Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Cheap Trick Editorial from the Chicago Tribune by Richard Palzer



"Want to talk about cheap tricks?" you ask in Tuesday's editorial, "August 17," (July 31). Yes, I certainly do, and I have candidates in addition to your examples of Illinois' pension systems being the nation's worst-funded. Let's start with the causes: the raiding of the retirement systems' funds over decades by legislators and other public officials, who diverted those funds for other uses, decided to underfund required contributions and, at times, even didn't contribute at all by taking so-called "pension holidays" – all of which led to the subsequent borrowing at higher interest rates to compensate for those inadequate and missed payments.


The victims of these cheap tricks, of course? The average employees and retirees relying on their promised benefits. At this point, let's make special mention of those who used their clout and position, unethically if not illegally, to game the system by writing and manipulating rules to enhance their own retirement. (Look no further than your own "Watchdog" series and most recently, Monday night's WGN – Tribune-owned – "Pension Games" expose, both of which point fingers and name names.)


Your readers and those who viewed the program – indeed, anyone paying attention – must be outraged at the mismanagement, the irresponsibility, and the self-serving machinations that have caused this financial crisis.


Want to talk outrage? How about those same rank-and-file employees and retirees who had their retirement funds stolen and, yet, are now being targeted as the ones to close the funding gap by having their benefits reduced? That double-theft should certainly meet your definition of cheap trick as well. I find it outrageous that the "solutions" being proposed by the politicians – and sadly, not just supported but heartily endorsed by the Tribune – center on diminishing benefits of the victims.



Once again, you urge the Governor and the lawmakers not to "leave Springfield until you've fixed pensions." But what does such "fixing" entail? Higher employee contributions, COLA reductions – whatever politicians can agree to that will extract from people's benefits? And these after your own investigative reports have exposed the real culprits?


More outrage – despite documented information arguing that Illinois has a revenue problem, that it's not the cost of benefits that is fueling the debt crisis. No mention is made that these alternatives to solving the problem even exist, let alone are recommended and may well be preferred. Only a glancing reference in reporter Mark Suppelsa's "Pension Games" to the infamous back-loaded repayment schedule – the so-called "ramp"—suggests that there is a focus besides benefit reduction.


Analyses, conclusions, and recommendations from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability's Executive Director Ralph Martire and the Center on Budget and Policy's Iris J. Lav and Elizabeth McNichol detail tax structure changes that they maintain can put us on a path to solvency. If, indeed, such views have been considered – even dismissed – it's outrageous that in all of your coverage, your readers have been steered to benefit reduction as the only solution available. That's not accurate; that's not balanced. And not even making your readers aware that alternative solutions have been presented also qualifies as a cheap trick.


 –Richard Palzer


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