Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mark Pennington. I am a newly retired teacher/high school administrator of 35 years plus. Originally I was trained as a research biologist but soon realized that while my passion was science, I was drawn to teaching as opposed to test tubes. The beauty of it all: I was able to combine both into an amazing career.
I am a big fan of your public contributions and perspectives. I have listened to you engage with many people on WGN radio for many years. Your style, presentation, and insights – while I may not always agree – have always been thought provoking. I would expect nothing less from one educator to another.
Most recently, I have listened to your commentary regarding the public “pension crisis” the State of Illinois is facing with great interest. After listening to you on the Mike McConnell show this week, I am compelled to send you this letter. This is one of those times I take exception to your commentary because what you said was incomplete and, as a result of your forum, can and does have an undue influence on the general public opinion.
Let me paraphrase your comments [on May 21, 2013]:
This pension issue needs to be addressed. It is costing 18 million dollars a day... If not addressed, it will reallocate revenues intended for other critical programs that will impact a great many Illinois citizens. If there is no pension resolution, then the only solution is to raise taxes…
What concerns me is the incomplete context in which these ideas were presented. You are correct that this is a revenue problem, and it is obvious to the casual observer that the current flat-rate income tax cannot support the current fiscal needs of the state because it is regressive and penalizes those that can least afford it…
I have never heard you allude to or make the connection to the fact that it was the monies collected for the pension funds that was redirected to many of these programs that you mentioned would suffer when/if revenue is redirected. In other words, citizens of the State of Illinois have benefited by Illinois legislators robbing Peter to pay Paul to finance these programs instead of being honest regarding the deficient revenue stream and the need to upgrade the taxing system that meets the needs of 21st century citizens and demands.
Knowing that you have a growing relationship with Ty Fahner, let me remind you of some of his perspectives: “Let's recall what Ty Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and a former Attorney General of Illinois, said about reneging on contracts in his interview with Phil Ponce on WTTW (April 25): ‘This [public pension financial mess] was not created by the people entitled to the benefits... Well, if this happened in the private sector… if someone didn't pay in the money… there would be prosecutions going.’ Moreover, according to Jack Tucker, ‘At one time Ty Fahner was employed as legal counsel for TRS. He assured Trustees at that time that their pensions were constitutionally guaranteed, and they should not fret over underfunding’” (What do we think about Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s exclusion of Illinois judges from his pension reform bill?).
Where is your indignation regarding these legislative abuses and their impact on all the citizens of Illinois? Apparently, Mr. Fahner's chameleon-like qualities suit the audiences in front of him at the moment. Apparently, legislators are immune to prosecution since none has happened... Had those pension funds been used as intended, this pension crisis would not exist...
I am a “closet historian” and when I have the opportunity to read for pleasure, I read revolutionary and colonial history. I find it strange that many legislators do not honor and protect the constitutions; instead of being honest with their constituents, they are preparing for a court battle to circumvent the documents that promotes public trust and removes the judicial pension system from the impact of their pension reform. This is disturbing because a) their solutions will not solve the identified legislative problems, and they will be asking for more; b) if they can do this to any segment of Illinois citizenry, then who will be next?
Not providing the necessary historical context on this issue instigates anger and resentment for public employees. They have done nothing wrong except perhaps pay for their contractually-guaranteed earned benefits that will be diminished by current politicians.