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Retired teachers call on Illinois to pay up with pensions

Retired Illinois teachers say their state must fix a broken pension system. “Yes, there’s a problem,” said Bob Lyons,  a trustee with the Illi...

Retired Illinois teachers say their state must fix a broken pension system.

"Yes, there's a problem," said Bob Lyons,  a trustee with the Illinois Retired Teachers Association.  "Yes, the problem is very real."

During a meeting in Rock Island on Wednesday, longtime educator Lyons places the blame on state lawmakers.

"It's not our fault," he said.  "They did it."

The situation dragged on long before the current budget impasse.

While teachers contributed during their working years, Illinois spent its share on other things.

As a result, the state's pension funding has the dubious worst-in-the-nation status.

"It's like a broken record," said Steve Haines, a retired principal, who now serves as president of IRTA Blackhawk Unit 21.  "It just keeps going on and on and on."

The state is obligated by law to pay $3.7 billion each year.

But after missing payments in July and November, plus paying just half its tab in August, this year's shortfall topped $700 million.

While Gov. Bruce Rauner calls to increase public school spending, he also wants to stop paying the state's share of retiree health insurance.

"That would be a big blow," said Haines.

That share is also mandated by law and would take legislative action to toss it out.

"Obviously, we don't want to see any cuts," he continued.  "We're here for retired teachers."

The Illinois Teachers Pension Fund is trying to make the most of a bad situation.

It actually made 1.1% in 2015, which puts it in the top 10% of its peers.

But the state's lengthy diversions are mounting.

And as the state budget impasse moves into a ninth month, retirees speculate that a deal won't happen until after the November election.

"It's just ridiculous that our governor and our legislators can't come together," Haines said.

Illinois gridlock that's making a bad situation even worse.

"It has come home to the state," Lyons concluded.  "They have reaped what they have sown."

And that makes about 100,000 retirees fearful about the future.