Monday, September 5, 2011

Pt. 1 of “Waiting for Super [Legislators]” to Address the Budget Problems of Illinois and the Officious Civic Committee

Budget Issues and the Victimization of American Workers

To begin, let us not forget that one of the main causes of the public pensions’ unfunded liability in Illinois (though “unfunded liability has little to do with their sustainability”) is the state’s erratic and irresponsible annual contribution payments to the public pension plans for several decades (National Institute on Retirement, May 2011). Add wide-spread corporate financial corruption that created the financial crisis of 2008-09 and; thus, we have limited revenue, rampant foreclosures and stagnant unemployment, the outsourcing of jobs while Bush’s (now Obama’s) tax policy for the wealthy continues as well as the deceptive and diversionary attacks on public employees and their pensions.

According to Time (June, 2011), “There may be $2 trillion sitting on the balance sheets of American corporations globally, but firms show no signs of wanting to spend it in order to hire workers at home… The companies that [do] business in global markets, including manufacturers, banks, exporters, energy firms and financial services, contribute almost nothing to overall American job growth… There is a fundamental disconnect between the fortunes of American companies, which are doing quite well, and American workers…”

Now add to this calamity some corporate-owned media and their attacks on the public sector’s pension plans and their attempt to shift the blame for today’s financial problems on public sector workers, and we have a distortion of cause-and-effect reasoning with malicious intent.

Combine corporate-backed legislators with private-sector interests that use selected and biased instances of “doom and gloom” forecasts to seek radical changes to the defined-benefit pension plans in Illinois, and the deceitful practice of corporate financial firms and groups such as the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago (Illinois Is Broke) that attempt to peddle defined-contribution plans as the panacea for the State’s budget deficit so that corporations and investment firms can continue to profit from this predicament, and we have another larger injustice to address.

The Civic Committee’s and Other Corporate Stratagems

First, the Civic Committee’s schemes include using its own membership and actuaries to compile reports and analyses disguised as impartial data (Sidley Austin LLP, for example) and intimidating legislators (at downstate meetings and through the Chicago Tribune) to make laws in the interests of their plutocratic objectives.

Second, the Illinois Is Broke website claims that “Illinois has 13 million residents.” The wealthy Civic Committee has a few hundred members. That means the remaining 99.99% of the state's citizens pay proportionately higher taxes because Illinois is one of the few states that uses a flat-tax rate and Illinois executives of large corporations, such as the membership of the Civic Committee and Civic Federation, also pass on the burden of their taxes that they do not pay onto the average citizen through an exploitation and extortion of governmental policies that create an ironical “corporate welfare.”

Third, large corporations do not publicize the fact that its CEOs shift the burden of their payments to the public and that some of the state’s lost revenue is based upon promises that they will create more jobs; even though, their outsourcing of American jobs is the result of a belief in “free market” principles and has eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs and eroded the tax base of the State of Illinois. Why should they care about American workers when they can obtain cheap labor overseas?

Fourth, many CEOs do not publicize the fact that they have hidden vast amounts of their corporate money in offshore bank accounts to avoid taxation and, thus, to increase their excessive profiteering – paid for by the rest of us. (Note that their wealth is not their greatest weapon, however: it is our indifference).

Specifically, what the intrusive and self-important Civic Committee’s CEOs explicitly show us is that they want to destroy the TRS defined-benefit pension (and eventually the other state public pensions), rob the teachers’ guaranteed financial security and profit from it.

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, David Clay Johnston proclaims “that any American who forgoes wages today for the promise of a pension tomorrow and is not paid in full is a scandal. He has been robbed as surely as if a burglar broke into his or her home…

“To business owners and executives, the cost of campaign contributions is chump change to the benefits of shortchanging pension plans. Government rules permit and encourage a vicious cycle. To the extent that pensions are not fully funded, that their true costs are not paid each year, it means that corporate profits are inflated. Inflated profits mean that share prices for company stock are inflated because they should represent the profitability of companies. And inflated stock prices mean, in turn, that executives cash in their options for more than they should get.

“Many hundreds of billions of tax dollars [across the country] have been diverted to the rich, leaving our schools, parks, and local government services starved for funds. Jobs and assets are going offshore, sometimes to the detriment of not just the economy but to national security…

“It is the rich who are gorging themselves on the government with giveaways, favors, contracts, rules that rig the economy, tax breaks, and secret deals [and not the majority of citizens in Illinois, many of whom are public employees with hard-earned pension plans]” (Free Lunch, How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill).

We have witnessed legislators who pass corporate-sponsored reform bills that support privatization and deregulation; we have witnessed the slow destruction of unions, public jobs and pensions; we have witnessed a conflict of interest when it comes to policy changes for those politicians who have moved from the corporate world into public office and whose motive for service is market-based profit and self-interest; and we have witnessed the fulsome influence of corporate lobbyists. We have to become informed and take action before it is too late.

-Glen Brown


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