Do the right thing on state pensions for Illinois workers
COMMENTARY BY MARK A. TOMANY January 8, 2013 6:20PM
In this Jan. 3, 2013 photo, a "Pension Promise" sign is seen as Illinois state union members and supporters rally in support for fair pension reform in the at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield Ill. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced what could be a significant advance on pension reform, saying the powerful House speaker was willing to forgo the dicey issue of teachers retirement costs in order to fix the worst-in-the-nation pension deficit. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: February 10, 2013 5:53PM
The state’s pension liability is growing out of control. As a result, many of our elected officials have taken to pointing fingers at those of us who worked for the people at various levels of government through the years — labeling us as “greedy” for simply asking that we receive what we were promised when we started our labors many years ago. What they have failed to tell the electorate is that we have lived up to our obligations as far as the pension system is concerned.
Through the years, they have changed the “rules” by increasing the amount we paid into the pension system, done in lieu of salary increases while they were crying broke even way back then. The promise was, “If you’ll forgo the raises now, we’ll take care of you on the back end.” So we went without raises back then — with the promise that as long as we did as we were asked, they’d “take care” of us. Well, I’m retired now, and it’s time for that care.
The feds have reduced what I can get from Social Security to a mere pittance of what I am entitled, thanks to two laws known as the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. Pushed through by Democrat Dan Rostenkowski and signed into law by Bill Clinton, this reduces my Social Security to about 30 percent of what it could otherwise be, simply because I am a government retiree. You, in the private sector, can have a pension paying over $100,000 per year and receive full Social Security, but not me. Even though I paid into it at my second, third or side jobs, I am not entitled to what I paid in.
Now add the complications of the Illinois pension. For decades, the state has “deferred” the payment of its pension obligations to the point of bringing the funds to the brink of insolvency. We workers, on the other hand, never missed a payment — it was deducted from each paycheck along the way. And we watched — year after year — as it was deferred into the general fund. Yet we still didn’t complain; we had faith in our elected officials to “do the right thing” and keep their end of the bargain. After all, one does have to trust the people who employ you . . . a falsely placed faith, as it now appears.
Not only does the Legislature want to reduce the pension I have been promised and paid into all along, but they also want to reduce the health care benefits I was promised. They want me to pay an estimated additional $1,000 or more per month, IN ADDITION to having my pension reduced. How do they expect me to support my family? How do they expect ANYONE to ever take a job working for the state of Illinois if this is how they’re going to treat their retirees?
I was a State Police officer for 25 years and served as a Will County deputy sheriff for nine years prior to that. I agreed to work all hours of the day or night, on weekends and holidays. I agreed to sacrifice my personal life and that of my family for the job — I missed graduations, children’s birthdays and holiday dinners to devote myself to the service of others.
I didn’t become a cop to get rich, and I can assure you that I didn’t. All I ask is for a fair check in return. All I ask for is the state to live up to its end of the bargain.
You know we’ve been there — day and night — all along to protect you, all we ask is you help protect us now. Tell Gov. Pat Quinn, Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and others to keep their hands off our pensions.
Mark A. Tomany lives in Minooka.