Rep. Chris Miller
First-term Illinois state Rep. Chris Miller (R-Oakland) is convinced the time has come for the state to deal with its mounting pension system crisis once and for all.
“It’s one of those things that no one wants to talk about, but until we fix the pension problems we aren’t going to fix any of the fiscal issues,” Miller told the East Central Reporter. “The problem is all these things were overpromised and for so long the can has just been kicked down the road.”
Miller points to a new Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) report that finds that pensions for retired teachers now consume 36 percent of all the funding allocated for education as an example of just how out of whack things have gotten. Over the last two decades, teacher pension costs have soared by about 200 percent while classroom spending has increased by just 20 percent over that same period.
Since 2010, the cost of educators’ pensions spending more than doubled to over $5 billion in total or to 20 percent of the state’s total spending budget for education.
“The problem isn’t with rank and file teachers,” Miller said. “The problem is there are a whole bunch of people making over $150,000 a year on the backs of taxpayers, which is completely out of balance with what we see in the private sector. It’s taxpayer abuse. It’s not the teachers fault; it’s the career politicians whose only concern has been getting reelected.”
The end result is educators now being forced to try to do more with less. According to IPI, hundreds of schools across the state may soon be forced to cut programs and even lay off teachers as more and more school funding is drained in pension costs.
“I think they did it recklessly and really weren’t thinking about the longtime consequences,” Miller said. “They didn’t have a care or concern about taxpayers struggling. The payoff for them was they continued to win their elections because of union support and big union money. It screams of self-centered, self-serving politicians. The thing is they can’t raise taxes enough here in Illinois to sustain the pensions.”