Preparing To Implement Pension Overhaul — And Not To

Dec 17, 2013

Credit Arthur Public Library via IMLS DCC (creative commons)

Illinois’ biggest and most indebted pension system is beginning to implement changes tied to the pension overhaul passed this month. But officials are also making plans in case the new law is struck down.

The Teachers Retirement System is by far the biggest of Illinois’ five pension systems, with well over 360,000 members. TRS is also the biggest factor in the pension funding problem, accounting for more than half of the combined $100 billion shortfall.

Unions that represent public school teachers have promised to challenge the pension overhaul in court. Because of that, TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek says the system is reprogramming its computers on a dual track: “Keep the old system in place, but at the same time identify all of the places where a correction has to be made to make sure that our computer systems calculate the right pensions and make sure that everyone gets what they’re entitled to get."

Urbanek says teachers have been calling with questions, but because the law treats every retiree differently based on her years of service and the amount of her pension, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

"We're telling people right now to be very patient, because we don't have all of the ins and the outs of the law mapped out yet," Urbanek says. "We will get there. We have to."

The new law formally takes effect June 1, 2014. Illinois Education Association spokesman Charlie McBarron says no timeline has been established for when a lawsuit might be filed, but he says he expects it sooner than later.