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How a pension sweetener might actually save money

Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017

* From the Illinois Policy Institute

Pension costs for state government workers reached an all-time high in 2016, consuming 25 percent of the state’s general budget. Today, more than $8 billion of the state’s yearly $32 billion budget goes to pay for pension costs, sapping tremendous amounts of money from social services for the developmentally disabled, grants for low-income college students, and aid to home health care workers.

A large portion of those costs are driven by major factors that push up pension benefits: early retirements, generous cost-of-living adjustments, and limited employee contributions. But there are other pension perks that contribute to the unsustainable growth in pensions. Government workers’ ability to roll over and accumulate unpaid sick leave is one of those perks. Teachers and other members of the Teachers’ Retirement System, or TRS, are one group of workers in Illinois who benefit from unpaid sick-leave accumulation. Under current pension rules, teachers can accumulate up to two years of unpaid sick leave. Upon retirement, that sick leave is applied to teachers’ years of service, which in turn boosts their pension benefits.

In total, over 73,000 retired teachers and other school workers are taking advantage of this perk, which will cost taxpayers nearly $3.4 billion over the next three decades.

The sick-leave perk can boost retirees’ pension benefits significantly. Over 6,800 TRS retirees will receive over $100,000 in additional pension benefits, and the top 10 beneficiaries of the sick-leave perk will see their lifetime pension benefits boosted by $350,000 or more.

While sick leave is necessary for working teachers, letting unpaid sick leave accumulate for the purpose of boosting pensions is an expensive perk that taxpayers cannot afford.

* Jake Griffin at the Daily Herald took a closer look

To see how it works, take a look at benefits for a 60-year-old educator with 32 years of experience and a $98,000 final average salary.

Without the sick leave boost, the retiree would receive $68,992 as a starting pension, or 70.4 percent of the final average salary, the institute calculated.

With two years of sick leave credit, the starting pension would be $73,304, or 74.8 percent of the final average salary.

However, if the sick leave perk was eliminated, the educator would likely continue to work two more years to maximize retirement benefits, teacher union officials believe.

Using the same 2 percent annual raise assumed in the report, that educator would now retire at 62 with a final average salary of $102,000 and a starting pension of $76,296. Because the salary is higher, the taxpayer-funded employer contribution also is higher. […]

“If you get them to retire two years earlier, you can replace them with lower-costing new hires,” said Larry Frank, director of research at the Illinois Education Association, one of the state’s main teacher unions. “And if they can accrue the sick leave, (taxpayers) don’t have to pay two years’ worth of substitutes.”

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

47 Comments
  1. - sickntired - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:48 pm:

    I was waiting for them to figure this out. They could also save a ton of money by doing average highest 48 months out of 10 for teachers, cops, everyone. They could also not take out pension on overtime and only pay pension on base pay.


  2. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:50 pm:

    Typical Illinois schematics. Just pushes the cost to the state instead of the school district.


  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:52 pm:

    Whoa now, we are talking pensions here. Take your “facts” and “data” and push them in some other discussion.


  4. - LTSW - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:54 pm:

    More misdirection from the IPI. the costs of these perks are trivial compared to the interest and debt from the previous decades of shorted payments. The pension problem is a debt problem, not a benefit problem. The benefit issue was solved with Tier II. Someone needs to study if just going to paygo method might be less cost going forward.


  5. - Saluki - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:54 pm:

    Not much will change with this. Many are afraid of the various teacher unions and unwilling to vote for solutions, let alone present solutions to the problem.


  6. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:03 pm:

    Unfortunately sick leave “purchase” is codified, at least for most funds, and therefore most likely protected.


  7. - Maximus - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:03 pm:

    Sick leave is not supposed to be altering anyones pension amount, it was never intended for that. This never should have been allowed to happen in the first place and eliminating this makes sense.


  8. - trs - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:14 pm:

    Teacher’s Retirement Systems isn’t under the Governor. TRS is managed by a board of directors. AFSCME & TRS employees are not the same.


  9. - Last Bull Moose - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:16 pm:

    Change the contracts so there is a cap on sick leave. This unlimited accumulation is not necessary.

    Question to the labor contract specialists; Can the GA pass a law affecting a class of contracts? Could they make accumulating more than a year against public policy? Could they freeze the wages of all tier one employees?


  10. - Ducky LaMoore - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:19 pm:

    ===sapping tremendous amounts of money from social services for the developmentally disabled, grants for low-income college students, and aid to home health care workers.===

    So now IPI supports spending increases for all of those things? Can we get a comment? Comment? How much more do you think we need to spend on these items? Hello? Mr Tillman? Hello?


  11. - cdog - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:19 pm:

    Can someone please remind me why public sector employees are the only people on the planet with a defined benefit pension?

    I find it extremely obnoxious. Maybe Madigan can propose something whereby all employees, from all employers, are given a defined benefit like Illinois’ public employees.

    Ugh.


  12. - Smitty Irving - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:21 pm:

    One reason such policies exist is so a “use it or lose it” mentality about sick leave does not take hold. IF teachers used all their sick leave, how many more teachers / substitute teachers would need to be hired? AT what cost?


  13. - A Jack - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:25 pm:

    For mine which is probably similar to TRS, my pension would increase about $11 a month for about two years worth of sick time. It would take me saving that $11 for 4,545 years before I could make a $50,000 contribution to my campaign account. So is that significant?


  14. - The_Equalizer - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:26 pm:

    I have a family member who is a teacher. She makes $37,000 annually. The IPI’s choice of numbers is, as usual, questionable.


  15. - tomhail - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:33 pm:

    This is the State’s way of saying Thank You for being responsible and not using all EBT as soon as it’s available. Generally, thanks for not being a career slacker.


  16. - Dr. M - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:34 pm:

    ^ What Smitty said. Paid sick leave is a fundamental benefit that employers must offer. Enabling it to accrue as deferred compensation saves money in the long run while preventing its abuse.


  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:37 pm:

    So now it’s sick leave for folks who are around sick kids every day…………what can be nitpicked about next? I’m sure there will be something next on the agenda to attack


  18. - Patty T - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:42 pm:

    I know this is about teachers, but as a state employee, I get 12 sick days a year in addition to my other benefit time. While I see some employees take their sick time as they get it, most people do not need even close to that much and a sick bank could help those that do need more. What about 6 days a year? Wouldn’t that help?


  19. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:44 pm:

    Do teachers really get 70 percent after 32 years? I think most state employees would get a little over 53 percent.


  20. - Robert the 1st - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:47 pm:

    =One reason such policies exist is so a “use it or lose it” mentality about sick leave does not take hold.=

    Okay. So still offer some sort of cash-out option that isn’t pensionable?


  21. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:51 pm:

    ==Can someone please remind me why public sector employees are the only people on the planet with a defined benefit pension?==

    ==I find it extremely obnoxious.==

    In other words I don’t get it so you shouldn’t either. That’s the crux of your argument and it’s juvenile.


  22. - The Captain - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:51 pm:

    Interesting, but I have a question that probably only the actuaries can answer. If they don’t get to include the sick leave and work two years longer that’s two years that benefits aren’t being paid out of the pension fund, right? So even if the annual pension benefit going forward is greater for the employee that works two additional years vs. the ones that just roll two years worth of unused sick time into their service does it end up costing more or less in the end? I guess the variable depends on how long they accrue benefits. But they would have to live a long time to still make it worth it right? Let’s say they accrued benefits for either 20 years at $73,304 or 22 years at $68,992 it would still cost less to have them work two more years and pay the the higher price right? ($1,466,080 vs. $1,517,824)

    Am I doing the math wrong?


  23. - RIJ - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 2:14 pm:

    Two years? SURS retirees are paid for a maximum of 180 work days.

    Smitty Irving, you are correct. I had accumulated nearly 300 sick days by age 50. Heck, if I had a hangnail I’d take a sick day. Of course, the attacks against State employees had begun, so I had little incentive to avoid taking sick leave. And there were lots of days that the very idea of going to work in that atmosphere made me physically ill. My morale was very low.

    I still lost about 60 sick leave days (retired with 240 days).

    Patty T, the university I retired from has had a sick leave bank program for about 20 years. To join, the employee had to donate one sick day a year. I wish I could have donated that lost 60 days! Anyway, talk to your HR folks about the possibility of beginning a program.


  24. - anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 2:31 pm:

    240 sick days would equate to about 10 months added to the time an employee worked for qualifying for retirement. using the $11/mo someone else said, that would amount to another $110 for retirement.


  25. - Rod - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 2:48 pm:

    The IPI section on teacher salary, years served, and final pension is correct to TRS rules Anonymous. They of course used a teacher with 32 years of service who generated a pension of $68,992 a year based on a final average salary of $98,000.

    If we look at a real wealthy school district like Lake Forest SD 67 we see the average teacher’s salary is about $72,500. In Lake Forest District 67, 35 teachers make in excess of $100,000 a year. In Lake Forest District 115, 92 teachers are members of the $100,000 plus club and many more make $90,000 to $100,000. But this district is without question one of the highest paid in all of Illinois. The IPI loaded their analysis, and the teacher unions often do exactly the opposite when they present data on pension benefits. I guess that is normal.


  26. - Ghost - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 2:55 pm:

    I hate the way the media accpets baseling inaccuracies. The oensions consumption of 8 Billion is not d/t over generous benefits. its d/t the ramp payment of 6 billion. 6bilkion of the expense is an artificial overpayment that can be adjusted legislatively. you could drip the ramp paymeny to 1 billion a d save 5 billion a year immediately. plus the tier 2 folks are also paying in more then they cost as well.

    That said offer to pay our sick time at 50. cents on the dollar… which they did previously. cash it out annualy. that way you pay for sick days when people salary is lower instead of cacheing them to the employees retirmemt at much higher pay


  27. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:06 pm:

    =Am I doing the math wrong? =

    No, looks like you are correct to me. You make a good point.


  28. - My button is broke... - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:22 pm:

    No one took the 3% COLA into account. After two years, the $73,304 pension with a 3% COLA would be $77,768. Higher than $76,296 pension the IEA stated. (Plus the two years of payouts.)

    It does save the school district money by hiring a new Tier II employee, but I don’t see how it saves the pension system anything.

    As to the IPI, the ability to use sick days to establish credit is in the pension code so eliminating it would be unconstitutional. The only way to change it would be have the school districts negotiate how much sick time teachers get and possibly having them create a cap as to how much you can carry forward.


  29. - Simple Simon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:31 pm:

    I think these numbers are wacky. I expect to get an addition 1% increase in my final salary calculation due to unused SL that can be paid, plus an addition 1.6% increase due to the added service credit for SL earned that cannot be paid. Nowhere near the 6% addition in the example above. Like most things, the excessive outliers drive the outraged conversation.


  30. - Anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:38 pm:

    The median income for individuals 65 and over is about $23,000.


  31. - Whatever - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:46 pm:

    ==Can someone please remind me why public sector employees are the only people on the planet with a defined benefit pension?==

    Because, when you fully fund a plan, as private companies are required to do, there will be years when earnings exceed projections and the pension is overfunded. When this happened, companies closed down the plans to grab the overfunding for themselves.


  32. - A Watcher - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 3:50 pm:

    School districts hands on sick days are somewhat tied. A minimum number of sick days that can accrue is in the school code. It is unquestionably deferred compensation. If (which you can’t) change the code short term disability insurance in lieu of accrued sick days would be far cheaper to taxpayers.


  33. - Maximus - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:12 pm:

    Whatever -
    The reverse is also true. There will be years when earnings are down but the required pension payment to keep funding it is still due and eats more of the budget than the company can afford. This is the scenario Illinois is finding itself in.


  34. - Morty - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:17 pm:

    As people have noted, these things are a part of the pension calculation…which, rightly or wrongly, cannot be diminshed according to the Illinois Constitution.

    Or at least the Interepretation of that Constitution by the Illinois Supreme Court.

    So, again, rightly or wrongly ymmv, this is just more IPI red meat being tossed out


  35. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:21 pm:

    Wow - I actually agree with IPI. Broken clock right twice a day? Blind squirrel?


  36. - Anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:28 pm:

    Guess I’m not for sure why they didn’t say it cost $34 billion over the next 300 years or $340 billion over the next 3000 years.


  37. - facts are stubborn things - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:32 pm:

    bla bla bla bla…lots of noise. Change anything you want with new hires. Tier 2 did a lot and nothing is stopping the Gov. and legislature from a tier 3, 4, 5 ……


  38. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:33 pm:

    @Morty - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:17 pm:

    =As people have noted, these things are a part of the pension calculation…which, rightly or wrongly, cannot be diminshed according to the Illinois Constitution.

    Or at least the Interepretation of that Constitution by the Illinois Supreme Court.=

    Have you read the constitution…does not leave much room for interpretation…..the words are plain and the meaning of those words is clear to all.


  39. - facts are stubborn things - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 4:34 pm:

    Sorry @ Morty, forgot to type in my nickname — the post above is mine.


  40. - City Zen - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 5:03 pm:

    ==Enabling it to accrue as deferred compensation saves money in the long run while preventing its abuse.==

    How does paying out a sick day at the highest possible cost when it was earned at a much lower cost save money?


  41. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 5:18 pm:

    =How does paying out a sick day at the highest possible cost when it was earned at a much lower cost save money?=

    Your premise is incorrect. There is no direct value to a sick day. The “sick day” is not part of the pensionable income calculation. It is used to calculate service time. They are added in as you go, if you change jobs in particular.


  42. - HANK - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 5:33 pm:

    First the only thing wrong with the pension is it was never funded properly. Instead of raising taxes for all the free programs the politicians used the pension money and still do to pay for them; Also how many people really have two years of sick time saved really?


  43. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 6:57 pm:

    =Also how many people really have two years of sick time saved really?=

    In my experience, quite a few. Not a good data point, but it is bigger number than you might think.

    =First the only thing wrong with the pension is it was never funded properly. Instead of raising taxes for all the free programs the politicians used the pension money and still do to pay for them;=

    This is spot on. The debt payment is $6.5 billion.


  44. - DuPage - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:24 pm:

    @RIJ 2:14 ===Two years? SURS retirees are paid for a maximum of 180 work days.===

    They don’t actually pay any money for those days, they just add that number of days to “service credit”, 180 days would count as 1 year worked.


  45. - DuPage - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:33 pm:

    @Anonymous 1:44 ===Do teachers really get 70 percent after 32 years? I think most state employees would get a little over 53 percent.===

    Most state employees get social security in addition to their pension.

    Teachers don’t get social security.


  46. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:53 pm:

    The sick bank is a joke. I had major surgery was in the hospital for three weeks and recovered in a nursing home for rehab for two weeks then at home for three weeks. I returned to work. I never took a sick day before and used all of them for this. I was denied the 3 days of sick bank days for the 3 days that was used after I ran out of sick time even though it was life threatening surgery and I still need a year of rehab after returning to work.

    It is virtually impossible to get any sick bank time if you do not work in Springfield.

    I recommend nobody join the sick bank. It is a joke.


  47. - Living it daily - Thursday, Mar 9, 17 @ 12:39 am:

    teachers don’t get social security correct and yes state employees get social security, but not totally full from both entities. so its not like its a double pension.


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