As they try to get our financial house in order, members of the Illinois 97th General Assembly and Governor Quinn are targeting state retirees, teachers, university employees, and judges throughout the state.
Under the guise of "what's in the best interests of the state," they have acted to strip away our guaranteed health care benefits and are now coming after our guaranteed pensions and cost of living increases. Adding insult to injury, they justify their actions by inferring that we are basically a bunch of greedy, self-serving individuals who have manipulated the system and have acquired lavish pensions at the expense of all the other, more deserving, recipients.
I worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for 32 years and, while I was fortunate to have never sustained any injury at work, I did experience countless days of high anxiety when the safety of all of us was in serious jeopardy. I've inhaled tear gas following prison uprisings, I've endured prolonged lock-downs, and I've witnessed the crippling injuries other employees have sustained. In 1971, I lost a co-worker and friend, Robert Jefferson, as the result of a savage inmate uprising. He was but one of 21 correctional employees statewide who were killed since I began working in 1970.
Meanwhile, during that same time span, 18 members of the Illinois State Police and 71 employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation lost their lives in work-related fatalities. I would like to see how these fatality records compare to those of the General Assembly, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, and other influential groups who are leading these attacks against us.
After having completed 10 years in retirement, the state is now reneging on its agreement with me and over 47,000 other retired state employees. Will we be able to backpedal as well and demand our old jobs back? I think not.
Not only are they coming after our health care benefits which were promised to those who worked a minimum of 20 years, but they are also attacking the annual cost of living increases (COLAs) which were also guaranteed.
If the state can get by with this kind of retro accounting, could other financial and governmental institutions do the same?
Will I receive a deed to my home and a title to my vehicle after making the final payments? Will my local bank pay full principal and interest on a maturing CD? Will my retirement fund be there when I choose to withdraw from it? I certainly hope so! What penalties would these institutions incur if they did not follow through with their commitments?
Promises made should be promises kept.
Members of the 97th General Assembly are digging our financial graves. Not unlike their predecessors who squandered the money that had been budgeted for pension contributions, these elected officials are stripping away our hard-earned benefits and then telling us to our faces that we are undeserving of such generous benefits. Meanwhile, they award themselves extravagant pensions that average nearly twice that of state employees–$52,193 versus $29,063–and they become eligible for retirement benefits after "working" for only four years if they retire at age 62. Could that mentality be a major factor contributing to the state's financial woes?
Should current politicians be held accountable for past promises, contracts, and agreements, or are they above the law? There is little consolation in the fact that two of our previous governors are currently serving prison terms, however imprisonment would seem an appropriate punishment for this group and befitting of the insidious hardships they are about to inflict on retirees.
At the end of the day, please do not belittle us as we speak out against these unethical, unlawful tactics. We are members of a group of dedicated, retired employees who have collectively made a lifetime of significant contributions to the people of the State of Illinois. We are not asking for charity. We don't expect something for nothing. We kept our part of the bargain, now the leaders of the state of Illinois should keep theirs.