuitant whose retirement annuity or disability retirement annuity began on or before January 1, 1977 shall receive an increase in the annuity then being paid of one dollar per month for each year of creditable service. On January 1, 1987, any annuitant whose retirement annuity began on or before January 1, 1977, shall receive an increase in the monthly retirement annuity equal to 8¢ per year of creditable service times the number of years that have elapsed since the annuity began.

Source: Illinois Pension Code

Commentary:

According to the National Council of State Legislatures (January 2011), “In 2011, 10 states revised their provisions for automatic cost-of-living adjustments, as eight other states had done in 2010. These states did not have a constitutionally-guaranteed protection for their current and retired public employees. An automatic COLA is one that is made annually, usually pinned to a measure of inflation like the Consumer Price Index. Its purpose is to reduce inflationary erosion of the purchasing power of retirement benefits.

“In all cases in 2011, as in 2010, state action reduced future commitments. State actions in 2011 affect current benefit recipients in three states, but [they] were designed to affect people who will retire in the future or, in six states, only people who will be hired in the future.”

As stated by Illinois Issues Statehouse Bureau (January 2012), “according to the National Council of State Legislatures, 17 states have taken actions in the last two years that would reduce COLA benefits. Most states making such changes, including Illinois, have reduced COLAs for future employees. However, in 2010, Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota all reduced the cost-of-living increases given to current retirees, and other states are taking notice… Since then, New Jersey and Rhode Island have both put a freeze on COLA benefits until their pension systems get on sound financial footing.

“Last summer [2011], judges in Colorado and Minnesota tossed out court challenges from retired state workers, allowing the COLA reductions to stand. The states said that the COLAs were not part of contractually-guaranteed benefits, while workers argued that reducing them would violate both state and federal protections for contracts. ‘The big legal question that has resulted in these court cases is to what extent are future COLAs … promised and protected benefits,’ said David Draine, senior researcher for Pew Center on the States…

“The rulings in Colorado and Minnesota do not apply to other states and judges elsewhere, including California and West Virginia [where they] have ruled that COLAs cannot be reduced. However, Keith Brainard [Research Director for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators] said the rulings do indicate that some judges are willing to take into consideration the dire situation that some pension systems are in and may allow lawmakers to use more discretion if they are ‘making a reasonable effort to share the burden equally – that is [they are] not taking it out on only one group.’ In the case of Denver, [for example], the money saved from COLA reductions is slated to go back into the pension system to help shore it up, instead of being spent in areas that lawmakers might consider more popular with voters.”

In Illinois, these questions and others are being discussed: Can legislators legally change the COLA for both current and retired teachers? Is there a contractual right to a teacher’s COLA based upon statutory language? Would the compounded TRS COLA be constitutionally protected because eliminating or reducing this COLA would diminish "vested" pension benefits for an active teacher and retiree?

According to Rich Frankenfeld, TRS Director of Outreach, “the attorneys of the IEA, IFT and school management have said for years that pension benefits for current and retired teachers cannot be changed. For them, this includes the 3% post-retirement increase (what most members call the COLA). Last year, the chief legal counsel [Eric Madiar, Is Welching on Public Pension Promises an Option for Illinois?] to the Illinois Senate Democrats issued a comprehensive analysis of these issues, basically supporting their position.”

To reduce the teachers’ COLA will undeniably diminish the teachers’ constitutionally-guaranteed, earned benefits. Creating and passing any bill that diminishes any constitutionally-guaranteed earned benefits, such as the compounded COLA that is already in place for retired and current teachers (because they have acquired a “vested” right when they enter the pension system and are guaranteed this benefit by Illinois statute) is illegal and immoral, especially considering this egregious negligence: the state’s unfunded liability increased $90 billion since 1983.  Forty-six percent of that figure ($41.4 billion) was machinated by legislators of the State of Illinois. To respect contractual promises as legitimate rights and moral concerns is at stake for EVERY citizen in Illinois because Cheating ANY citizen’s guaranteed rights and benefits violates moral, ethical and legal principles explicitly avowed in the State and U.S. Constitutions.



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