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SURS Membership Advisory Committee Report

By Leo Welch

Public community college or university employee pensions faced several threats during the 2008-2009 academic year. The first threat was the potential for a convention to revise the current constitution of the State of Illinois. Although some thought that the pension benefits for current employees as well as current retirees would be immune from changes in the constitution, very few members in the Illinois public employees pension system were willing to take that risk. A coalition was formed to oppose the call for a constitutional convention; the result was a defeat for the convention. In the 2008 general election, Illinois voters cast enough ballots to defeat the proposed convention in all counties.

Things just got worse for public employee pensions as the 96th General Assembly convened. Governor Quinn’s budget address to the General Assembly included several major attacks on pensions. Among those was his proposal that current employees pay an additional 2% contribution to their retirement without receiving any additional benefits. This would be equivalent to a payroll tax.

Additionally, legislators introduced several bills that had negative impacts on pensions. One called for a move from the current defined benefit plan, which guarantees a set pension payment on retirement, to a defined contribution plan for new and recently hired employees. A defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), has no promise or guarantee of benefits. One can imagine the drop in value of this type of plan in the current market. In addition to exposure to market risks, defined contribution plans have failed in Nebraska and West Virginia.

One bill that did pass into law dissolved all state pension boards including SURS. A component of this bill allowed current employees as well as annuitants to elect their representatives to SURS. Four positions on the board were reserved for current employees and two for annuitants. Again a coalition was formed to support nominees from the IFT, IEA, AFSCME, SEIU, and the State University Annuitants Association. Five of the six nominees supported by the coalition were elected and are new seated on the reconstituted SURS Board.

The Illinois General Assembly also passed a resolution creating a Pension System Modernization task Force. The task force will meet at least once a month from June through October. They will make recommendations on pension benefit changes to the General Assembly and the Governor on or before November 1, 2009. The assumption is that the General Assembly will take action on the task force report in the spring of 2010.

What does your Faculty Association do?

All faculty members at Illinois community colleges are members of the ICCFA, a not-for-profit organization chartered under the laws of the State of Illinois. The ICCFA represents the common interests of the faculties in Illinois community colleges and is the voice of these faculty. ICCFA has three primary goals: Teaching/Learning Excellence annual Conference; ICCFA student scholarships, ICCFA Faculty Research Grants; Communication and Outreach to our members in Legislative Affairs and positions on ICCB Committees representing our common interests.