Monday, July 7, 2014

“Let’s fix our money problems without demonizing and punishing public sector citizens/retirees” –Jane Artabasy

The following is a response by Jane Artabasy to Sunday’s Sun-Times editorial suggesting that it may be time to amend the IL Constitution to enable the gutting of public employee pensions: Chicago Sun-Times:  Time for pension reform 2.0.


Dear Editors:

As a retired teacher, I resent the relentless and often cavalier attacks on my pension and its relationship with state government. The implications of your Sunday editorial re public sector pensions represent a classic example of the age-old definition of insanity:  continuing to do/say the same thing and expecting a different result.  

Yes, the Illinois Supreme Court reiterated what has been crystal-clear all along.  Our teacher/public worker health benefits are a contractual obligation, freely entered into by all parties, enforceable by Constitutional law, and supported by the time-honored American values of ethics and fairness.  

The Court made clear that our Constitution still functions as a guide to civic behavior; that it is not merely an irksome obstruction around which to craft clever legislative end runs.  Perhaps this ruling suggests a template for the broader pension decision yet to come. To be fair to the process of jurisprudence, such speculation is probably premature.   

However, regardless of subsequent legal outcomes, it appears that you will continue to insist that clear language and contracts interfere with the public good, that any possible path to reducing our benefits is not only admirable but in the civic interest.  Yet you conveniently forget that, like everyone else, we government workers/retirees are taxpayers and consumers of Illinois’ public and private goods and services.  We are not a “problem,” or some troublesome, greedy subset of state citizenry.

Throughout the months-long pension debate in Springfield, corporate media has stubbornly beaten the drum for the false-on-its-face idea that our pension benefits are too generous.  If people accept that red herring—that somehow we’ve gamed the system, far beyond our rights or needs—it seems logical, even necessary, to justify ignoring, nullifying, or amending the clear language of our most important public document.   

In following your false premise to its (necessarily) illogical conclusions, your editorial staff has failed to struggle with the larger, more germane issue:  Illinois has an antiquated and unsustainable tax structure.  Revenues are only remotely correlated with the demand for public services.  Corporations and wealthy individuals are offended by the idea that they should pay more because they have more.  

When they kick and scream, like petulant two-year-olds, at the mere mention of a measured discussion of tax policy, our spineless and beholden politicians inevitably fold.  We simply must have a public debate, free of rancor and finger-pointing, about achieving a realistic relationship between revenue and public works.

Of course, the flat income tax is also mandated by our Constitution.  If we feel “civic-minded" about debating the Constitution’s pension protections, might we also have that discussion?  It’s time for ethics, fairness, and justice to take the floor in Springfield.  For decades, we Illinois citizens have enjoyed cut-rate public services at least partially subsidized by the willful, cynical stiffing of pension funds.  Let’s fix our money problems without demonizing and punishing public sector citizens/retirees who have done their part, through many decades of teaching and protecting their neighbors, to make Illinois strong.

Jane Artabasy


  1. What if public school teachers united in protest against the attacks on their rights and benefits? What if they stopped teaching in the public school classrooms across Illinois? Imagine if firemen were unethical, like the liars and thieves in the Illinois General Assembly and the editorial staffs of some of the media, and they stopped extinguishing fires in their towns and cities? Imagine what would happen if policemen stopped protecting peoples’ homes and their communities, and hundreds of thousands of public employees stopped working for the municipal and state governments?

    Perhaps politicians, their plutocratic patrons, and the citizens of Illinois would then recognize the value and service public employees of Illinois provide. Perhaps the citizens of Illinois would also realize public employees’ retirement plans are worth protecting and preserving just like the lives these public employees have been safeguarding, supporting or assisting all along.

  2. More and more I am hearing this proposal - teachers should stage a walkout across the state. Just think what would happen - teaching disrupted, sporting events canceled, emergency child care needed. Yep, that's the ticket. Oh, and do it on a day when there is PARCC or ACT testing.

    There will be such a gnashing of teeth and rending of hair by parents, administrators and politicians about those greedy teachers and their nasty unions. Maybe then people will recognize our value. Maybe then they'll understand why the language in the Constitution is there to protect our pensions.

    Who am I fooling? I think the line has been drawn and we need to step over it.

  3. But here's the problem: 'It’s time for ethics, fairness, and justice." Of course. But ethics, fairness, and justice have **no** place in discussions of Illinois politics, and most importantly, have not for 100 years. Illinois politicians observably follow no principles other than "what's in it for me," (including re-election). They constitute a vicious, amoral sub-culture that, judging by their actions, considers calls for ethics and fairness to be childishly naive, to be brushed aside as quickly as possible. A constitutional amendment would have virtually no chance of passing, because it would simply be giving away pensions millions of us are legally and morally entitled to. For what it's worth, I believe this **entire** brouhaha is nothing more than Michael Madigan's puppet show to enable him to go before the voters and say, "Sorry, the Supreme Court has forced our hand, we have no choice but to raise taxes." That way he and the other liars and thieves in the Illinois Legislature get what they want -- the public to make up for their theft of pension funds -- while minimizing the impact on what they care about above all else: re-election.

    1. Indeed, we are tired of members of the Illinois General Assembly who lack ethical responsibility and moral courage and are willing to challenge the State and U.S. Constitutions. These so-called senators and representatives are ordinary liars and thieves!

      We are also tired of incompetent, skewed coverage regarding pension reform: the media’s omission of the most significant facts about the creation of public pension debt.

      We are tired of editorials that blame public employees for the state's budget deficits; cuts to services; and the siphoning of the state’s money from education, public safety and human services.

      Every article, every interview, and every legislative session about Illinois public pension reform should begin with the following statements: The public pension systems were not and are still not the causes of the state’s budget deficits. The state’s budget deficits were triggered by past policymakers’ corruption, arrogance and irresponsibility and are perpetuated by some members of the current 98th General Assembly. The state's pension debt and revenue problems need to be resolved! Breaking a constitutionally-guaranteed contract (or so-called "pension reform") is the wrong solution! It is morally and legally unwarranted.