Friday, October 5, 2012

“Once again we have a problem” with TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram

“Once again we have a problem. TRS Director, Richard Ingram, was interviewed by Crain's [October 4, 2012], and he is quoted as saying that changing the existing COLA may be the only way to save the pension systems. Last spring the TRS Board was very clear that the role of the System and of our director was to supply sound information when asked and not to be an advocate of any solution to the problem, and especially not to do so when the specific solution was unconstitutional. Reading the article and especially watching the accompanying video, I came to the conclusion that Director Ingram sees the Illinois Constitution as an inconvenience to solving the underfunding problem. Mr. Ingram has gone to where the Board of the System did not want him to go and for the second time. Our next regularly scheduled meeting is in Springfield on October 24. As a single member of the board, I cannot say what we will do, but I certainly believe that we have a problem and that we will deal with it” – Bob Lyons, TRS Trustee

According to the Teachers Retirement System, “the Executive Director serves as the Secretary of the Board and the System’s chief executive officer and is responsible for the detailed day-to-day administration of the System. The Executive Director shall perform all duties prescribed by the Illinois Pension Code or by rule, order, or resolu­tion of the Board. The Executive Director’s perfor­mance review is conducted annually.”
On April 10, the Chicago Tribune printed this statement sent by Ingram to Voice of the People: “To be clear: Neither I nor Teachers’ Retirement System is proposing any changes in member benefits, especially a reduction in the current annual cost-of-living adjustment… It is not our role at TRS to suggest a solution to this problem…”
Ingram then proceeded to say, “New revenues must be generated, and if they are not, benefits may have to be reduced… There are only a few options available and none is very pleasant to discuss – changes in the cost-of-living adjustment; in member contributions; in retirement age and in the benefit formula; as well as increased revenues through new taxes.”
For Ingram to suggest unconstitutional alternatives for solving the state’s budget problems is to focus not on the essential causes of the state’s budget deficits: its structural revenue and pension “debt” problems. It is not one of the Executive Director Ingram’s duties to make self-contradictory statements that jeopardize the TRS members’ benefits and rights guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution. It is not “prescribed by the Illinois Pension Code” that the executive director’s role is to also validate a fallacious and illegal argument “where lawmakers [the Civic Committee, and the Chicago Tribune also perpetuate] a [dishonest and illegitimate] solution.”
In April, I wrote that Ingram’s testimonies have 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 for the problem of pension funding. Ingram’s suggestion that the Cost-of-Living Adjustment is “where the cost is” reinforces an attempt by policymakers to reduce the rights and benefits for both current and retired teachers.
Ingram’s omission of “fair” solutions to address the deficits is suspect. To not discuss the numerous ways to increase necessary revenue to pay the state’s self-imposed, perpetuated debts, but to choose to rob teachers’ of their constitutionally-earned rights and benefits is wrong.
Given that Ingram has changed his “neutral” position since last fall, why isn’t Ingram talking about extortive tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy instead? How much revenue would be created single-handedly with their elimination? Why isn’t Ingram talking about 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), and why isn’t Ingram talking about an elimination of the tax loopholes for “Tax Increment Financing Districts?”
Let’s stop distorting fundamental issues and blaming the state’s budget deficits on teachers and other state workers, propagated through thoughtless comments and skewed broadcasting that flagrantly omit the obvious facts that pension costs are increasing because of a defective 1995 “ramp-up” payment to the pension systems and the accrued pension debt caused by irresponsible, incompetent and corrupt politicians; reckless union leaders, and three illogical court rulings (People ex. Rel. Illinois Federation of Teachers v. Lindberg, 1975; McNamee v. State, 1996; People ex. Rel. Sklodowski v. State, 1998).
Let’s put an end to scapegoating teachers. Teachers and other public employees are not responsible for the state’s budget deficits. To reiterate, let’s put an end to distracting the general populace from the real problems that the State of Illinois confronts: its revenue structure and pension “debt” problems. Let’s defend the constitutional and ethical promises made to teachers and focus on raising revenue without compromising the future of the state’s teachers (and their students).
I hope when the TRS Board meets on October 24th, this stupidity is put to rest by a significant decision and declaration to the members of TRS. 

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