Statement from NIU President John G. Peters - October 25, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Over the next several weeks during the Veto Session, legislators are expected to take action on Senate Bill 512, which would impose significant changes in the way that pensions for state employees are managed.

The university has had and will continue to have a presence in Springfield during Veto Session to represent the interests of our university community—faculty, staff and students—in this debate.

Our primary goal is to guarantee the education an NIU student receives is the best we are capable of providing.  Northern Illinois University's academic quality is directly related to the acclaim and reputation of our faculty.  We must continue to be able to attract the best faculty and staff in order to ensure that our students are well-served through their NIU experience as they move into a highly competitive professional environment.

Towards that end, I have grave concerns over SB 512 as drafted.  While well-intentioned, I do not believe it is a viable solution to the challenges facing the state in regard to the long-term solvency of its public employee pension system, the state budget, and our university community for the following reasons:

  1. Employees have relied upon the State’s commitment to maintain a predictable and secure set of core pension benefits that serve as a replacement for the Social Security System.  Under the SB 512 proposed reforms, the very livelihood of NIU’s pension participants is placed at risk.
  2. Higher Education already faces unprecedented challenges, and this proposed legislation will only do more harm and exacerbate already serious retirement, recruitment, and retention challenges.
  3. Reforms may cost the state even more than resolving the current pension liabilities.  A recent study by Buck Associates, one of the world’s leading actuarial firms that provides services to both private and public pension funds, conservatively estimates  that the proposed pension reforms in SB 512 could cost taxpayers as much as $34 billion more.

With these issues in mind, it is vital that the General Assembly take the time necessary for a close look at the longer-term systemic impact of the proposals in SB 512. That our state’s unfunded pension liabilities and fiscal situation are dire is not in question. Tens of thousands of Illinoisans who have never failed to make their contribution to their retirement plan stand to have their futures irrevocably and detrimentally altered with the passage of SB 512. While change is necessary, we owe it to those who have depended on the State meeting its obligation to find a long-term, rational approach to pension funding that will pass the constitutional litmus test. NIU has been and remains a willing partner to assist state leaders in developing a fair and viable solution.

Please take time to contact your elected state officials regarding this critical debate.  If you intend to speak with your state legislators, please do so respectfully, on personal time and using personal resources.

Information regarding this important public discussion is available at our new pension web page, yourpension.niu.edu.  Here we will post the most recent versions of bills under debate, tools to help you interpret the proposals, news stories on the debate and links to organizations such as the State University Retirement System.

While there is much uncertainty as to the final outcome of the public pension debate, it is certain that change is on the horizon.  However, because of the blueprint set forth in Vision 2020, I am confident that NIU is well-positioned for the opportunities that will emerge.

We will continue to keep you updated as new developments come forth from Springfield. 

Sincerely,

 

John G. Peters

President