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Thursday, May 10, 2012 03:11 pm

How will retirements affect Springfield?

Gov. Pat Quinn’s pension proposal has led to an increase in state employees applying for retirement, which could negatively affect Springfield businesses.

According to the State Employees Retirement System, more than 4,000 workers have applied to retire during this fiscal year, which is an increase of 40 percent from last year. Of the 4,000 who have applied, 439 live in Springfield.

Tim Blair, director of SERS, said he anticipates these numbers to grow.

Retiring state workers means fewer people frequenting downtown businesses during lunch or after work. Terri Nelson, a bartender at Boone’s Saloon located at 301 W. Edwards, said between 30 and 50 state employees usually frequent the bar “about two or three days a week after work.” Nelson said she is unsure if business would go down if state workers begin to retire in large numbers.

Erich Bloxdorf, the executive vice president of The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said there is also uncertainty about where the retirees are primarily spending their money.

“It’s up in the air; we don’t know where all the retirements are coming from,” Bloxdorf said. “Whether they’re (retirees) from Efffingham, Chicago or Springfield….really what it comes down to is what those retirees decide to do after they retire.”

Bloxdorf said there are a variety of ways that individuals may choose to spend their retirement.

“Some might not be willing to exit the work world and may want to continue working wherever they live, while others might go into true retirement,” Bloxdorf said.

Quinn’s proposal to reduce Illinois’ massive pension obligation includes raising the retirement age to qualify for full pension benefits to 67, a three percentage point increase in the amount employees contribute to their pensions, and cost-of-living increases limited to three percent or pegged to the consumer price index.

Victoria Ringer, director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., said while her staff won’t take an official position on Quinn’s pension proposal until it becomes official legislation, she doesn’t believe the rise in state workers retiring will have a negative impact on local businesses.

“I don’t think that the retirement of those folks will be a detriment to the local economy because those folks are still going to maintain an income, and by those folks leaving, it will open up jobs for other people,” Ringer said. “I can’t imagine it having that big of an impact unless all those people decide to move to Florida.”

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoisitmes.

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