Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Couple of Elected Retired Delegates to the IEA-R Are on Haisman’s Watch List by Fred Klonsky

“I usually don’t pay much attention to the recent ranting of the former IEA President, Bob Haisman. It was only a few years ago that he loved me. We were comrades-in-arms. If there were legislators who waffled on pension theft, Haisman was on their case. He swore that if they stole his pension they would not get his vote, and he urged all of us to follow his lead. And I did.

“Strangely, after following his call to arms, he turned on me. For doing exactly what he said we should do. He wrote scathing emails and comments to this blog claiming I was anti-union. Me? Can anyone read this blog and think that I am anti-union? He sent me so many tirades, that I finally cut him off.

“Last week the results of the state-wide election for IEA RA Retired delegates were announced and the former IEA President Bob Haisman came in first. As he always does. Congratulations, Bob. But a number of us who ran as a slate on a platform of what we considered reforms were also elected. One of our folks came in second to the former IEA President and two of us did pretty well. Clearly we represent the views of many loyal IEA/NEA Retired members.

“In announcing his win, the former IEA President promised to keep an eye on us at the Representative Assembly. “I will watch out for those attacks on our Union from inside our organization as well as outside!” he promised his followers on Facebook. I can only assume that the inside folks he will be watching are us.

“Here is the platform we ran on:

“We are running as candidates to represent the IEA Retired at the 2015 IEA Representative Assembly. We share the following beliefs. (This is not a criticism of others who are running as delegates. We strongly believe in a diversity of views).

1. We believe the IEA leadership needs to improve communication with its membership. 
2. We believe the IEA leadership should be more transparent in its decision-making process.
3. We believe retirees should have a stronger voice (more representation) in the decision-making process of  the Association.
4. We believe our Association should take a more significant and active role in defending our schools, our members, and our students from corporate school reform schemes such as charter schools, vouchers, Common Core, Race to the Top and teacher evaluations based on student test scores.
5. We believe in defending our contractual and constitutional pension benefits and rights without apologies, concessions or compromise - Jack Tucker, Mary Richie, Glen Brown, John Dillon and Fred Klonsky.

“Does this sound anti-union to you? Does it sound like an attack on our union?

“Bob has a hard time distinguishing between differences and disloyalty. I’m old enough to remember the McCarthy era when those critical of official government policy were considered disloyal and put on black-lists. And the sixties when civil rights activists and anti-war activists were put on the FBI’s watch lists. When Nixon had his enemies list. And people were watched.

“But here is my message to IEA Retired members, particularly those who voted for us as delegates: You watch. If we don’t follow through on what we stood for and for what we ran on, you can give us hell.”

from Fred Klonsky’s Blog

The State of Illinois and its EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) program by Al Popowits

Dear Fellow Retirees,

“There is an article in today’s Chicago Tribune Business section that you should read.  It concerns the State’s EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) program. It has had and continues to have an impact on our pensions.

“In the past I’ve been writing in general about the State’s dire financial situation, and occasionally about the State’s EDGE program. In short, EDGE is intended to bring jobs to Illinois or to encourage companies to retain jobs in our state. The State will lower a corporation’s taxes if it participates in EDGE.  The State had good intentions, but corporations quickly found many ways to abuse the program.

“For example, Ford is allowed to retain the state income taxes paid by its employees. That’s right, monies that the state desperately needs to maintain roads and to contribute to TRS is diverted to Ford’s bottom line. Why would Illinois allow such a gross abuse?

“The reason is simple: the state unemployment rate was/is high, and other states were/are offering similar programs. Corporations became very adept at playing the states against one another. Archer Daniels Midland, the gigantic agricultural products corporation was particularly avid. The point is that the state’s ability to contribute to TRS is imperiled by these give-aways.”

—Al Popowits 
December 21, 2014

A Commentary about the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation and EDGE credits by Al Popowits

“Would it surprise you to know that you pay more in state income tax than does Archer Daniels Midland Corporation? This is true despite the fact that (1) according to the State Constitution, the corporate income tax rate is 9.5%, and (2) ADM had sales last year of about $90B.

“How is it possible that a world-wide conglomerate can pay less state income tax than you? It is really quite simple. ADM accountants have used perfectly legal accounting methods to give the corporation a zero tax liability for years. Therefore, if you have paid any Illinois State income tax, you have paid more than ADM.

“This situation, however, has created a problem for ADM which has applied for an EDGE credit. EDGE is the acronym for “Economic Development for a Growing Economy.” It is a state program created to attract and retain businesses which make investments in jobs and capital.

“However, ADM does not qualify for an EDGE credit because without any taxes owed, ADM has no way to access the credit which would be worth about $1.2M a year for 20 years.

“How can ADM extract itself from this dilemma? It seems that the only thing it can do is follow the lead of Sears Holding, Motorola Mobile, Ford and other large corporations and take a tax credit against the income taxes paid not by the corporations, but rather by their employees. In other words, monies that were destined to pay for state pensions, roads, schools, state police, etc. would go to ADM’s bottom line. This will only be possible if the state legislature passes special legislation.

“Why would the Illinois state legislature even contemplate making such a deal? ADM is moving its corporate headquarters from Decatur, Illinois to somewhere else. That somewhere else could be Chicago or an out-of-state location. Corporate executives aren’t saying where they will relocate, but they have applied for an EDGE credit.

“The implication is that the legislature will either give ADM the EDGE or else! Some impolite readers might call this corporate black mail, but those folks just don’t understand these things. After all, they are only taxpayers.” 

—Al Popowits
 October 8, 2013 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Passing the PARCC test is the wrong goal by Anthony Cappetta

“Fighting against unjust policies is where we teachers can lead by example and teach our students ‘real-life’ lessons. In their essay, the Teach Plus Fellows agree that teachers should not have to teach to a test, yet they seem to conclude that we are helpless in changing the policies that mandate such tests. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We can and must challenge harmful educational practices. 

“In reading the recent guest essay that the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows wrote about the soon-to-debut PARCC test, I was flabbergasted to see their opening paragraph end with the absurd statement that by participating in the test roll-out this year, ‘students in Chicago will be able to do something amazing: They have the opportunity to pilot the PARCC without the fear of failure.’

“I did not enter the profession of education to inspire my students to be great test-takers.  I hope no teacher did.  The notion that piloting a standardized test for which the publishing giant Pearson received a multi-million dollar no bid contract would be an amazing opportunity for our students is down right inflammatory. Instead of letting our students be guinea pigs for testing companies, I hope we as a profession are driven to create the opportunities that change our student’s hearts and minds for the overall betterment of society…

“We must challenge and protest unjust policies like VAM that stigmatize our urban students, teachers and school systems as ‘failing.’ Last year, thousands of students opted out of standardized tests, and some teachers took the bold move of boycotting the test altogether.  This is the creative resistance that is necessary to turn the tide against the harmful practice of using VAMs to evaluate teachers and schools.  

“Let’s seize this opportunity to PARK the PARCC in a low-stakes environment before CPS and other school districts across the country have the opportunity to turn it into a high-stakes test.  Not only will we stand on the right side of history, we also will challenge our students to think about what actions they can take to change the world they live in.”

Anthony Cappetta is a math teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, an active member of the CORE caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union, and a member of the Catalyst Editorial Advisory Board, as is a former Teach Plus fellow.


Friday, December 19, 2014

It is quite paradoxical that the Illinois Constitution matters when it comes to appointing a Comptroller, but not when protecting the constitutionally-guaranteed pensions of the state’s public employees and retirees

GOP Leaders React to Special Session Call:

Statement from Senate Republican Leader Radogno and House Republican Leader Durkin:

“The Illinois Constitution requires the Governor-elect to appoint a new comptroller to a four-year term. A partisan and constitutionally-dubious eleventh hour law would face a certain legal challenge and force the people of Illinois to endure a protracted and legal battle that no one wants. The only Constitutionally responsible choice is to allow the governor-elect to appoint a Comptroller to a four-year term."

Special Election: Legal Analysis

The Illinois Supreme Court has held that “the State constitution is supreme within the realm of State law.” See People v. Gersch, 553 N.E.2d 281, 287 (Ill. 1990). In this case, Section 2 of Article V of the Illinois Constitution governs the terms of office and the timing of elections for state officers, including Comptroller. It speaks in clear and mandatory terms in two important respects.

First, the “officers of the Executive Branch shall hold office for four years beginning on the second Monday of January… until their successors are qualified.” As the Attorney General indicated in her advisory opinion, that means that a vacancy will occur in the Comptroller’s Office for the term of office that runs from January 12, 2015 to January 14, 2019. Second, Section 2 also provides that the state officers, including the Comptroller, “shall be elected at the general election in 1978 and every four years thereafter.” 

If the General Assembly were to pass a state law that creates a special election for the Comptroller in 2016, that law would violate the express terms of Section 2 in two ways. First, it would presumably create two two-year terms of office, despite the fact that Section 2 clearly provides only for a four-year term that runs until January 14, 2019. Second, it would provide for an election of a state officer outside of the schedule established by Section 2 requiring that the election of the Comptroller will be held every four years after 1978.

Section 7, Article V dealing with vacancies does not authorize the General Assembly to order a special election to fill a vacancy or replace a person who is appointed to fill a vacancy. Rather it says that the Governor “shall fill the office by appointment” and that person shall “hold office until the elected officer qualifies or until a successor is elected and qualified as may be provided by law.”

The phrase “as may be provided by law” modifies “qualified” and not the word “elected.” In fact, the only support that this language was intended to provide for a special election comes from statements of a delegate to the 1970 Constitutional convention. Those statements directly conflict with the clear language of Section 2, as noted above. When a conflict exists between the express language of the Constitution and any legislative history, the Illinois Supreme Court states that “the best indication of the intent of the drafters is the language which they voted to adopt.” See Coryn v. Moline, 374 N.E.2d 211, 213 (Ill. 1978). Where the adopted language is clear, as it is in Section 2, “it will be given effect without resort to other aids for construction,” including statements of individual delegates. See People ex rel. Baker v. Cowling, 607 N.E.2d 1251, 1253 (Ill. 1992). In this case, it is also important to note that the legislative history cited comes from the debate over Section 7, not Section 2 dealing with the term and timing of the election of state officers. Therefore, the direct conflict between the express language of Section 2 and the legislative history of Section 7 would likely be resolved by enforcing the clear terms of Section 2.

Our own review of the committee reports and verbatim transcripts from the Constitutional Convention show that the election schedule for constitutional officers established in Article V, Section 2 was deliberately intended by delegates to allow voters to concentrate their attention on the state election contests in those years, rather than risk that an informed debate of state issues would be overwhelmed by the sound and fury of a national presidential contest. Those intentions should not now be lightly set aside.

We do not contest the right of the General Assembly to seek a special election. That is within their authority and judgment to do so. In the case of a state officer, like the Comptroller, however, it would require a constitutional amendment that revises the clear and mandatory terms of Section 2. As for Governor-elect Rauner, his only authority under the Constitution, as currently constituted, is to appoint a person who will assume a four-year term on January 12, 2015.

A Commentary on Legislators' Hypocrisy (Redux):

So Illinois legislators of the GOP, what part of “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution) do you not understand? 

"[A] plain language reading of the Pension Clause’s text makes clear that governmental entities may not reduce or eliminate a public employee’s pension payments and other membership entitlements once the employee becomes a pension system member… Further, the Clause’s prohibitory language against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is cast in absolute terms and lacks any exceptions…" (Is Welching on Public Pension Promises an Option for Illinois?).
To challenge the “Pension Clause” is to defy common understanding of its legal and moral principles and to believe that every word in the State and U.S. Constitutions might also be interpreted in an infinite, fabricated regression of definitions and interpretations. 

There is nothing transcendental or metaphysical about the 26 words found in the Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article XIII, Section 5. Pension and Retirement Rights. It does not require intuitive or a priori thinking to justify or verify this claim because we have learned the English language and the rules governing its use. We know what these words mean in relation to written, verbal, historical and cultural contexts.

Lexical definitions, denotations and connotations of the words “diminishment” and “impairment” are unequivocal. It is not necessary to break down these words into simple constituent parts unless, of course, we simply misunderstand them because of our stupidity, carelessness, intentionality or maliciousness. 

We cannot mistake the meaning of words such as “shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” because we understand and speak the English language. If words in our State Constitution are to refer or mean anything, they must be commonly understood and accepted as they have been for decades. Moreover, if words are to refer to anything, they must also be understood through their use, role, employment and past agreements.

We have before us “the validity of decades of judicial precedents” that provide “the binding nature of legislation establishing pension commitments to government employees(Defending and Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions against the Legislative Siege). 

If there is anything else we might examine regarding the “Pension Clause” and its relationship to a reality that reveals repeated attempts by the wealthy elite, their politicians and the media to steal constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefit rights, perhaps we should also dispute the relentless attacks on the very intelligibility of the English language by these liars and thieves. We know the “Pension Clause” is valid because it is understood to be a contractual right and guarantee that public employees have earned. 

Though incompetent, corrupt politicians and their wealthy benefactors continue to ignore legal and moral terminologies and court precedents, logical and ethical people understand the essential history and necessity of the “Pension Clause” and know what it also means to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions. 

An equally important and unfortunate issue arises when politicians/lawyers swear an oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions in one context and then contradict their pledge in another context, made evident in Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s and Attorney Joshua Ratz’s sidestepping arguments or attempt to use “reserved sovereign powers” to break a constitutional contract (The Contract Clause and the State of Illinois’ “reserved sovereign powers” in Senate Bill 1). 

Logical and ethical people know that the context which states “membership in any pension or retirement system of the State… shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” emerged because “prior to the [Pension] Clause’s adoption, nearly all public employees were members of mandatory pension plans that lacked constitutional protection as ‘contractual’ rights and could be adversely changed by the legislature at any time. These mandatory plans were also underfunded and no better funded than the State’s five pension systems today...

“[Logical and ethical people know] public employees believed constitutional protection was necessary because the State had historically failed to make its required contributions and because employees felt that the State would renege on its obligations should a fiscal crisis arise…

“[Logical and ethical people know] the drafters of the ‘Pension Clause’ were aware of the concerns raised and requests made by public employee groups, the State’s failure to properly fund the pension system, and the difference in legal protection afforded to persons participating in a mandatory and optional pension plan. These concerns, in turn, prompted the drafters to include the ‘Pension Clause’ in the [1970] Constitution…

“[Logical and ethical people also know] the drafters intended for the ‘Pension Clause’ to (1) protect pension benefit rights in all pension plans as ‘enforceable contractual rights’ as of when a public employee became a member of a pension system, and (2) bar the legislature from later unilaterally reducing those rights…” (qtd. in Illinois Pension Clause’s Convention Debates, Text and Historical Background, Eric M. Madiar).

P.S. Let's not forget this hypocrisy either: Madigan/Cullerton's letter.