Monday, April 2, 2012

Poisoning the Pension Well: TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram is at it again

Has the TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram successfully contaminated any future evidence regarding the pension system’s sustainability, so that we do not have to evaluate any longer or refute the Civic Federation’s and Buck Consultants’ data with other stronger evidence – statistics, for example, that do not use a risk-free rate of return to assess liabilities? Isn’t the Civic Federation the third head of the crossbreed, “Cerberus,” that guards Chicago’s plutocratic netherworld?  We already know what the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Chicago Tribune safeguard.  Just visit the Civic Committee’s website, Illinois Is Broke, or read the Chicago Tribune.

Have Ingram’s recent assertions spread like a virus and in such a way that their infectious frequency will convince most everyone by the sheer weight of their contagious reiteration rather than by the presentation of more meaningful substantiations of evidence and better solutions that are available?
Does Ingram’s suggestion that the State of Illinois will no longer pay enough money to the public pension systems lead inevitably to the undesirable expectancy that legislators will not pay what is owed in the future and that we should begin to presume a reduction of rights and benefits for both current and retired teachers is ethical and legal?  Will we allow such an expectancy to determine acquiescence?
According to Ingram, “this painful collision between what is fair and what is real is the outcome of the fact that the unfunded liability has grown to such a level that no one has been able to determine a reasonable plan or expectation to pay down this amount? If that is the case, the only other option available that would significantly change the amount owed is to reduce past service costs for active members and retirees” (Chris Wetterich, “TRS director: Retirees might have to take pension cut,” The State Journal-Register, March 31, 2012). 
Aren’t the realities of a pension’s sustainability far more complex than a black-or-white fallacious reduction? Is it possible to omit or to minimize particular testimony and “fair” solutions, especially in the case of the teachers’ retirement system?   How about looking at the numerous ways to raise necessary revenue to pay the state’s debts instead of ways to rob teachers’ of their constitutionally-earned rights and benefits? How about reforming the pension debt that legislators created?
As stated by Ingram, “the number is so bad [regarding the COLA]… that you have to start having those conversations… that if you look at the pension math, the single biggest cost is the COLA,” in other words, “…the math is not trueing up with what is constitutional or fair or earned or whatever else.”  Well, since Ingram has changed his once stated “neutral” position since last fall, how about asking Ingram to include conversations concerning tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy at his upcoming town hall meetings? How much revenue would be created singlehandedly with their eliminations?

How about having conversations regarding the creation of a graduated-rate structure that will “cut the overall state income tax burden for 94 percent of all taxpayers” (the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability), or how about conversations regarding the elimination of the tax loophole for “Tax Increment Financing Districts?” According to Greg Leroy, the executive director at a national policy resource center that promotes corporate and government accountability in Washington, DC, that eradication will “save $1.2 billion a year.” 
Yes, according to Ingram, let the suggestions and solutions for the TRS board be “new, bold and honest.” So here are two “new” suggestions for Dick Ingram: let’s put an end to scapegoating teachers and other public employees once and for all.  Public employees are not responsible for the state’s deficits.  Moreover, let’s put an end to distracting the general populace from the real problems that the State of Illinois confronts.
Ingram is correct when he says that solutions should be “honest.”  Indeed, resolutions should emphasize the preservation of the teachers’ and other public employees’ “integrity.”  Let’s defend the constitutional promises made to all of them and focus on raising revenue without compromising the future of the state’s teachers (and their students) as well as other state workers.
Lastly, here’s a “bold” suggestion for all public employees, their families and their friends: let’s unite together and make sure that any arrogant, deceitful and incompetent legislator in Illinois does not get re-elected this fall. 

-Glen Brown

For further reading: “Why Are We Still Focusing on the Wrong Issues” (March 30)
SB 512: ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ (or ‘What, Me Worry about What Ingram Said?’)” (January 23)

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