Monday, January 30, 2012

Civic Federation: “Illinois Faces Financial Disaster; Urgent Need for Medicaid and Pension Reforms”

[Selected Findings and Recommendations from the 53-page document]

“Due to data limitations, the Federation’s projections are rough forecasts intended to indicate the long-range consequences of current revenue and expenditure policies…
“Civic Federation Findings: The General Funds operating deficit is projected to increase to $3.2 billion in FY2017 from $508 million in FY2012. This projection assumes that Medicaid appropriations are limited to annual growth of only 2%—well below the anticipated increase in Medicaid costs but consistent with the State’s past budget practices.

“Largely due to projected underfunding of the Medicaid program, the State’s total unpaid bills—including both General Fund’s bills and bills outside of the General Funds—are predicted to increase from $9.2 billion at the end of FY2012 to $34.8 billion at the end of FY2017.

“General Fund’s revenues are projected to decline by $427 million, or 1.3%, to $32.7 billion in FY2017 from $33.1 billion in FY2012. The decline is largely due to the lower income tax rates that take effect in FY2015; all other revenue sources are projected to increase over the next five fiscal years.

“General Fund’s expenditures are projected to increase by approximately 6.9% from $33.6 billion in the enacted FY2012 budget to $36.0 billion in FY2017. This conservative projection is based on the assumption that the Medicaid program will continue to be underfunded. It accounts for cost increases in group health insurance and pensions but leaves most other areas of the budget unchanged or flat from FY2012.

“General Fund’s costs for Medicaid are projected to increase by more than 40% to $12.1 billion in FY2017 from $8.6 billion in FY2012. If Medicaid appropriations increased by only 2% a year, well below predicted costs, the backlog of unpaid Medicaid bills would reach $21.0 billion by the end of FY2017.

“General Funds pension costs—including statutorily required State pension contributions and debt service on pension bonds—are projected to increase by approximately 35% from $5.7 billion in FY2012 to $7.8 billion in FY2017. Pension-related costs increase from roughly 17% of total General Fund’s expenditures in FY2012 to 21.6% in FY2017.

“General Fund’s costs for State employee group health insurance are projected to increase by approximately 39% from $1.4 billion in FY2012 to $2.0 billion in FY2017. Roughly 91% of the 81,900 retirees covered by the group insurance program do not pay any premiums for their coverage.

“The Governor’s three-year budget projections, released on January 3, 2012, show an operating deficit of more than $500 million in FY2012 and a total of $818 million in FY2015. The Governor’s projections do not account for the full annual cost of Medicaid or group health insurance based on current policies and do not address the increase in unpaid bills...

“Civic Federation Recommendations for State Pensions:  It remains unclear how the State can comply with statutory pension funding requirements and also pay for other costs of running State government. In light of fiscal realities, the Civic Federation recommends that current Illinois retirees and employees hired before January 1, 2011 receive the same annual benefit increases as new workers: 3% a year or one-half of the increase in the CPI, whichever is less, and that benefits be increased by a simple interest rate. The Federation also supports reducing non-vested benefits for current employees, increasing employee contributions or both...

“Civic Federation Recommendations for State Retiree Health Insurance: The Civic Federation supports requiring all State retirees to share the cost of their health insurance premiums. The Federation also supports abolishing any law or rule that allows retirees who live outside Illinois to pay lower premiums than retirees who live in Illinois for the same insurance coverage...

“Civic Federation Recommendations for Medicaid: The State should move aggressively to implement the significant reform legislation passed in January 2011 by enrolling Medicaid recipients in coordinated or managed care networks and moving residents from State centers for the developmentally disabled to community settings. The State should continue its efforts to control prescription drug costs, the most expensive optional medical service provided under the Medicaid program. Short-term savings on Medicaid should come from programs that are not eligible for federal reimbursement. One such program the State cannot afford to continue and must eliminate is Illinois Cares Rx, a prescription drug program that supplements coverage for seniors in Medicare Part D...

“Civic Federation Recommendation on Borrowing for Operations and Unpaid Bills: The Civic Federation opposes any additional borrowing by the State of Illinois to support its ongoing operations or to pay down its backlog of bills because it cannot afford any additional debt service. Borrowing for operations generates one-time revenues that increase future spending pressures. The Federation supports the State’s efforts to ease the burden on vendors through an improved and cost-effective vendor payment program...

“Civic Federation Recommendation on State Employee Salaries: Given fiscal realities in the State of Illinois, there is no room for bargaining unit increases in FY2013 or in the foreseeable future. The Civic Federation urges the Governor to keep the State’s dire financial condition in mind as new collective bargaining agreements, effective in FY2013, are negotiated...

“Civic Federation Recommendations on Retirement Income: The Civic Federation supports broadening the individual income tax in Illinois to include federally taxable portions of retirement and Social Security income. This policy would provide additional revenue stability and reduce preferential treatment of retired taxpayers that the State can no longer afford, while protecting the lowest-income individuals...

“Civic Federation Recommendation for the State Cigarette Tax: The Civic Federation supports increasing the State tax on cigarettes from the current rate of 98 cents per pack to $1.98 per pack in FY2013 to reduce the State’s budget deficit and to fund public health expenses in future years...

“Civic Federation Recommendation for Statutory Transfers Out: The Civic Federation recommends limiting the use of statutory transfers out of General Funds to ensure that State resources are used in the most effective way possible. The Federation supports the Budgeting for Results Commission’s recommendation to end the funding of State operations through statutory transfers out, excluding transfers for debt service, local government sharing, revolving funds and cash flow purposes. The State should move to consolidate Special Funds currently supported by transfers out and review programs funded through these accounts as part of the annual General Funds appropriations process...

“Civic Federation Recommendation for Fund Sweeps: The Civic Federation opposes inter-fund borrowing not repaid within the same fiscal year because it pushes current operating expenses into future years. Instead, the State should sweep any available surpluses in Special Funds into the General Funds to pay down its backlog of bills and ease cash flow issues. The Civic Federation also recommends that the State’s Special Funds be consolidated and/or eliminated except in cases of high priority or mandated expenses...

“Civic Federation Recommendation on Economic Development Incentives: The Civic Federation recommends that the State of Illinois develop a comprehensive economic development incentive policy to curb economic brinksmanship by Illinois businesses and allow the State to monitor the relative effectiveness of various incentive programs. Such a policy should be in place before the State renews, expands or creates any economic development incentives.”

See January 22nd post: SB 512 – “Something Wicked This Way Comes” – is back like Banquo’s ghosts… Civic Federation skews “research” to promote destruction of pension plans for public workers

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Illinois or Shall We Call It Plutocraticstan?

One of John Stuart Mill’s concerns in “Essay on Liberty,” over 150 years ago, was the potential tyranny of the majority to suppress the minority.  Had he lived today, he would have written a treatise on the absolutism of the wealthy and powerful minority and their parasitic lobbyists (who choose what our legislators often consider for policy and proposed laws) instead.   

These individuals, through political despotism, legalize coercion and self-proclaimed infallibility. They also steal the guaranteed liberties and rights from the rest of us. It is the members of the state’s plutocracy that decide significant issues for just about everyone else.    

Mill erred in his belief that democracy could count on “learned and dedicated men” to guide its development.  He did not take into account the fallibility of some legislators -- especially their stupidity and greed -- and the selfish interests of those who procure them. 
Such is the case today in the State of Illinois where the government is held hostage by affluent and influential “special interests” (to protect the riches of the state’s wealthy ruling class); where both the republican and democratic parties (the “Money Party”) are one side of the same tarnished coin corrupted by bribery (campaign funding) made legal; and by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, in particular, that can manipulate the state’s politicians without consequences, set the legislative agenda, and hoodwink and oppress an oblivious populace through its obverse website called Illinois Is Broke.
What is the relationship between dishonest politics and corrupt partnerships?  A substantial amount of campaign money affects the ability and the will of our state legislators to make ethical decisions; it is money that motivated legislators to believe “pension reform,” for instance, [was] a road to navigate for reducing the state’s future budget deficit.

In an attempt to pass a so-called “pension reform” bill, legislators and profit seekers who support it do not consider the effects that breaking a constitutional contract will have on the lives of teachers and other public employees.  The fact that these legislators do not read the bills they may or may not vote for is an embarrassing and dangerous injustice, no matter how “busy” they may be planning their continuous campaign funding.  (A caveat for teachers and other public employees is to read any pension reform bill. We can be sure that most of the legislators who might vote for a pension reform bill will not have read or examined its ramifications for others).
How can we trust legislators who support policies and laws that are initiated by the plutocrats’ contributing lobbyists?  Who benefits the most from political connections and subsidizing?
What does an insider's fund raising accomplish besides maintaining the status quo of unregulated cupidity and irresponsibility of our legislators?  It creates a polarization between the rich and the rest of us; it protracts policy-making for “special-interests” patrons, such as members of the Civic Committee and Civic Federation, where donations create obligations, allegiances and reciprocity.  All of which diverts an elected legislator’s essential commitment and concentration to honestly represent his or her constituents. 
Plutocratic lobbyists are no longer subtle about their tactics, about the contaminating financial dependency they instigate with legislators, and about their continuing influences upon policies and bills that are passed in Illinois (and in other states across this country).   

If we asked our legislators whether their decisions were independent of their highly-addictive campaign funding, what would they say?  Would they say their financial support does not affect the issues and the issues’ outcomes they consider for the rest of us? 

That it does not affect their votes on policy and bills or the tax benefits they will grant to the state’s wealthiest corporations? That exorbitant campaign funding does not distract them from their elected purpose and their oath of office to represent the electorate?  That injustices perpetrated by the influential self-interests of biased brokers with their moneyed-access of power granted to them do not exist; that the “special interests” of Political Action Committees (sponsored by Tyrone Fahner of the Civic Committee) also mean “bankrolling candidates who are willing to cross labor unions and vote to reduce pension benefits and/or require workers to pay more for them”?
What are we going to do about a “rigged system” where the Civic Committee's “We Mean Business” signifies destroying public pension systems; where “shared sacrifice” exempts the wealthy from their so-called proposed “reforms” and eliminates the taxation for their corporations; where their money precludes changes to a corrupt political system; where the rising inequalities that continue to exist in Illinois are funded by these powerful and wealthy interests’ groups; where the legislators’ self-serving flat-tax rate (that they refuse to transform!) proffers unequal opportunities and quantifiable payoffs for our state’s largest corporations and their executives and, thus, ensures benefaction for the re-election campaigns of Illinois politicians?

So what are we going to do about their plutocratic self-perpetuating greed, their influence on our state’s elections and the legalized damage done to a slowly dying democracy?  What should we say about the fact that unions are also "special interest" groups (with their own lobbyists) who have to compete like greedy jockeys on a filthy "fixed" race track that is impossible to win because the legislative game is always rigged by the highest bidder? What are we also going to do about our indifference and acquiescence that sustain a politically-bankrupt state of affairs?   

How about telling the state's legislative leaders and the governor what you think of their thievery and lies and what you will do in order to stop the attacks on public employees' and retirees' rights and benefits!

-Glen Brown

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" or "What, Me Worry" about What Ingram Said?

A few days ago in cold January, Dick Ingram, Executive Director of the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, stated that “everyone acknowledges that the cost of public pensions under the current system will increase greatly over the next three decades and that these projected costs will hamper the state’s ability to meet its core responsibilities to all citizens.  That reality means that it is time to leave political science behind and focus solely on the actuarial science — the dollars and the cents that must be brought into balance. It is the only way the Teachers’ Retirement System and the other state pension systems will be able to fulfill their fiduciary duty to their members.” 

Will the definition of revenue “balance,” in this context, create a conflict between the public and private sectors’ interests?  Is it true that the only solution (SB 512) proposed right now for the state’s budget problems is a choice for public employees to reduce their constitutionally-guaranteed pensions?   “Fiduciary duty” entails confidence and trust.  Is it secondary to maximizing investments for the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, and cash flow for the State of Illinois? 
"The facts are indisputable. Over the next 30 years, the state will owe retirees in excess of $140 billion, but Illinois has less than $54 billion in the bank right now to meet those long-term obligations,” Ingram said.  Of course, this projected “excess” to be owed by the state includes the rising service debt or unfunded liability that the State of Illinois is largely responsible for because it has not fully fund the TRS system and the other four major public pension systems for decades.

Do any public employees prefer that the State of Illinois default on the money it owes to the public pension systems and not uphold its contractual obligations?  Do any other citizens of Illinois believe that the state has the means to pay all of its debts, without punishing public employees for the past reprehensible actions of some corrupt governors, legislators, and other unethical decision-makers, if it implemented the already-proven methods for enhancing revenue flow used in other states?    

According to Ingram, “The ‘unfunded’ portion of that liability creates tremendous pressure on state government because it essentially triples the annual cost of public pensions to taxpayers, money that could be spent on other services.” 

Thus far, “shared sacrifice” has targeted only the middle class, of whom public employees are members, and the poor that must continue to abdicate their hard-earned money and pay more taxes because of Illinois' inefficient state government.  Few people consider the fact that throughout the years state “services” were provided primarily because of the reallocation of public pension monies to those demands.   Perhaps an important question to ask is whether the “party of the privilege” (the Civic Committee, et al.) had anything to do with the state’s unreliable contributions to the public pension systems all these years?  In other words, whether past legislative irresponsibility enabled certain self-serving legislators (that were funded quite generously through legalized and normalized bribery) to displace public pension money to those very “special interests” (or business groups) without raising taxes on corporations and electorates.

[Indeed] the way forward will be guided by a sober focus on the math: what has been promised; what will it cost: what can we afford.  It will not be easy, but there is enough common ground for us to stand on to get where we need to be.  It is what Illinois deserves,” Ingram also stated. 

One might ask how far apart is “what it will cost” and “what ‘we’ can afford?”  Surely, there are many political games that can be played with accounting rules and the legality of pension matters to deceive retirees and current employees about their pension systems’ liability.  

Though Article XIII, Section 5 isn’t a mathematical equation, it has helped prevent public employees from sinking into the quicksand of this rather indeterminate “common ground.”  Impelled by the Chicago Tribune’s yellow journalism, the Civic Committee’s ingenuous Illinois Is Broke, and the Civic Federation's skewed data, it is apparent that most legislators, moguls, and a swindled portion of the public want the Illinois pensions defunct.  

A few months ago, Dave Urbanek, Public Information Officer for the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, stated that “pensions will not run out of money… [That] assumes that at a future date, state pensions will just cease and all outstanding financial obligations will come due… Unlike a corporation, a state government cannot go out of business… [Accordingly,] state law empowers TRS [40 ILCS 5/16-158c]… Payment of the required state contributions and of all pensions, retirement annuities, death benefits…, all other benefits…, and all expenses are obligations of the state… The state has waved its sovereign immunity in regard to the teachers’ pension because TRS is a qualified pension plan under the tax-deferred provisions of the IRS code.  Federal law would protect all claims… Pensions [are not] the problem [or] why Illinois has been unable to pay its bills.  The reason is a dramatic fall-off in state revenues over the last four years, costing the state $4.4 billion.”

There are few experts in the fields of retirement-and-benefit accounting and pension law (of which I am not one).  Current and retired teachers of Illinois can only hope that the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers have hired the most ethical and intelligent members among these rare specialists.   Indisputably, all public employees’ deferred and “earned” income that is “constitutionally protected” is what all public employees of the State of lllinois “deserve,” and every one of us needs to safeguard our pensions more than ever now, especially from those who want to diminish or impair Article XIII, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois. 

-Glen Brown

Sunday, January 22, 2012

“Something Wicked This Way Comes” is back like Banquo’s ghosts… Civic Federation skews “research” to promote destruction of pension plans for public workers

The past theft of pension assets in Illinois was quite easy for some governors and legislators, even for other rogues who bargained for money-enhancing incentives (spiking) for retiring public employees at the expense of the many they would leave behind without their exorbitant financial perks to retire early. We know who the indifferent scoundrels are today and about their schemes to steal even more monies from the public pension funds.  These are the same types of perpetrators that advocate a radical “pension reform” bill without reading it or understanding its consequences.  That was then.

Now, once again, we have the Civic Federation claiming to do “non-partisan research.” They are a very good example of why we must guard against the so-called “expert” testimonies and negotiating that will be used to influence the Illinois legislators’ decision this spring regarding radical “pension reform,” arguments based upon omissions or adjustments to make the pension systems appear “indisputably” in need of urgent “reform.”  We must guard against the disingenuous claims embodied in their demand for radical “pension reform.” 

Be aware of our legislators’ mantras:  “Retirees are living longer now; current teachers’ salaries are increasing; the state’s costs are too high; Illinois has to reduce its expenses to remain economically competitive; we will have to cut services to schools and health care for the elderly; we have to make some hard decisions; we cannot reduce the liability without reducing benefits; the pension systems are unsustainable; health care costs are skyrocketing; it’s about shared sacrifice; we have to do something!”

We should know by now how statistics used for pension liabilities are based upon changing assumptions that include interest and mortality rates, asset returns, estimates of what the state will have to pay in the future, preferential accounting rules and undisclosed influences on legislative decisions.  Most of us are aware how certain elements from media, especially Illinois Is Broke (the website of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago), Fox News, and the Chicago Tribune attempt to garner consensus from the wealthy business community. Media succeed quite easily in propagating distorted information and scaremongering schemes to a mostly oblivious public through deceptive practices that distract the populace from carefully examining more sensible, legal and ethical solutions to the state's revenue problems and pension unfunded liability. 

We should realize that there is a real incentive for some executives from the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, the Illinois Policy Institute and others like them to aggressively attack public employees’ pensions and the public pension systems while promulgating their fallacious suppositions.  We know about the types of criminals who can orchestrate the collapse of defined-benefit pension systems in the private sector.

There are hundreds of examples in the private sector. Consider Victor Rice’s blustering “with cognac and cigars” after he accomplished his “organized liquidation” of the retirees’ pension for Varity Corporation, (Rice later collected $50 million in severance after he sold the company in 1999); consider chief executive Patricia Russo’s slow and deliberate destruction of the employees’ pension and benefits in 2005 at Lucent while using what remained of the pension savings to pay executives’ million-dollar bonuses “because that’s what it’s going to take to continue to attract and retain the talent required to build this company back to where we want it to go” (Ellen E. Schultz, Retirement Heist, 2011). Examples of Machiavellian bravado are not exceptions in today’s plutocratic worldview.

It is our duty to fight against any diminishment of the public employees’ benefits and any sort of financial restructuring thereof before it is written into law this spring.  Consider defined-contribution savings plans will obviously create no liabilities for the state, but generate enormous profits for the financial sector (of which the majority of the Civic Committee are members). These savings plans are spawns of the defunct defined-benefit plans from the private sector.  

We should ask whether the Civic Committee and Sidley Austin’s past preemptive assaults and semantic word-game manipulations were meant to test a possible reduction of benefits in the public pensions without violating Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution.  We might even ask: does anyone believe that members of the Civic Committee (and many legislators of the 97th General Assembly) care about whether a public employee has any retirement plan at all?  

Who has the most to gain by radical “pension reform”? Might they be the executives of the Civic Committee, the Civic Federation, and certain legislators who wish to align the public pension systems with the financial industry to manufacture even more profits for themselves? The philosophy of these robber barons includes the dictum that cutting pension benefits will produce gains for employers.  What they never mention is that the State of Illinois is responsible for the unfunded liability no matter what so-called “pension reform” is attempted and found unconstitutional. 

-Glen Brown

Friday, January 20, 2012

Birth of an Angel

for Suzanne Elizabeth 

The first big snow of the year
bursts with laughter in the backyard,

the forsythia and dogwood capsizing
under the weight where his daughter

plays in a white maze of discovery,
her small arms sweeping wings

under a moon-swept sky.
He feels creation in his heart,

the mill wheel spin,
the birth of a child without sin.

Millions of hexagons drift from heaven,
a mysterious map of the universe

hidden in each eye
spiraling toward infinity,

while the weak December sky
promises miracles,

whitewashes the land
where she is waving an angel,

throwing curveballs every which way,
the pure, delicate arcs

bridging the two of them
in a milky circle of light.


“Birth of an Angel” was originally published in Cape Rock Review.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Illinois “Pension Reform” Mania

All we can hope for now is that the governor and Illinois legislators make an ethical and legal decision regarding their single-minded “pension reform” (as if this is the sole solution for the current state’s revenue and debt problems!).  We can also hope that we will be receiving information from the Illinois Education Association’s and the Illinois Federation of Teacher’s leadership regarding an alternative, reasonable and fair plan to challenge the disastrous, unconstitutional “pension reform” bill proposed last spring by Representative Tom Cross (with intractable House Speaker Michael Madigan’s approval) and his “special interest” group, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. 
Timing, good sense, and a message of “constitutionality, fairness and sustainability” are still essential components of any counter proposal. For the rest of us, personal contacts with legislators are crucial. Person-to-person meetings and telephone conversations should have already been established and continue.  We can remind our legislators that their decision about such “reform” should not be prompted by political despotism, in other words, one that is based upon autocratic and arbitrary self-interest, fallacious information and a predisposition for unanticipated consequences – all quite apparent in last year’s fall and spring legislative sessions. 
It is regrettable that most people and many Illinois legislators do not care whether teachers and other public employees have “contributed responsibly to their pension funds” or that teachers will receive [little to] no Social Security when they retire.  Of course, legislators have heard this mantra, and they believe that it does nothing to solve the perceived, inherited problems at hand.   

It is troublesome that most people and many legislators do not care whether retired teachers’ and other public employees’ defined-benefit pension plans are a fundamental source of economic stimulus to communities in Illinois and the only retirement income for hundreds of thousands of people.
Most people and many legislators are oblivious or do not care that the “State of Illinois has not consistently paid its full constitutional and obligatory contributions” to the public pension systems throughout the decades, that this money was diverted to other operating expenses and “special interests’ groups,” that the State of Illinois saved approximately $15 billion (this figure does not include the amount of accrued interest that would have been earned) by not paying what actuaries have calculated the Teachers’ Retirement System should have received throughout those years, that this theft also enabled the State of Illinois to provide services for its citizenry without raising taxes during that time, and that this money was deferred-earned income for teachers in Illinois. 
It is true that only a few stalwart retirees have attempted to respond to the Civic Committee's or the Chicago Tribune's diatribes and educate the ill-informed populace these past several months.  It is also true that numerous teachers and retirees (and their families) care a great deal about the possible destruction of their pension plan, their only retirement income.
It is obvious Illinois legislators do not possess the resolve to take on an inadequate fiscal system that fails to generate enough revenue growth to properly maintain state services and pay state expenditures for health and social services, education, government, transportation, capital outlays, public protection and justice.  Many legislators are the Civic Committee’s co-conspirators, and public employees are the victims.  Be that as it may, Illinois legislators should transform the state’s failing revenue system and unfunded pension liability. 
Therefore, it is our responsibility to tell our legislators what many of us want: a progressive tax rate that 43 other states utilize; a broad-base tax base; a better timing of tax payments; an increased taxation on the wealthy; and an end to corporate welfare (extortive tax breaks and various loopholes for corporations) so the rest of us do not have to agonize over more impending, ruinous so-called “pension reform” bills and the elimination of needed services and other legislative folly. 
Although some Illinois legislators do not want to fund the public pension systems next year and thereafter, these legislators assume that they know how to accurately estimate pension assets and liabilities in the future by drawing erroneous inferences from intentionally-biased data provided for them.  We can envisage how some people (especially wealthy Illinois businessmen) can manipulate variables in order to reach a preferred conclusion.  Indeed, it is easier for certain legislators and the Civic Committee and other wealthy organizations to obsess over a pension’s unfunded liabilities (that were caused primarily by not fully funding the systems!), for instance, and not the causes of the state’s financial deficits: its antiquated revenue system and irresponsible budget practices that includes a flat-rate tax system.
It is unfortunate that most Illinois legislators ignore the fact that “a high-quality revenue system relies on a diverse and balanced range of sources [that] will spread the burden of taxes among more payers than a narrow basis does” (National Conference of State Legislators, 2007).  Some Illinois legislators will state that they “oppose raising any taxes to balance the state’s budget.”  Of course, very few legislators want to raise taxes on the wealthy elite that bankrolls them; very few legislators want to raise taxes on middle-class and impoverished voters either (though these legislators have stolen public pension money to pay for their needed services throughout the years). Moreover, when legislators claim that they will not raise taxes, (especially for corporations and the wealthy one percent that finance them), it also guarantees their campaign funding and their votes from their oblivious constituents. 
It is important to remember that legislators can exercise the power to not completely pay the public pension systems over and over again.  Undeniably, many legislators approved a financial windfall for a few Illinois corporations most recently while ironically pondering budget cuts and "pension reform" for the rest of us.  “[Indeed] each new tax break means less money to run state government, [thus] requiring officials to get more money elsewhere or cut services” (Associated Press, November 2011). 
Considering their spring legislative focus, it is apparent that many legislators do not contemplate today’s economic realities: Illinois’ economy has largely become a “services and information-based economy… [and that] changes in personal consumption have resulted in the Illinois sales tax covering a decreasing proportion of consumption expenditures” (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, July 2011).   

These same legislators also ignore the fact that Illinois “suffers from structural deficits or from failure of revenues to grow quickly as the cost of services…, [and that] structural deficits stem largely from out-of-date tax systems, coupled with costs that rise faster than the economy… Fixing these structural problems would help [Illinois] balance [its] operating budgets without resorting to [an unconstitutional radical 'pension reform' instigated and propagandized by the Civic Committee, Civic Federation, Chicago Tribune and their ilk]” (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 2011). 
So what should Illinois legislators do? How about finding ways to generate more revenue instead of perpetually attacking public employees' and retirees' pensions? How about restructuring the unfunded pension liability? The Pension Ramp is flawed!  

What can the IEA and IFT offer by way of negotiation this spring on the issue that “something must be done!” about the public pension systems, (in particular, the teachers’ pension system), the unfunded liability, and increasing state payments?  How about defending the Illinois Constitution above all else? 

What can current and retired teachers (and other public employees) surrender that will barely diminish the state’s colossal financial liability created by past-and-present greed, corruption, arrogance, incompetence and self-interest?  Nothing.   

We can only hope that the IEA and IFT leadership has a “plan” to offer in the legislative sessions this spring, and we hear about this strategy as soon as possible. We can only hope our union leadership does not bargain away our constitutional rights and benefits

Meanwhile, what we can do is unite with the Occupy Wall-Street Movement in Chicago and protest on South Clark Street, where the Civic Committee conducts its avaricious business practices. We can research the aforementioned subject matter ourselves, become more informed, and meet with legislators to discuss unconstitutional pension reform targeted at teachers and retirees and their families.  Why is this important?  Our individual and collective futures depend upon what we do or don’t do. 

-Glen Brown

For some in-depth analyses regarding Illinois pension issues, click on “2011” of the Blog Archive (on the right) and then the appropriate months for the following posts: “Tax Reform! Not Pension Reform, Budget Cuts and Tax Breaks for the Wealthy” (20 November 2011); “Pension Hybrid Plans, Constitutional Challenges, and the Ethical Path to Take” (18 November 2011); “Sustainability, Affordability and Constitutionality: Are They Compatible” (10 November 2011); “Ask Your Legislator a Few More Questions” (3 November 2011); “A Response to the Chicago Tribune and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago” (22 October 2011); “SB 512 = No Trust in Legislative Leadership” (14 October 2011); “A Letter to My Colleagues and Friends at IRTA, Du Page” (5 October 2011); “Defined-Benefit Plan v. Defined-Contribution Plan, Updated” (30 September 2011); “Illinois May Be Broken, but Not the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago” (26 August 2011); “Why Bankruptcy Should Never Become an Option for Illinois” (2 August 2011); “Spread the Burden of Taxes and Address Tax Inequities in Illinois” (25 July 2011); “A Call for Caution for This Fall’s Veto Session” (17 July 2011); “What Will Be Illinois’ Next Move Regarding Its Public Pensions’ Liabilities?” (11 July 2011); “Unfunded Liability and Sustainability of a Pension” (5 July 2011); “Authorized Theft and Greed in Corporate America” (30 June 2011); “What We Believe We Know about the Sustainability of the TRS Pension” (10 June 2011); “How about Tax Reform, The Most Important Issue in Illinois?” (8 June 2011); “Sustainability of the Teachers’ Pension” (5 June 2011); “An Open Letter to All Teachers in Illinois” (30 May 2011); “Illinois Is Broke: an Insidious Scheme” (2 May 2011); “Pensions: An Argument Regarding Sustainability” (28 April 2011); “Should We Blame the Teachers and Other Public Employees’ Pensions for the State’s Budget Disaster?” (27 April 2011); “Blowin’ in the Wind” (24 April 2011); “The TRS Pension: ‘Nothing but the Facts’” (16 April 2011); “An Appeal to Reason: Who Is to Blame?” (12 March 2011); “Wisconsin Might Be an Omen for the Public Employees of Illinois” (11 March 2011).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Checkup

(A Symphony for a Dental Hygienist)

It’s the waiting that intimidates you:
the walls shelved with pamphlets—
root canal treatment, gum disease, X-ray safety. 
Then the office door opens like an overture for nerves,
and she alarms you with your name.
Your feet, already Novocain numb from crossing them,
press down the Indian bed of nails
beyond the receptionist's counter to the next room,

the one where you do not forget the chair:
doctor’s office vinyl
with a head-and-body tilt devised for excavation.
Of course, there are the instruments,
plastic-wrapped on the metal tray,
alongside the latex gloves and gauzy mask.

The performance begins abruptly with X-rays,
an allegro for two cardboard wings
and your gag reflex;
then your memory is jarred loose
by the Scaler, an andante of scraping and foraging
for bacon bits, orange pulp or toasted crumbs,
your mouth fixed in a capital O
while the saliva ejector hangs under your tongue,
trapped in a maelstrom of spittle.

The lamp beams down
just beneath the ceiling mobile of paper boats.
There’s nowhere else to stare except at the ceiling
and her face.
By now you know the subtle shades of her eyes
better than you know your wife’s –
the blemishes on her brow
and other indelicacies with Lilliputian scrutiny –
until she lavages your mouth with the Cavitron,
con moto moderato,
eradicating tea and blueberry stains
with a crescendo that rivals timpani.

You have made it to a finale
of flossing and electric brushing,
an allegretto of rinsing and sucking,
the metallic taste flowing from your molars
and bicuspids raked and plowed clean.

The concert concludes with the maestro’s brief visit –
the virtuoso’s checkup.
"I’ll see you in six months" resounds like applause,
and you whisk out the door, vivace!
with a new tooth brush and floss in hand
and with no encore.

“The Checkup” was originally published in Spoon River Quarterly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Don’t Ask Why

We’re going in through here, he says
with a Neil Armstrong drawl,
pointing to a wall chart
of the lower digestive tract.
…up the sigmoid and descending colon,
through the transverse, then
down the ascending colon.

Nothing contradictory about that, I think,
just four small steps.

Yes, at moments like this,
lunar dust lazes against the slopes of rocks
never before trekked; nebulas remain
unfathomed and quasars unseen.
Here, though, sandblasted by a gallon of Colyte,
that instant salt and polyethylene punch,
he will see across distant, soft linings
with a myopic pipe of flexible fibers
that beams light to elbow images
back to an eyepiece, milli-seconds away.

We’ll take some biopsies, he adds.
…probably just pseudo-polyps anyway.
And I’m turned on my left side,
sporting a hospital gown made for such occasions.
Two tubes bullwhip from my nose;
the I.V. probing my right arm
erases both sensation and memory.

My position is something prized with self-mockery:
life is a hoax, a gift marked by chance
explorations and clichés. Look,
there are black holes sucking light out there
and galaxies exploding at warp speed!
May the force be with you,
I murmur before the light goes out.

“Don't Ask Why” was originally published in Mediphors.