Easter asks potential retirees to reconsider

Easter asks potential retirees to reconsider

University of Illinois President Bob Easter is urging employees planning to retire this spring to reconsider now that a judge has put the state's new pension law on hold.

Easter sent a mass email to employees Thursday afternoon, saying the UI would consider taking back any employees who have tendered their resignations fearing their benefits would be cut if they stayed on past June 30.

A Sangamon County judge on Wednesday postponed the June 1 implementation of the state's pension overhaul law until courts rule on several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Among other changes, the law would cut cost-of-living increases on pension payments for current and future UI retirees, raise the retirement age for employees under the age of 46, and cap the amount of earnings that could be applied toward pensions. It also lowered employees' contributions to the pension program from 8 percent to 7 percent, to offset some of those changes.

Lawmakers also added a measure intended to preserve any benefits earned through June 30, 2014.

Easter said Judge John Belz recognized that members of the pension system could suffer "irreparable harm" if the law had taken effect before the courts resolved the constitutionality question.

It's not clear how long that will take but legal analysts expect the case to wind up in the Illinois Supreme Court. A status hearing on the case is scheduled for May 22.

"Depending on how courts rule, provisions of the new law may still be implemented sometime in the future. But, for now, yesterday's ruling preserves the current pension system as we know it, and provides some assurance for employees who were considering retirement before June 30, 2014, to avoid losing benefits they had already earned," Easter said.

"I hope that faculty and staff who were weighing retirement will now decide to stay on and share their talents to benefit the university, our students and our state."

For those who have submitted a resignation but now want to return, "the University will make every effort to consider their request," Easter said.

It’s not clear how many employees might change their retirement plans, as they will work first with their immediate supervisors, UI spokesman Tom Hardy said Thursday.
 
The UI’s human resources office plans to send out another communication Friday or next week with more details on that process, he said.
 
The prospect also raises potential complications for departments that may already be making plans to hire replacements, Hardy said.
 
The pension overhaul was designed to close a $100 billion deficit in five state pension systems. It was signed into law last December.

Here is the text of Easter's letter:

May 15, 2014
 
Dear colleagues:
 
As you have likely seen in the news, a Sangamon County judge yesterday postponed the scheduled June 1 implementation of the state’s new pension law until constitutional challenges can be decided by the courts.
 
Judge John Belz recognized that members of the pension system could suffer “irreparable harm” if the law had been allowed to go forward before questions over its constitutionality are resolved. It is unknown how long the process will take, but legal analysts expect that the case will ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court.  There is a status hearing in the case scheduled for May 22.
 
Depending on how courts rule, provisions of the new law may still be implemented sometime in the future. But, for now, yesterday’s ruling preserves the current pension system as we know it, and provides some assurance for employees who were considering retirement before June 30, 2014, to avoid losing benefits they had already earned.
 
I hope that faculty and staff who were weighing retirement will now decide to stay on and share their talents to benefit the university, our students and our state.
 
Others have already tendered their resignations, fearful of its negative impact on their retirement benefits. If any of them now wish to return, the University will make every effort to consider their request. Employees should contact their direct supervisor to begin these discussions.
 
My thanks to all of you for your patience and understanding amid the months of uncertainty over the new pension law, and for your loyalty and service to this great University.
 
Sincerely,
Robert A. Easter
President

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