Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan Rejects the Illinois We Are One Coalition’s Summit Invitation

Michael T. Carrigan, President
AFL-CIO / We Are One Illinois
534 S. 2nd Street, Ste. 200
Springfield, IL 62701

Dear Mr. Carrigan:

I’d like to respond to your January 22, 2013 letter regarding the need to develop legislative solutions to address the underfunding of the state’s pension systems. Your interest in taking a more active role on this issue is welcome.

However, your suggestion of a meeting in Burr Ridge is not timely. A summit on this topic could have been called several years ago when we first started to grapple with this complex and controversial topic. A number of proposals have advanced since that time, but we have not been able to assemble the necessary bipartisan coalition to approve a plan that would stabilize the state systems for current and future retirees.

Your letter implies pension reforms faltered because the concerns of labor were not considered. In my view, the positions of organized labor were taken into account during the 2012 legislative session. I recall no fewer than eight high-level meetings that took place with labor, legislative leaders and the governor. At that time, I felt there was little willingness from representatives of labor to draft a comprehensive, common-sense solution.

The residents of Illinois have been asked to shoulder a higher tax burden in recent years. For several years, Illinois has had to address very serious issues, including rising pension, Medicaid and state healthcare costs, all of which have contributed to the state’s massive budget pressures. The state has reduced spending in many areas, but costs for pensions continue to increase and unions representing state employees insist that salaries be increased. Many state lawmakers understand the difficult situation before us, having voted to cut their own legislative pay the last four years.

To date, we have received no cooperation from the labor unions representing state employees on addressing these challenges. In fact, these unions often have been strongly opposed to any attempt to solve the problem. For example, AFSCME recently said it will not ratify a contract that decreases the take-home pay of its employees.

It is worth noting a recent editorial points out that of the 12 most populous states, Illinois has the fourth highest average state worker pay, including overtime, and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Illinois state workers pay significantly less for their insurance premiums than those in the private sector.

It is time for labor to come to the table with an honest proposal that recognizes the state’s serious fiscal condition and puts government employees on par with those in the private sector relative to a benefits package.

One measure introduced in the 98th General Assembly, House Bill 98 sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, includes a series of proposals that would put Illinois on a path to preserving the state’s pension systems. We must also look for fresh ideas to end the practice of state payments for non-state workers. I look forward to your thoughts on both topics.

I look forward to your announcement of support of reforms that helps the state address its budget pressures and preserves the pension systems for the employees counting on them.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
With kindest personal regards, I remain
Sincerely yours,

Speaker of the House

Response to Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's Summit Invitation Rejection

The following statement is attributable to Michael T. Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, speaking on behalf of the We Are One Illinois union coalition, in response to Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's rejection of the coalition's summit invitation:

We Are One Illinois Coalition regrets that Speaker Madigan has indicated he will not participate in the Pension Summit proposed by our union coalition. Our summit is a demonstration of good faith and commitment to seeking to solve the state’s pension funding problem in a way that is fair and constitutional.

Our coalition has already put forward a plan that addresses the intertwined problems of inadequate revenues and underfunded pensions. It would end the practice of politicians shorting actuarially-required payments to the retirement funds; ease state budget pressures by closing wasteful tax loopholes, especially for big corporations; and require active public employees to pay more toward the pensions they earn and rely on. Our plan would provide at least $2.35 billion a year to stabilize the retirement funds, while preventing cuts to retirees who worked hard and played by the rules.

The We Are One Illinois plan has the potential to be a starting point for participatory discussions around a pension-funding solution. Crucially, we believe that pension legislation supported by all parties is the only way to meet constitutional muster and avert costly and time-consuming court battles.

In downgrading Illinois credit last week, Standard and Poor’s warned that unconstitutional pension cuts “risk … legal challenges” that could take “several years” to resolve, delaying “improved funded ratios and budget relief.” Illinois doesn’t have years to waste. The We Are One Illinois coalition of unions remains ready to work constructively on this problem right now.

We have pointed out that the public employees and retirees represented by our unions are helpers and problem-solvers by trade—the teachers, the caregivers, the protectors and those who respond in emergencies. They are committed to being a part of the solution to the pension problem as well, but they can’t do it alone.

We were particularly surprised and disappointed that the Speaker singled out state employees from our coalition—which includes teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and many others—and decried their efforts to maintain decent wages and affordable health care. In terms of comparison to other states, it is true that Illinois state employees are fairly paid—just as are other public employees, and indeed unionized private sector workers in our state. Illinois is a relatively high-wage state and all of our citizens are the better for it.

Further, when comparing benefits to private-sector workers, it must be noted that nearly 80 percent of Illinois public employees—including teachers, police, fire fighters and university employees—are not eligible for Social Security. Finally, every serious, academic study has shown that public employees are paid less in wages and earn less in total compensation than comparable private-sector workers with similar jobs and educational attainment.

On the pension issue, the Speaker is correct to recall a series of discussions involving the union coalition, legislative leaders and the governor nearly one year ago. We were disappointed when those discussions were abruptly halted by the elected officials last spring and, despite our invitations throughout the ensuing months, never resumed. Our Feb. 11 Pension Summit is an opportunity to get back to work.

The people of Illinois want and deserve leaders who work together to solve problems. The public employees and retirees who serve the people need and depend on the modest pensions they earn and pay into from every check. A pension-funding solution that is constitutional, sustainable and fair requires openness and dialogue from all parties.

[My Two Questions]:
How incongruous is this letter by a politician who has callously exploited his power and resources for decades? How ironical for him to want the state's public employees to pay for debts that were the result of political and ethical corruption during his protracted tenure as Speaker of the House?

A Sample of Comments from My Petition that States: Illinois Revenue and Debt Reform, Not Pension Reform!

Michael J. Corn
Jan 30, 2013
We who are members of the state retirement systems didn't create the horrific debt facing Illinois taxpayers. It was created by our legislators and governors who continued to spend -- and to promise -- more than their income (i.e., taxes) could afford. They had the choice to cut spending or raise taxes. Over and over, they chose to keep spending and promised to find the money later. Now, it's later. And their solution is to blame someone else and steal the money from their employees' retirement funds.

Cheryl Hawker
Jan 29, 2013
I paid a much higher percentage of my salary into the pension system than those who pay into Social Security ... and now you want me to fund the amount the legislators spent on other things instead of paying their share on top of having met all my obligations over a 42-year commitment to Illinois. Are you kidding me? There is no pension problem. It is a debt problem... caused by the last few governors and legislatures, not caused by the workers!
Robert Krumwiede
Jan 29, 2013
I was born and raised in Illinois, but it is hard to have much pride in my home state with stories of government corruption and when it so blatantly disregards its obligations to its retired teachers. Please, for goodness sakes honor your promises to those who have dedicated their lives to educating you and your children. Teachers in the State of Illinois should not have to pay for the bad judgment and poor decisions made by the state leaders.

Sandra Rybka
Jan 29, 2013
We need to stand up to the corruption going on and continue to give ourselves a voice against it. Legislators are voted in to represent us and protect our rights that are written in the State Constitution. If they ignore what is written in black and white, then what will be next? The democratic principles that made this country and the documents written to preserve it are quickly becoming endangered and will soon become extinct. Many of those who have been holding office for a decade or more have been the guiding forces to this fiscal mess. Shame on them! Where is their accountability? There is none, and they continue to get into office (many times using their underhanded devices). Their solution to our sorry state of affairs is to just blame state employees and their pensions. Cut our illustrious leaders' "benefits and perks" and have them tighten their own belts. This is our retirement livelihood that they are messing with, and it must be stopped. Our rights are protected by the Constitution which is the law we must all live and abide by in order to maintain our freedom! We cannot let this fade into extinction!

Patty Gens
Jan 28, 2013
I worked for 32 years and faithfully paid into my pension. Now you want to take away what I have earned because of your mismanagement of our funds in the past. You took an oath to uphold the constitution when you took office. The constitution is in place to protect the rights of the citizens. You cannot take away those rights to correct a budget problem.

Rob Wise
Jan 28, 2013
We didn't create this fiasco, so why are we the ones paying for it? Upping the retirement age for educators doesn't seem like a fix to me. How can you change the rules of the game right in the middle of it?

Georgia Hendrix
Jan 28, 2013
This [petition] is pretty clear cut, and says it all. Fix [the revenue and debt problems] and not on the backs of public servants to whom you entrust your children's welfare and who did what they were supposed to do.

Patricia Faldani
Jan 28, 2013
Since the business community is so concerned about the state of the Illinois economy and our credit rating, businesses should be willing to close tax loopholes to increase revenue.

Karla Fillinger
Jan 28, 2013
Legislators, please act as public SERVANTS. Step up and be unique among your peers. Do what is right. Educators are diligent working people who aren't asking for a hand out. Our pension dollars have been taken from our checks without any choice. We trusted our state government would uphold their responsibilities to manage and distribute these funds in OUR best interests, not borrow and rob our pension fund and then ask us to repay the deficit created by the government.

Peggy Brechon
Jan 28, 2013
I worked 37 years with the physically & mentally disabled to get my pension. That was the agreement, and I did what was agreed upon. Illinois Legislators need to step up and remember what a legal contract is.

Elizabeth Ebben
Jan 27, 2013
As a state employee for 38 years, I believe that the state legislators STOLE from our retirement system, never repaying back what they stole! This is criminal, and to blame the employees in any way is cowardly and unforgivable. Someone should have gone to jail!

Brian Waak
Jan 27, 2013
Maybe if you hadn't been giving all those tax breaks to giant corporations that just turn around and leave the state anyway (like Sears), you wouldn't HAVE this revenue problem. Tax breaks for TEACHERS, not corporations! If they want to leave the state, then LET THEM LEAVE. We'll build society without 'em.

Stephen Herald
Jan 26, 2013
I am so disillusioned that the Democratic Party, which traditionally has been the protector of the underprivileged, has now taken the lead in trying to deprive state workers of their earned benefits in order to cover the legislature's past failures and malfeasance. Have they no shame?

Colleen Henson
Jan 25, 2013
If you're lucky enough to hold a governmental position in the state of Illinois, thank your teachers. If you want to see those same teachers lose their homes, go hungry, and suffer the burdens of growing old with no means to pay for medical care, continue this ridiculous pursuit to reform the pension. If this system is reformed, you'll soon see the fruits of your success with an additional burden to the welfare system. This is the true definition of "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul."

Toy R. Glynn
Jan 25, 2013
The legislature has made a constitutional commitment to its retired employees without having the courage to fund those retirements. It is time that you stand up and accept responsibility for your careless borrowing and spending habits. It is not time to make state employees and retirees pay for your lack of foresight.

Nancy j Paus
Jan 25, 2013
Please correct the problem that IL legislatures have created by underfunding and through misuse... This is NOT a pension problem to be paid for by the teachers, it is a state mismanagement problem… If my pension fails me, I will become homeless.

Maren Harrison-Gaffney
Jan 24, 2013
I fail to understand how an earned benefit that all participants have paid into for years is now subject to negotiation.

Marcie Rogers
Jan 24, 2013
How would you feel if someone were trying to freeze your salary for 6 years?

Joyce Ackerman
Jan 24, 2013
My husband died 4-29-12. I got a one-time check for $250. Social Security death benefit and will receive no other benefit (no monthly Social Security death benefit) because I am a retired Illinois teacher. The company he worked for went bankrupt so I only receive $90 a month from that. Please do not take away from my Illinois teacher retirement. I feel like I am being punished for being a retired Illinois teacher.

Kim R. Kraft Toole
Jan 24, 2013
My husband and I taught our community's teen-agers for 35 years. We not only accepted many years of miniscule or non-existent raises, but we spent our own money every year on classroom supplies and volunteered hours and hours of our time for no pay. We taught in a rural district that couldn't afford to pay us even the average state teaching salary, so we and our own children sacrificed for the school. We were confident we would at least receive a moderate pension (since it is based on our low income) that would provide us a decent retirement as long as we lived frugally. With the proposed cuts, we are facing a retirement of financial worries and stress. Plus, since both of us are teachers, we are not eligible for Medicare or Social Security benefits.

Suzanne Ditsler
Jan 24, 2013
When people take money that is not theirs or default on their promise, they cannot make it right by stealing money from the victims. We both signed the agreement. We paid our share. You defaulted on yours. Own up!

Melanie Muench-Day
Jan 23, 2013
You spent our retirement money and you need to give it back - you pillaged our funds. What you want to do is wrong.

Richard Palzer
Jan 23, 2013
Increase revenue and re-amortize the "ramp" debt repayment schedule rather than focus on benefit reduction which, in addition to targeting the wrong people, will not solve the problem. You are asking people whose funds have already been raided to bear the cost of others' irresponsibility.

Virginia Ray
Jan 23, 2013
Murderers and other criminals are granted their legal rights. Why not teachers and other public employees?

Karen L. Wallerstein
Jan 23, 2013
I am 70-years old. My pension is the only income I have which barely covers my expenses now. Teachers in Illinois DO NOT GET SOCIAL SECURITY! If you cut our pensions, many retired people like me will have to go on Welfare, and the State will just trade one expense for another…

Sue Konieczny
Jan 23, 2013
When I retired, I did so with the understanding that my benefits would be accessible to me throughout my retirement. I worked hard in a low-paying, downstate district and paid my share to my retirement plan during my career. I had to work longer due to changes in retirement. Please do not alter the state law regarding the cost-of-living adjustment and the pensions.
Barbara Schmidt
Jan 23, 2013
As someone else has stated, "It was the state that failed the teachers and, in essence, failed all the people of Illinois." There is a debt problem in Illinois, but it has not been caused by teachers. They have NEVER FAILED to make a payment into the pension system. On the other hand, the state has continually borrowed from pensions funds to pay for other items on their agenda for many years.

Douglas Wood
Jan 23, 2013
…You are attacking the rest of the Teachers and State Workers in the State because you have failed in your job to protect the rights of workers and their pensions.
Joan Heintzman
Jan 22, 2013
I think Illinois legislators should use their retirement fund to pay back what they borrowed from TRS and then figure a way to pay themselves back…
Craig Callaghan
Jan 22, 2013
Before we talk reform, let’s talk about paying back what was borrowed with at least 9.4% interest we would have received.

Cathleen Bylina
Jan 22, 2013
Perhaps criminal charges should be brought against those legislators who knowingly abdicated their constitutional responsibility by voting for pension holidays in order to enhance their electability.

Mary Flohr
Jan 22, 2013
We signed a contract and paid our share. How can you do this to downstate teachers who had terrible salaries throughout their careers? Leave our pensions alone and keep the state's part of the bargain!

Kate Sumnler
Jan 22, 2013
I have been teaching for 36 years and know money was taken out of my check for retirement. I also have Leukemia and am counting on my pension and medical insurance that was promised to me and that I have paid for. The government spent OUR (and MY) retirement money. Seems to me, they better take out a loan and pay us back! Our Union told us to vote for you--we did and look what you did to us? I have never been so disgusted in all my life. This makes me sicker than my Leukemia! Reform yourselves!

Susan Hill
Jan 22, 2013
I firmly believe that legislators, of all people, must obey the law. They know full well that earned benefits must be paid to state workers and that the benefits earned under the pension system may not be diminished, including the COLA. It is underhanded and self-serving for any legislator and/or elected official to attempt something illegal because it appears to be acceptable to some taxpayers (no thanks to the media or officials who project a much skewed, inaccurate rationale for what they want to do).

Benita E. Kyros
Jan 22, 2013
Please do not challenge my pension as I do not receive my deceased husband’s social security!

Doug Whitesell
Jan 22, 2013
Putting the fiscal burden for irresponsible criminal use of my pension money that caused this mess is equivalent to punishing the victim of a crime for the crime itself. Stop this insanity.

Carol A. Marasovich
Jan 22, 2013
Big business needs to start paying its fair share of taxes to the State of Illinois instead of trying to rob the state's public employees of their constitutionally-guaranteed pensions.

Eunice Becker
Jan 22, 2013
I am a widow and will never receive Social Security. My pension is my only livelihood, so please protect it.
Ronald Heiman
Jan 21, 2013
I have taught for the past 45 years and have never missed paying into the system in order to secure a retirement pension as promised and guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution. I have planned my retirement based on the benefits that are protected by the Illinois Constitution.

Chris Kennedy
Jan 21, 2013
My thoughts move directly to a quotation by Thomas Jefferson which seems appropriate here: “Where the people fear their government, there is tyranny. Where the government fears the people, there is liberty." People fear what our government may come up with to punish citizens for the government's failure to act in a moral and fair manner, especially in reference to payments due to our pension budget. We have met our side of the contract now meet yours. It may take a law degree to figure out clever ways to do the wrong thing, but it just takes a handshake to do what is right. I'll take the handshake any day.

Roberta Rebb
Jan 21, 2013
Work for a viable solution: Re-amortize the debt for a longer time. Start representing the people of this state rather than the interests of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Jack Tucker
Jan 21, 2013
The only solution that hasn't been tried is funding it. Vilifying public employees hasn't worked, trying to convince the public that our average benefits are excessive hasn't worked, and trying to convince the public that Illinois is vastly different from the other 14 non-Social Security states hasn't worked either. Let's try something that will work. Fourteen other states have done it.

Leonard Lindgren
Jan 21, 2013
Legislators have been given a list of options for raising revenue that will bring in billions of revenue a year! Why is their only option to cut, cut, and cut those who did nothing but thought the state would honor the constitution's guarantees? Where are the honorable legislators with a moral commitment?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

These excerpts from J.S. Mill’s On Liberty confirm his insight and prescience regarding “The struggle between Liberty and Authority… and silencing the expression of an opinion...” They are, indeed, relevant. They were my notes for a lecture and discussion in both Humanities classes at BU this morning.

“...There needs [to be] protection against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them (4-5).

“...Men’s [and women’s] opinions… are affected by all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in regard to the conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those which determine their wishes on any other subject. Sometimes their reason—at other times their prejudices or superstitions: often their social affections, seldom their antisocial ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or contemptuousness: but most commonly, their desires or fears for themselves—their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest (6).

“...If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind (16).

“...But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error (16).

“...Those who desire to suppress [opinion], of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility (17).

“...It is the duty of governments, and of individuals, to form the truest opinions they can; to form them carefully, and never impose them upon others… There is no such thing as absolute certainty… There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield fact and argument (18).

“...There is no security in the state of the public mind… (30) He who knows only his [or her] own side of the case knows little of that… (36) They have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them and consider what such persons may have to say (36-7).

“...No one’s opinions deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as he has either had forced upon him by others, or gone through of himself, the same mental process which would have been required of him in carrying on an active controversy with opponents (45).

“...There is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth by being exaggerated into falsehood (52).

“...The gravest of [offenses] is to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion…" (53).

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1947.