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As Illinois lawmakers scramble for a solution to the state’s crushing pension debt, some Springfield politicians are looking to pass off the cost to local school districts, the Illinois State Journal reports. Illinois’ teachers’ retirement system – the largest of the state’s five public pension plans – is underfunded by nearly $40 billion. The fund – which does not cover teachers in Chicago – accounts for more than half of the state’s total unfunded liabilities, around $77 billion.
Of course, as the Chicago Tribune notes, pay increases approved by local school boards and teacher unions are partly responsible for the ballooning pension costs. Illinois’ teachers get higher retirement benefits than most other government employees around the country, according to data from the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.
Local school administrators agree that the system needs to be fixed, but argue that the fund’s dire financial condition is primarily the result of the state’s failure to pay its pension obligations. Cash-strapped school districts can’t afford to pay for the state’s decision to avoid hard choices and kick the can down the road.
Without some kind of reform, however, the pension system risks collapse.
“If you’re a teacher, you’ve made your contribution every paycheck,” House GOP leader Tom Cross told the State Journal. “You’ve done nothing wrong. But if we let this go, and if we put our heads in the sand and don’t address it now, it will only get worse. We will not be able to sustain the system we have.”