Monday, October 31, 2011

You Are Being Trashed, Tricked or Mistreated by 21st Century Robber Barons: Happy Halloween Every Day of the Year!

Do you have a checking and a (practically-non-interest-bearing) money market account at Chase, Harris, Bank of America or LaSalle National Bank? Is your bank from the Wintrust Financial group: the Community Bank of Western Springs, Naperville Bank & Trust, Wheaton Bank & Trust Company, Glen Ellyn Bank & Trust, Community Bank of Downers Grove, Hinsdale Bank, Barrington Bank & Trust Company (there are many others)? Do you have a credit card from Bank of America, Discover or Citigroup? Is your auto-and-home insurance company Allstate? Do you have a Motorola cellular phone? Is your phone service provider AT &T? Do you attend White Sox and Bulls’ games? Do you subscribe to the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times? Do you have your prescriptions filled at Walgreens? Do you eat at McDonalds and buy your groceries at Jewel? Do you shop at Crate & Barrel and Wal-Mart? Do you buy your gasoline from BP? Have you ever slept in a Hyatt Hotel?

Are you giving your money unwittingly to these companies and banks? Consider this “partial” list of company CEOs who are also members of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago/Illinois Is Broke:

Glenn Tilton, Chairman of the mid-west region (J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.); David W. Fox, Jr., Vice Chairman (J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.); Alan G. McNally, retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (Harris Bank); Edward J. Wehmer, President and Chief Executive Officer (Wintrust Financial Corp.); Philip W. Hummer, Senior Vice President (Wintrust Wealth Management); Ellen Costell, CEO and US Countryhead (BMO Financial Corp. Harris Bank); Milton F. Darr, Jr., retired Chairman of the Board (LaSalle National Bank); Verne G. Istock, retired Chairman and President (Bank One Corporation/J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.); Timothy P. Maloney, Illinois President (Bank of America); Wilma J. Smelcer, retired Chair (Bank of America, Illinois); David W. Nelms, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (Discover Financial Services); James T. Glerum, Jr., Chairman North America Regional Banking (Citigroup); Cary A. Kochman, Head of North America M&A/Co-Head, Chicago (Citigroup); Edward M. Liddy, retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (Allstate Insurance Corp.); Wayne E. Hedien, Chairman Emeritus (Allstate Insurance Corp.); Greg Q. Brown, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (Motorola Solutions);

Paul V. La Schiazza, President, Illinois (AT&T); William K. Ketchum, retired President Central Region (AT&T); Bernard F. Sergesketter, retired Vice President, (AT&T); Mary N. Dillon, President and Chief Executive Officer (U.S. Cellular); Jerry M. Reinsdorf, Chairman (Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls); Tony W. Hunter, Chief Executive Officer (Tribune Publishing Co.); John W. Madigan, retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (Tribune Publishing Co.); Stanton R. Cook, retired Chairman (Tribune Publishing Co.); Scott C. Smith, retired President & Publisher (Tribune Publishing Co.); Cyrus F. Freidheim, Jr., retired President and Chief Executive Officer (Sun-Times Media Group); Gregory D. Wasson, President and Chief Executive Officer (Walgreens Co.); James A. Skinner, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive (McDonald’s Corp.); Fred L. Turner, Honorary Chairman (McDonald’s Corp.); Lawrence Howe, Senior Advisor – The Chicago Community Trust and former Chairman (Jewel Companies, Inc.); Donald S. Perkins, retired Chairman (Jewel Companies, Inc.); Gordon I. Segal, Co-Founder (Crate & Barrel); Jane J. Thompson, former President, Financial Services (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.); John R. Thomas, retired President, Midwest Fuels Value Chain (BP Products North America, Inc.); Thomas J. Pritzker, Chairman (Hyatt Hotels Corp.)…

About moving your money out of the Big Banks

for membership of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago: Click Here.

Meanwhile, has anything changed in two years about politics and money? Yes. It gets worse.

Here's an update from Roger Sanders (October 31, 2013):

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (Decatur, IL) is asking Illinois’ taxpayers for a $24 million tax break to relocate their corporate headquarters to Chicago.  The underlying “threat” is that if they don’t get their way, they are also considering other places to relocate their headquarters which houses about 100 top positions.  You might like to know that just the top seven Archer-Daniels-Midland executives’ compensation last year totaled over $30 million.  This does not include any deferred compensation for their pensions...

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. executives’ compensation 2012:

$31,655,494 annual compensation for the top seven executives:

P.A. Woertz, Chairman, CEO and President: $8, 955,977
J.D. Rice, Vice Chairman: $5,370,070
J.R. Luciano, Executive Vice President and CEO: $4,580,808
D.J. Smith, Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel: $4,349,581
S.R. Mills, Senior Executive Vice President, Performance and Growth: $3,873,383
R.G. Young, Senior Vice President and CEO: $2,551,512
M.J. Jansen, Senior Vice President: $1,974,166 (Source: Annual SEC Proxy)

ADM is not the only Illinois corporation with highly-compensated CEO’s that warrant our attention. The following are some examples of Illinois’ CEO compensation and pension benefits:

Caterpillar Chief Executive 2012
Douglas R. Oberhelman
Cash pay of $6,958,076
Total compensation: $17,738,076 (20% increase over 2011)
Lump sum pension: $16,943,243
Deferred compensation: $5,035,193 (Source: Annual SEC Proxy)

Boeing Chief Executive 2012
W. James McNerney, Jr.
Cash pay of $13,590,355 
Total compensation: $21,117,344 (15% increase over 2011)
Lump sum pension: $42,910,774
Deferred compensation: $2,962,452 (Source: Annual SEC Proxy)

Abbott Laboratories Chief Executive 2012
Miles D. White
Cash pay of $6,958,076
Total compensation: $18,955,889 (2% increase over 2011)
Lump sum pension: $36,662,770 (Source: Annual SEC Proxy)

Crown Holdings Chief Executive 2012
John W. Conway
Cash pay $5,157,084
Total compensation: $12,027,126 (8% decrease from 2011)
Lump sum pension: $33,422,643 (Source: Annual SEC Proxy)

Cumulative lump sum pensions due these four CEOs to date (Caterpillar, Boeing, Abbott, and Crown) is $129,939,430.

As a point of reference, if the average retired teacher pension is approximately $50,000 and that retired teacher drew his or her pension for 30 years, the total lifetime pension payment would be $1.5 million. Compare that to the average $32.4 million pension set aside for the above CEOs.  On average, these four individuals’ lump sum pension accrued (to date) represents the lifetime pension of over 20 retired teachers for each CEO… You can draw your own conclusions as to which persons make the greatest contribution to our state, corporate CEOs or teachers in classrooms... 

Remember, two-thirds of Illinois’ corporations pay no corporate income taxes according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Have you talked to your legislators today? The Veto session continues next week?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We Must Prepare for a Constitutional Revision

It is imperative that all of us, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and other major stakeholders are prepared for a possible constitutional revision, perhaps in the spring or veto session in 2012. The Constitution of the State of Illinois may be changed by calling a constitutional convention for revision and then placed on a separate ballot at the next general election, by amendment proposed by a three-fifths vote in each house and then placed on a separate ballot at the next general election, or by an interpretation of the courts.

It is conceivable that a legislator who is not running for re-election and who is under the inauspicious and officious influence of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and other legislators will write and propose an amendment to the Illinois constitution before exiting the General Assembly, thereby challenging the "Pension Clause" once again.

(a) Whenever three-fifths of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly so direct, the question of whether a Constitutional Convention should be called shall be submitted to the electors at the general election next occurring at least six months after such legislative direction.
(b) If the question of whether a Convention should be called is not submitted during any twenty-year period, the Secretary of State shall submit such question at the general election in the twentieth year following the last submission.
(c) The vote on whether to call a Convention shall be on a separate ballot. A Convention shall be called if approved by three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election.
(d) The General Assembly, at the session following approval by the electors, by law shall provide for the Convention and for the election of two delegates from each Legislative District; designate the time and place of the Convention's first meeting which shall be within three months after the election of delegates; fix and provide for the pay of delegates and officers; and provide for expenses necessarily incurred by the Convention.
(e) To be eligible to be a delegate a person must meet the same eligibility requirements as a member of the General Assembly. Vacancies shall be filled as provided by law.
(f) The Convention shall prepare such revision of or amendments to the Constitution as it deems necessary. Any proposed revision or amendments approved by a majority of the delegates elected shall be submitted to the electors in such manner as the Convention determines at an election designated or called by the Convention occurring not less than two nor more than six months after the Convention's adjournment. Any revision or amendments proposed by the Convention shall be published with explanations, as the Convention provides, at least one month preceding the election.
(g) The vote on the proposed revision or amendments shall be on a separate ballot. Any proposed revision or amendments shall become effective, as the Convention provides, if approved by a majority of those voting on the question.

(a) Amendments to this Constitution may be initiated in either house of the General Assembly. Amendments shall be read in full on three different days in each house and reproduced before the vote is taken on final passage. Amendments approved by the vote of three-fifths of the members elected to each house shall be submitted to the electors at the general election next occurring at least six months after such legislative approval, unless withdrawn by a vote of a majority of the members elected to each house.
(b) Amendments proposed by the General Assembly shall be published with explanations, as provided by law, at least one month preceding the vote thereon by the electors. The vote on the proposed amendment or amendments shall be on a separate ballot. A proposed amendment shall become effective as the amendment provides if approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election.
(c) The General Assembly shall not submit proposed amendments to more than three Articles of the Constitution at any one election. No amendment shall be proposed or submitted under this Section from the time a Convention is called until after the electors have voted on the revision or amendments, if any, proposed by such Convention.

(Note that there are four sections in Article XIV, Constitutional Revision).

Consider that Michael Madigan’s statement, “Let the courts decide,” might be deemed as the easier choice. This is a regularly-used method for issues regarding the interpretation of the language of an article in the constitution. Though all constitutional issues are heard in the appellate court, they are appealed and decided in the Supreme Court.

Article XIII, Section 5 (the Pension Clause) has been challenged several times since 1970. For a complete analysis, read Eric M. Madiar

Other Sources:
The Constitution of the State of Illinois
Understanding the Illinois Constitution
Pension Education: Legislative Amendment

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The child, bare foot on the dry plain
And what she does not have

The paradox of silence
And the closed face of pain

The wolf that gnaws off its foot
And the folly of staying in one place

The blur of the hummingbird’s wings
And the owl's unanswered question

The quiet will of the redwood
And the deep well of the body’s softness

Not the lesson, but the teacher
Meditation and the peace it brings

The man on the window ledge
And the testimony he leaves

The faces behind the barbed wire
And the eyes of the refugee and the demented

The unoriginality of sin
And the hacked-off bodies in the "Name of God"

The patience of vultures
And the gluttony of robber barons

The black man who cannot breathe
And systemic racism in America

The "bombs bursting in air"
And starvation in the world

"Liberty and justice for all"
And the miracle of tomorrow without promise

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Response to the Chicago Tribune and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago Diversionary Attempts

Are the articles in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune (October 23) regarding Steven Preckwinkle, David Piccioli and Reg Weaver just another blatant, diversionary attempt to shift blame for the financial woes of this state on the Teachers Retirement System and the other public employees pensions?

What is the purpose for publishing such stories when, in fact, the average TRS recipient receives a pension of $46,452 a year and does not receive Social Security? Perhaps the Chicago Tribune should publish what the typical pension amount is for a Civic Committee retiree and how it “feeds into the cynicism about all the deals, that [it is] an insider’s game and that the system is rigged” and completely “manipulated for personal gain?”

Are the articles an attempt to prove a faulty cause-and-effect understanding of the State’s budget deficit? Does it seem fair and reasonable to stoke the blind and misinformed anger of the people of Illinois by publishing purposely- incendiary pieces about three individuals? Does the Chicago Tribune believe that its readers are that stupid to believe three people drawing an exorbitant pension are representative of the whole of which they constitute? Is it rational to believe the state’s public pension systems are yet the cause for the state’s chronic budget deficit and that these three men are relevant to it?

Is the real issue that corporate liars and thieves do not want teachers and other public employees to have a pension and the financial sectors would love to get their greedy hands on that money?

It is the way of thieves “to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers… from speculators [and corporate CEOs and bankers] on Wall Street who looted the U.S. Treasury…, [who] stymied any kind of regulation… and [who] avoided criminal charges” (Chris Hedges, from “The Promotion of Liberty”).

Teachers and other public employees are constant victims of the fallacy of selected instances, illicit composition, and diversion perpetrated by Sam Zell’s Chicago Tribune and Tyrone Fahner and his Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and their obverse group, Illinois Is Broke: they simply “imply that all public-sector retirees who receive large pension payouts are representative of all public-sector pensioners, and that is the cause of [the State’s financial mess]” (Government Finance Review).

Of course, influential, wealthy businessmen such as Fahner and other members of the Civic Committee, billionaire Zell, (and some of his sycophants such as R. Bruce Dold, editorial page editor; Troy Hunter, chief executive officer of the Chicago Tribune and a member of the Civic Committee; Ray Long, reporter, et al.) and the Tribune’s WGN and its news reporter, Mark Suppelsa, are promoting the imbalanced messages of the Tribune and Illinois Is Broke.

We can assume that these subordinates’ intentional, eager and biased reporting are meant to perpetuate the ignorance and indifference of the public and manipulate legislators, via Fahner’s, Madigan’s and Cross’s pending legislation (SB 512) that will redistribute exorbitant amounts of money to the financial sector (of which 40 percent of the Civic Committee membership are affiliated); even though such legislation will cost the Illinois taxpayers an additional $34 billion according to Buck Consultants, “one of the world’s leading actuarial firms,” as well as increase pension benefits for some public employees who remain in the defined-benefit plan despite the proposed, continual increases in their contributions.

Is it possible to measure just how much money some corporations are currently pocketing from the majority of Illinois citizens or calculate how much of their profits are the result of “subsidy economics” or “corporate welfare?” Could it be more than the Civic Committee’s fabricated, absurd, and unproven claims that Illinois is “$140 billion short” and that the pension systems will cost “$30,000 per household?”

“All [the state] needs to do to correct this problem is require sound financing of [the pension plans]. That means setting aside enough money each year for the benefit that each worker has earned and then investing that money... The problem for [some] representatives and senators is that the simplicity of sound financing would mean a loss of fees for investment advisors and others who get rich off the current system. In turn, that would mean a reduction in the flow of campaign contributions…

“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]” (David Cay Johnston: Free Lunch, How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill).

At the Chicago Tribune’s suggestion, here is some fertile “dirt” dug up without the “tools [of the] Tribune reporters’ [biased and bungling] investigations”:

What should be published in the jaundiced Chicago Tribune? How about a full, investigative story regarding the state’s public employees' retirement systems and why they are not responsible for the state’s budget deficit or for the underfunding of public sector funds?

Here’s a lead for the story: State employees have contributed responsibly and consistently to their pension funds. Most of them will not receive Social Security when they retire, and they will have worked for lower wages and without “corporate bonuses” throughout their career for the promise of a guaranteed pension.

What should be published is teachers, policemen, firemen, and other state employees are not to blame for the wasteful spending, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcy, poverty, and other financial disasters that have occurred. Wall Street “robber barons” are the culprits.

What should be published and further investigated in the Chicago Tribune is that last year, “state and local governments gave nearly $70 billion to corporations. [These are] massive subsidies and welfare for these large corporations… even though corporate profits have increased 60 percent, and corporations have almost $2 trillion in cash… [Corporations] are not investing this money. They are not creating jobs. They are hoarding this money that they have pulled out of the economy” (David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist).

What should also be published and investigated is billionaire real-estate investor and Chicago Tribune’s Chief Executive, Sam Zell, is well known for his “vulture investing” and is “the storied ‘grave dancer’ who scooped up hundreds of discounted assets during the real-estate collapse of the early 1990s” (The Wall Street Journal, June 2011).

What should be published and investigated is the government of the State of Illinois has a plausible complicit partnership with the Civic Committee and that there is a consolidation of powerful oligarchic relationships among the Civic Committee’s CEOs and many of the state’s legislators.

What should be published is whether the Illinois state government should continue to allow “certain businesses” to become ridiculously rich—despite the whining of “45 chief executives of top Illinois-based public companies” that the Chicago Tribune editorial board had surveyed and then published in its Sunday’s editorial page—while the rest of us become poorer and are forced to go without needed services.

What should be published is the state’s underfunding of the pensions for several decades, interest payments for debts incurred, and its resultant tax breaks for the wealthy and decrease in tax revenues. Bank and corporate fraud and greed and the resultant stock-market crash have largely contributed to the budget problems in Illinois.

What should be published is the injustice of some legislators and the lawyers of Sidley Austin LLP (who are also Civic Committee members) that want to change the existing State and United States’ contractual laws (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois and Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States of America), a so-called pension reform that would compel public employees and retirees to accept a diminishment and impairment of their benefits and rights, a reform that would not only destroy the future of hundreds of thousands of people but subsequently increase taxes for everyone else in Illinois. What should be published is that past legislators of Illinois had diverted its “constitutional and obligatory” contributions to other “operating expenses” and “special” interests for several decades.

What should be published is that the public pension systems of Illinois have depended mostly upon income from its own responsible investments and its contributions from its membership throughout these years; that it is an injustice to break the trust among individuals and the pension systems into which they have elected to participate (Article XIII, Section 5 of The Constitution of the State of Illinois; Article I, Section 10 of The Constitution of the United States of America; and Articles 22 and 23 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

What should be published and investigated are the avarice, arrogance, irresponsibility, recklessness, corruption, and cronyism of the corporate and financial sector’s chief executives and that they should have been prosecuted in a court of law. What should also be published and investigated is that these same billionaire and millionaire bankers and CEOs, these "vulture" opportunists, have paid themselves million-dollar bonuses with the taxpayers’ bailout money and should be held accountable for their larceny.

-Glen Brown

Thursday, October 20, 2011

SB 512 (a Review of the May 2011 version written by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago/Illinois Is Broke)

The Tier-One Pension Benefit Plan

 The current TRS Tier-One teacher would pay a pension contribution of 13.77 % of his or her annual salary. The current contribution rate is 9.4 %. His or her contributions would also increase every three years.
 The current SURS Tier-One instructor would pay a pension contribution of 15.31 % of his or her annual salary. The current contribution rate is 8.0 %. His or her contributions would also increase every three years. (SURS offered a defined-contribution plan for its membership in 1998-99. Fifteen percent of its members chose a defined-contribution plan. Thus, the SURS defined-benefit plan lost a portion of its membership contributions, and the plan’s sustainability has abated).
 A Tier-One teacher will have a choice every three years as to whether or not he or she will remain in his or her current plan.
 As stated, the teacher’s pension contribution will increase from one election period to the next; thus, the cost for remaining in the Tier-One plan will become increasingly expensive.
 Note a teacher cannot rejoin the Tier-One pension benefit plan once he or she has chosen to leave it.

The Tier-Two Pension Benefit Plan

 Any teacher that fails to elect a pension benefit plan will default into the Tier-Two pension benefit plan.
 Participation in the Tier-Two pension benefit plan that was signed into law in April of 2010 (SB 1946) includes a teacher’s retirement age of 67 for eligibility of full benefits (the highest in the country), a reduction of the Cost of Living Allowance, and a reduced final-average salary. The teacher pays a pension contribution of 6 % of his or her annual salary.
 A current Tier-Two teacher can elect to participate in the Tier-Three pension benefit plan (a defined-contribution plan or 401-K).

The Tier-Three "Retirement Savings Plan"

 Participation in the proposed Tier-Three pension benefit plan or a defined-contribution plan (401-K) shifts all the responsibilities and all of the risk from the State to the teacher; henceforth, the benefit is not guaranteed for life. The individual teacher assumes all funding, investment, inflationary and longevity risks.
 The Tier-Three pension benefit plan does not have the pooled investments, professional asset management and shared administrative costs that a Tier-One defined-benefit plan provides. Moreover, there are no survivor or disability benefits and guarantees with the Tier-Three plan.
 The teacher would pay a pension contribution of 6 % of his or her annual salary (and the State of Illinois would assumedly pay 6 %).

Sources: the 97th General Assembly Legislation (2011-2012), the Teachers Retirement System, the Illinois Education Association, the State University Retirement System, and the National Institute on Retirement Security

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What do we do best as teachers? by Glen Brown

We inspire others. We influence and move people to action. We take a person’s potentiality and make it an actuality. We offer our help to others because of our compassion and our empathy, because of our humility and our dignity. We communicate truths because of our integrity. We never give up because of our moral responsibility towards one another and the importance of trust among individuals. We fight against all injustices. We understand; we discuss; we mediate, and we act. We do what is right and model our behavior for others. We hold ourselves accountable for what we do and what we believe is true. We set the example.

What are we as teachers? We are leaders, consultants, diagnosticians and evaluators; we are life-long learners; we are architects for the experiences of others. We are what we want to see in others: our idealism, our indomitable spirit, our commitment to human rights and to the creation of a better society. We are responsible, intrepid and just. We are one of last bastions of hope for a society driven by amoral envy, indifferent greed and partisan politics.

We are appalled by hypocrisy and lies, by incompetence, irresponsibility and cronyism. We are appalled by intentional faulty logic and the unethical scapegoating of others, by arrogance and self-interest, by prejudice and the injustices done to others. We are appalled by irrationality and indifference; therefore, we must stay united and fight not only for the rights of others but for our teaching profession. 

-Glen Brown

Friday, October 14, 2011

SB 512 = No Trust in Legislative Leadership

When Civic Committee members, whom people have not voted into office, write a bill for state legislators and give advice on how to pass their bill, the people of the state are subjected to a law concocted with partisan interests. This is a breach of trust between the constituents and their legislators’ duty to represent them.

When legislators wield the power to impoverish some people and to destroy their right of self-preservation; when the Civic Committee and legislators are exempted from the severe consequences of their unjust proposal; and when the Civic Committee’s money not only buys the legislators’ votes but generates and perpetuates untruths among the public employees' and retirees' pensions, then one’s belief in the legitimacy of the Illinois General Assembly degenerates into skepticism and exasperation.

Furthermore, when one discovers that some of the best statesmen have retired a long time ago from the General Assembly; that competent and ethical leadership, in fact, no longer exists; that the majority of Illinois legislators pass bills they do not even read because “doing something” is all that really matters regardless of the disastrous consequences, then one’s belief in a representative democracy and justice becomes disfigured by cynicism.

How could we have faith in a process where some legislators are afraid to vote against a critical legislation because they are worried about running for re-election, about the redrawing of boundaries of their legislative districts, and about the funding of their next campaign? Is it because of their lack of will power and ethical leadership?

Moreover, what should we think about the legislative folly of the past several months? What should we say to a legislator when confronted with questions such as “how can a legislator read a 314-page bill when it’s being called in an hour or less?” or “why don’t you write the legislation?” and “what do you propose that we [legislators] do about the budget problem?” How can we believe in our state government when “party committees are often switched out or switched in to make sure that a bill will be unanimous,” and why aren’t any Nobel-prize winning economists invited to the Illinois pension symposiums?

Unquestionably, some legislators do not want to pay for public pensions, even though they were never fully funded since their inception many decades ago. It’s not about “pension sustainability,” “unfunded liabilities,” or suspect actuarial-cost methods, for we are aware of the media artifice that is “Illinois Is Broke” and that data can be easily manipulated and rationalized when one begins with a preferred conclusion and then works backwards to a plausible justification.

Many legislators and their Civic Committee benefactors want as much as House Speaker Madigan desires to “let the courts decide” (at the taxpayers' expense), while the Illinois Education Association and its members hope that Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate Eric M. Madiar's scrupulous research and final conclusions that the State of Illinois cannot “welch on promises” to the public pensions because there is “an enforceable contractual relationship” between the state and its public employees of which benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.” 

-Glen Brown

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Teacher, “did I miss anything?”

(after reading Tom Wayman's poem)

Nothing much. When we finally noticed
your absence, we thumbed our iPhones
and BlackBerries for the rest of the class period.

Surely, you should know that our classroom is the forum
where we examine the paradigms and presumptions
of everyone else with your own.

Nothing except the fact that you are our raison d’etre.
It is through you that our collective
and authentic Self is realized.

Of course! You missed The Second Coming on the day you were gone.
It occurred in this very classroom, over there,
slouching in your seat, "blank and pitiless as the [blackboard]."

Not a thing, and who cares? We’re all going to die anyway.
After all, this class is as meaningless as any Sisyphean task.
…might as well pluck the day, "ye rosebud," while it’s still worth plucking.

Absolutely! God, herself, could not miss this class without falling behind.
I gave a surprise quiz worth 66 percent of your grade;
Then I assigned the rest of the textbook to be discussed today!

Besides, esse est percipi (being is to be perceived)!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Questions for My Colleagues and Friends at the IRTA about Pension Reform and Meeting with Our Legislators

Why should retired and active teachers be concerned about so-called "pension reform?" Consider the effects that it will have on the defined-benefit plan if the benefit formulation (for Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers) is reduced? And what might the current teachers in Tier 1 do if their pensionable salary is capped, as this is the case for members participating in the Tier 2 plan? What do you think would happen if the vesting period for Tier 1 members is increased, and their cost of living adjustment is changed to a simple interest computation or even possibly eliminated? And what might Tier 1 teachers do if their retirement age is also raised to 67 and their extra-curricular assignments are excluded from the calculation of their final average salary (which has recently been extended to a ten-year average instead of four)? What would Tier 1 members do if their contributions are increased steadily from 9.4 percent to 17.43 percent by 2027?

It is important to note that as some members migrate to a potential Tier 3 defined-contribution savings option, will their contributions to the TRS defined-benefit pension plan be reduced? Will remaining teachers in Tier 1 and 2 have to make up the difference? These are a few of the ideas discussed and examined in meetings thus far and will be debated in the future until there is agreement on these issues.

Now ask yourself this question: how will the above-mentioned possibilities threaten the existing defined-benefit plan for current teachers and retirees, and why would any teachers choose the Tier 3 defined-contribution option? One answer is that most beginning teachers do not believe there will be a guaranteed pension for them in the future; moreover, some of them have even become cynical because of the past legislative sessions.

Furthermore, will the initial, anticipated 10-15% exodus to the proposed Tier 3 option also increase the State’s cost and its contributions to the pension system? The answer is yes, and will the State pay for it? The answer is doubtful, and though teachers will most likely become eligible for social security (and will be determined at the federal level), who will match these contributions? Local school districts or the State of Illinois?

In addition to these complex considerations, will the State also have to pay down the current $44 billion unfunded liability of the TRS pension plan more quickly as a result of any movement to Tier 3? The answer is yes. How will all of these concerns ultimately affect current teachers and retirees, and what might be the catastrophic effects and legal challenges of a proposed constitutional amendment?

Now consider why it is important that we continue to meet with our legislators and tell them that "pension reform" (or reneging on a constitutional contract) will not reduce the unfunded liability and address the causes of the State’s budget problems. Why is it important that we meet with our legislators?

It’s imperative that we do because attacks on our pensions will never cease; thus, we need to discuss reasonable and fair alternatives for solving the state’s budget problems and the disastrous effects that so-called "pension reform" bills would have on Illinois retirees and teachers, their families, their communities, and the recruitment of the best and brightest university candidates for teaching in our public schools.

Most importantly, we need to discuss the fact that any proposed "pension reform" bill will violate a contractual obligation guaranteed by both our State and U.S. Constitutions. We need to tell our legislators we vote, our families and relatives vote, our friends and neighbors vote, and we will network with anyone who will help us protect our retirement security and our dignity.

-Glen Brown