State Rep. Dan Caulkins says it's critical that Illinois begin pension reforms
Illinois state Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) fumes about how little the state seems willing to do to erase or at least retool its crippling pension debt system.
“Without pension reforms, without putting a constitutional amendment forward to reform the pension costs the ability to address this is minimized and we're going to continue to spiral into deeper debt,” Caulkins told the Chambana Sun. “To do that, we’re really going to have to address everyone in this pension plan.”
A new Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) report suggests there is little time to lose, with still spiraling pension costs for retired educators now consuming almost 40 percent of all the revenue the state allocates to education, leaving noticeably less for classroom spending and teacher instruction. IPI pegs that there's been around a 200 percent increase in spending on teacher pensions over the last two decades versus just a 20 percent increase in classroom spending over the same period.
Over the last 10 years alone, 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 end result has meant fewer resources for local school classrooms and even higher property taxes for already stressed out homeowners.
“And it’s not just the city or one part of the state,” Caulkins said. “Illinois’ problems are forefront because of the magnitude of them, but this is just as big a problem for other communities.”
While the clock is ticking, Caulkins said there are still specific things that can be done to maybe help ease the situation.
“We need to address the COLAs (cost of living allowance) and get it more like social security,” he said. “We need to go into those plans and put that cost of living adjustment on par with social security while also doing things like capping our payouts.”
As it is, hundreds of schools across the state may soon be forced to cut various programs and even lay off teachers as more and more state dollars are diverted to cover rising pension costs.
“It’s clear change is needed,” Caulkins said. “There’s no way we continue on this path.”