Teachers turned out by the hundreds today to pack a hearing room in Lansing. They showed up to oppose a measure that would force them to pay more for their retirement health care and pension benefits.
Some people stood up to shout, others cheered and applauded the teachers who testified against the legislation at the state Senate committee hearing. About two dozen teachers picketed outside.
"When I came into the profession, I was promised a pension after so many years of service and now those promises are being broken," says Mimi Katakowski.
"I knew I wasn't going to be a millionaire teaching, but it was something that was worthwhile that benefitted others and myself, and I was told that I'd have a pension to go to," says Pinckney teacher Sam Ziegler. "Now it's just slowly eroding and I see the danger that it will keep eroding away."
"Simple economics: You can't spend more than you're taking in," says Republican state Senator Bruce Caswell. Republicans say the reforms they are proposing are similar to what 41 other states have done to make sure retirement funds remain solvent.
"Somebody's got to pay for that eventually, later," says state Senator Patrick Colbeck. "And right now that's being pushed off because - if we're talking about dealing with unfunded liabilities - being pushed off to the same kids that we're working hard to educate right now."
Teachers say the state bears part of the blame because budget cuts to schools have made it harder for districts to make employer contributions. It's also forced teacher layoffs, they say, which means fewer employees paying into the system.