Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Let’s call it the teacher pension death watch” by Fred Klonsky

“I’ve been writing about retired teacher Jeri Shanahan for years. She is part of a shrinking group of retired Illinois teachers who got caught in the cracks years ago when the law changed regarding Medicare.

“When I first met Jeri, the number of teachers who were forced to pay exorbitant fees for health coverage was about 600. Half are now dead. You can go to the above link and read more about the issue if you want.

“Shanahan is still around, and she gives me a call every couple of months. I listen and Jeri talks about the lack of fairness in the system. What gets unsaid by both of us is that Illinois’ politicians do have an unspoken plan for her and the rest of the 300 or so that are still around.
“They will wait for the rest of those caught in Jeri Shanahan’s situation to die. Problem solved.
“I put Jeri in touch with my State Representative Will Guzzardi last year. When I talked to him afterward, he said he couldn’t get to it until after the veto session. I thought there might be a certain urgency but I haven’t heard anything since. Neither has Jeri.
“But Guzzardi is not alone. Both state teacher unions won’t touch it. Neither will the Illinois Retired Teachers Association. As one IEA lobbyist told me, they have bigger fish to fry.
“It’s just 300 old people, most over 80 years old.  How long will this be an issue? Let’s call it the teacher pension death watch.
“The reality is that the retiree death watch is also the plan for the larger pension debt. The current Illinois public pension liability is now somewhere over 130 billion.
“Chicago Tribune’s columnist, Kristen McQueary, writes today again calling for Governor Pritzker to back a constitutional amendment that would take out the pension protection clause from the state’s constitution.

“The current language prohibits any reduction in current benefits for public employees. The Illinois Supreme Court has already ruled that this language is clear and unmistakable and was intended to do exactly what is says when it was written 50 years ago by the constitution’s creators.
“The Court blocked any legislative cuts to benefits. Which is why Kristen McQueary has no clue. Even if the pension protection clause was erased, it would not unprotect current public employees (not only current retirees) from receiving contractual benefits. The liability will only grow up to a point.
“But at a certain point, public employees covered under Tier 1 will begin to decline. Could they change the contract for a public employee hired today? Sure. But the legislature can and already has done that without a constitutional change. They created Tier 2 and Tier 3. They reduced the benefits of employees hired after January 1, 2011.
“However, they can’t undo the constitutional and contractual arrangement retroactively. So, while McQueary accuses the Governor of proposing pension solutions that are smoke, it is McQueary bogarting the joint.
“There is nobody in Springfield that is proposing a plan that will pay the 130 billion dollar pension liability. I predict nobody ever will.
“At a certain point over the next 30 years, nearly all of those of us in Tier 1 will be dead. And as with Jeri Shanahan and her 300 or less fellow retirees, that problem will be solved” (The Trib’s Kristen McCreary and the Retired Teacher Death Watch by Fred Klonsky). 

I also posted about Jeri Shanahan in the following articles:


  1. I brought a bill to handle this issue for Jeri in the 99th but of course it was voted down in pensions committee. Ask Jeri. we still talk every once in a while.

  2. My almost 82 year old brother is in the same situation as Jeri. No Medicare and his City health care costs skyrocketed this year to 28k. We are trying to help him get on Medicare in this signing period although he will have to pay significant penalties for joining so late.