Quinn wants to eliminate state funding for retired teacher health insurance – Chicago Tribune

27 Feb

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to eliminate state funding for two health insurance programs that provide coverage for retired schoolteachers and community college instructors across Illinois.The idea, part of the new spending plan the governor unveiled last week, would cut roughly $92 million from the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program and the Community College Insurance Program.

About 77,000 retired educators and their dependents outside Chicago are covered under the programs. Without the state share, retirees might be required to pay higher premiums. The costs also could be passed on to local school districts, which in turn could result in property tax hikes.

Asked to explain the proposed funding cut, a Quinn budget spokeswoman echoed the message from the governor’s budget speech. The elimination is “due to the state’s fiscal challenges created over decades of mismanagement,” spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said.

That argument is at the core of Quinn’s budget proposal, which also would cut funding for most state agencies and close more than 60 facilities despite last year’s income tax increase.

Teachers contend the governor’s proposal fails to appreciate their many years in the classroom and will add to the burden of retirees who already struggle to get by on pensions that union officials say average about $43,000 a year.

“The unfortunate thing is most people don’t need medical services when they are young, they need them when they are retired, and increasingly so,” said Gary Elmen, president of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association and a former principal of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora. “They would be forced to make a decision between eating and being able to afford insurance.”

The current budget set aside about $88 million for the retired teachers insurance program, which serves roughly 71,000 educators who taught at schools in the suburbs and downstate, and their dependents. The state covers about 20 percent of the program’s cost. Much of the rest is paid for by contributions from working teachers and premiums from retirees that average about $577 a month, said Dave Urbanek, spokesman for the Teachers Retirement System.

An additional $4.4 million was designated in the current budget for the program that covers roughly 6,000 retired community college workers outside Chicago.

The city already has taken hits in recent years. Chicago used to get $65 million from the state for retired teacher costs, including health care. That funding was eliminated last year, and Quinn isn’t asking to bring it back in his new budget. The city does stand to get $10.4 million for retired teacher health insurance costs from another pot of state money.

For the Democratic governor, there is a practical political effect of targeting suburban and downstate teachers. Those regions are represented primarily by Republican lawmakers, who for years have requested severe budget cuts. Quinn is challenging those legislators to stand by their calls for less government spending during an election year, when lawmakers prefer to punt on tough decisions.

Quinn’s proposal isn’t going over well in the General Assembly in either political party.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and point person on education issues, said retired teachers with modest pensions should not have to scrape to get by. Lightford said she would consider requiring some teachers with hefty pensions to pay more, however.

Senate Republicans say state law requires the teacher retirement insurance money to be paid. Unless there’s a vote to change that law, they argue, Quinn’s proposed cut is artificial and won’t reduce spending.

Quinn’s budget-cutting move comes as he and other Democratic leaders also are considering shifting a large bulk of retiree pension costs to local school districts and universities. Quinn and others say schools and universities pay little or nothing toward pensions, and suggest the state should not have to cover such costs because those benefiting are not state employees.

School districts contend they already are strapped for cash and could not shoulder the extra expense, noting programs have been cut back after years of delayed payments from the state.

Republican Rep. Roger Eddy said the governor’s office cannot continue to push more costs onto local government. Eddy, a school superintendent from Hutsonville, said he would fight Quinn’s proposal.

A leading teachers union also plans to fight Quinn’s proposed insurance cuts, saying teachers have held up their end of the deal and the state must do the same.

“(It’s) a serious blow to the retirees and those close to retirement who are counting on the state to keep its promise,” said Charlie McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association.

via Quinn wants to eliminate state funding for retired teacher health insurance – Chicago Tribune.

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