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University leaders object to Senate Bill 512

November 4, 2011
John G. Peters

John G. Peters

NIU President John Peters joined other university presidents and chancellors from around the state Thursday in signing a letter sent to Gov. Pat Quinn that outlines their objections to proposed changes in the state pension system.

Senate Bill 512, backed by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, is but one approach. As leaders of the state’s public universities, we share grave concerns over Senate Bill 512 in its current form,” said the letter, which also was sent to the leaders of both houses and members of the House Pension Committee.

The university leaders acknowledge that the $85 billion unfunded liability in the state’s pension systems is a problem so massive that options to address it are limited. However, they also point out that the root cause of the problem has been a lack of funding by the state, not employees.

The leadership said that they saw some merit in portions of SB 512, but also raised concerns with several aspects of the bill. The primary objection is that the bill would create a significant funding shortfall to cover the normal cost of current benefits that employees would be expected to cover. They also point out that the plan is not likely to yield real cost reductions for decades.

“It is difficult to consider such outcomes to be in the best interests of the state, its colleges and universities, or its employees,” the university leaders said.

The letter concludes with an offer of assistance.

“There is no denying the critical nature of our current fiscal situation. We are certain that higher education employees and institutions are prepared to contribute to a long-term solution. The public higher education community is prepared to participate in the design of options and alternatives that help solve this critical issue. We believe it is possible to complete such work in time for the Spring 2012 session of the General Assembly and we look forward to taking this opportunity to develop a durable, equitable and long-term solution, especially in the SURS sector.”

The full text of the letter can be found on the NIU State Pension and Budget Update site.