Mike Crenshaw

Mike Crenshaw

“For me, the worst-case scenario is waking up one day and hearing the governor come out and say, ‘The entire pension system has crashed. There’s no money for you. There’s nothing we can do about it.’”

“I have 20 years until I can retire, and my biggest fear is that the money’s not going to be there.”

“The solution to this is easy: Let me make the decision on whether or not I want a pension. Because I teach at Daley College, which is a part of City Colleges of Chicago, the state of Illinois contributes 5% of our pension. Typically, we contribute 3% of our own money. So, a total of 8% is contributed, and I just don’t see how that’s sustainable.”

“Keep in mind that I’m only one person. All of the teachers who teach at community colleges or the university level, throughout the state of Illinois, are a part of SURS, which is the State Universities Retirement System.”

“‘We have about $300 billion in pension debt.”

“SURS is a system that pretty much rewards you, not only for work done, but about double that. A lot of people don’t understand that SURS pensions are based on gross income, and includes base pay, fall, spring and summer overtime pay, special assignments, etc. Pension payments come off of the growth of that. Therefore, if I work for additional pay, depending upon what part of the city or the state I’m working for, I can easily receive a pension that is double or 2.5 times my base salary, and that’s insane.”

“My question has always been, ‘How is this sustainable? How can you possibly keep this going at this rate of paying people this type of money?’ I don’t understand how all of these contributions and payouts add up to me being able to see any of this money by the time I’m 65 years old.”

“Being in Tier 1 is like being in a financial prison. I have no control or access to my own money. I’m confident that I can manage my own finances. I’m confident that I can budget my own money.”

“Instead, I’m forced to stay in this pension system. I can’t leave it. Whereas if I came from corporate America having a 401(k), and I decided to teach for the City Colleges, I could convert my 401(k) to SURS. But, I can’t convert SURS to a 401(k). That makes no sense to me.”

“I remember when a Tier 3 pension plan was supposed to come out. The problem, though, was that a lot of people didn’t know about it.”

“A lot of times we’re not given the intricacies of how a Tier 3 or alternative pension plan could benefit us.”

“I would love to get out of Tier 1. I would love to be part of a Tier 3 or alternative plan. If I was able to touch my money and switch it to a 401(k), I could literally, right now, pay off my entire mortgage and my entire car loan. I could literally be working without having to pay a mortgage or a car payment. But because I can’t touch my money, I must keep paying the mortgage and my car note. Imagine how frustrating that is.”

“I just feel that as a taxpayer, I should be able to decide when I give, and receive, my money. Also. I should be able to decide whether I want to contribute to a pension. I know how to budget my own finances from month to month. That’s something that I teach in my classes.”

“Why should I be forced to be dependent on the government to give me my money? Why should I be forced to be dependent upon them to say, ‘We’re going to dictate to you when you can and cannot have your money.’ To me, that’s ridiculous and unfair.”

“I’m not saying that a pension isn’t beneficial for people, all I’m asking for is a choice. I would like to have a choice in terms of having a pension and being able to touch my own money. It’s my money.”

“It may seem strange that somebody who is potentially receiving a pension in the future is calling for pension reform. However, in order to have retirement security, tax relief, and financial and career flexibility for state workers, I think more people should be calling for pension reform.”

“We shouldn’t be on the hook for other people’s retirement. Taxpayers, from a property tax standpoint, are already on the hook for funding schools. On top of that, you’re on the hook for pension debt. That’s just not fair.”

“I’m hopeful that someday my dream can come true of me actually being able to spend my own money.”

Mike Crenshaw
Professor, Daley College
Chicago, Illinois

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!
Keep scrolling for more inspiring stories

Have a story to share?

Tell us how a state or local policy affects your life.
If we decide to feature your story, one of our writers will reach out to you directly.