By Jamey Dunn
Officials from the Teachers Retirement System of the state of Illinois say they would need a year to prepare for pensions reform.
David Urbanek, spokesman for TRS, said that the system would need time and additional staff to gear up an outreach campaign to help its members understand potential changes to their pension benefits.
The TRS board is considering contingency plans for education efforts that would be needed if lawmakers pass pension reform in the coming months. “Several proposals are pending in the General Assembly that would greatly affect every one of our 366,000 members, and we need to be ready to help them with this important transition should it occur in the future,” said TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram said in a prepared statement. “We would need to enhance and expand our operations and procedures in several departments, especially Member Services, Employer Services and Information Technology.”
Urbanek said that TRS currently has 25 counselors and a call center to assist teachers and other employees in the system. He said TRS would especially have to step up efforts if those workers are faced with a choice between subsidized health care and Cost of Living Adjustments with compounding interest, a provision of one bill that lawmakers are considering. He said such a choice would be very complicated because there are several unknown factors, such as future health care costs and how to handle a situation where both spouses are teachers. “Some people have said ‘you can just put a calculator on the website, and they can figure it out.’ Well, no they can’t,” he said.
He noted that the newest proposal includes a 401K-type plan for all newly hired teachers, “which in effect is a tier three [of benefits] and that requires different accounting procedures for those members.”
Urbanek said that if any pension reform legislation passes and is signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, “We will start in motion the communications effort to make sure our members understand what has been passed.” He said as the law faces the inevitable court challenge, TRS would “start flushing out the contingency plans to a greater extent.”
The plan could include hiring new employees, or contracting with an outside firm for extra help.
He said Ingram has informed lawmakers that TRS would need a year to handle any major changes to the pensions system. “We would need a year to gear up for something,” Urbanek said. “We’re not just talking about something that you can get ready for in two weeks or two months.”