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Illinois sees increase in state worker retirements

Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – An increasing number of Illinois state workers are rushing to retire, according to the State Employees Retirement System, driven by worries about the state budget and likely changes to unfunded public worker pension systems, among other things.

More than 4,000 state workers will retire in the fiscal year that ends June 30, SERS Executive Secretary Tim Blair said. That’s up more than 40 percent from last year’s roughly 2,750. SERS oversees pension systems for many state workers.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick,” Blair told the Mattoon Journal-Gazette. “There hasn’t been any slowdown.”

The State Universities Retirement System, which oversees the pension system at the state’s public universities, added that retirements among university workers are up about 50 percent over last year.

The statewide exodus is being driven in part by concerns about the state government’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit, making some workers fear that future raises are, at least in the short term, unlikely. Some retirements likely are the result of aging baby boomers leaving the workforce.

Gov. Pat Quinn is soon expected to announce an outline for a plan to deal with underfunded pension systems for state workers.

The largest state workers’ union said there may be another factor at work, too.

“I think the biggest factor is the sense that state employees are demonized, vilified and under attack,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. “Public service in this country used to be considered a higher calling.”

The departures are happening across state government. More than 680 workers will retire from the Illinois Department of Corrections this fiscal year, according to SERS. And retirements at Department of Human Services could surpass 600. But cash-poor Illinois won’t be able to leave the jobs open and save money, Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said. Many are key roles that will need to be filled.

“Some of them, I’m sure, would be replaced,” Kraft said.

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