State Rep. Linda Chapa La Via (D-Aurora) is sponsoring legislation concerning online charter schools. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:43AM
AURORA — Retired teachers took on the legislators backing the latest pension plan at an open house on the state’s pension crisis Wednesday night.
About 150 current and retired teachers’ message at East Aurora High School was loud and clear: “If you take anything away tonight: we don’t have a pension problem. We have a revenue problem,” said Maria Owens, a retired teacher and a representative with the Illinois Education Association.
Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat of Aurora, is a sponsor of the latest pension reform plan to come out of Springfield, House Bill 6258, which would likely shift .5 percent of the pension costs to the school district phased over a period of nearly two decades. Chapa LaVia was joined Wednesday night by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Des Plaines, who Chairs the Pensions Committee.
John Laesch, co-chairman of Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, outlined a series of tax increases that the group is pushing to address the state’s $95 billion pension shortfall. Officials say that pension burden is increasing by $17 million every day.
Laesch said the gradual shift would cost West Aurora schools $5.35 million over 16 years, and East Aurora schools $5.12 million over the same period.
In place of the bill, Laesch said the group is looking for a sponsor in the General Assembly to pitch legislation establishing a speculative sales tax on investment transactions in the state. The group is also proposing to close six tax loopholes — that they estimate could raise $880 million more revenue each year — and instituting a graduated tax rate in the state.
Although she’s a sponsor on the bill, Chapa LaVia said she’s otherwise a “non-entity on pension reform.”
“What I want to come away with is how we work together and not point fingers,” she said. “It’s my commitment to you that I want to work on a solution with you. I want you at the table.”
Angie Smith, a member of the West Aurora School Board and a Plainfield schools financial administrator, said she didn’t agree that the state’s pension problems is a purely a revenue or a spending problem. It’s both, she said.
“That [proposed] number for [schools] is going to be $600,000 per year. I would gladly take that if you would tell us our [general state aid] is going to go up,” she said. “We’re afraid as school districts that we’re going to get hit twice.”
Pam Verner, a St. Charles resident whose husband is a retired teacher, said she does not support the pension plan.
“You folks have got to get a grip on dragging the middle class and those of us that are less than the middle class through the mud. You are going to have to develop some leadership,” she said.
State Senator-elect Jim Oberweis, a Republican of Sugar Grove, said he expected to hear more about the bill Wednesday night.
“I think people have to realize… everybody’s saying don’t tax us — tax the other people,” Oberweis said. Continuing to tax residents with assets will tax them out of the state, he said.
Teachers will be lobbying in Springfield Thursday and Friday.