Sunday, May 31, 2015

What could it be like for an active teacher in Illinois if Rauner was able to enact the policies of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker?

Dear fellow retirees,

A member of the Executive Board of the West Lake Shore Unit-IRTA has a sister who teaches in Wisconsin. Here is her tale of woe (from Al Popowits).

Hi Tom,

I knew you would understand what we're going through since Act 10 five years ago. [Act 10 is the collective bargaining reform law that curtailed the powers of public employee unions, reduced the take-home pay of most public workers, and caused months of protests in Madison].  We have no collective bargaining and have received about 1.3% raise each year with no "steps" to reflect experience.  Six unpaid days were added to our school year four years ago, and there's nothing we can do about it. 

We tried to fight it by protesting at the capitol building and in the courts.  The WI Supreme Court was appointed by Walker, so it was determined that there is nothing in the WI Constitution that states you can't discriminate against certain groups of public employees.  The state police, sheriffs, and firefighters are not bound by Act 10. They are the three groups who supported Walker's first campaign. Walker is now talking about going after our pensions and turning all of them into 401(k) plans after removing millions of dollars in interest.  He claims that money belongs to the taxpayers and not the teachers.

Walker has removed the Secretary of State, the Head of Department of Natural Resources, and Head of the Treasury. Walker is now in charge of all decisions made in all of those departments.  It's a dictatorship here and, as you said, it's particularly disturbing that this precedent is even being considered as a model for other states.

We were cut to $75 per student from the state when Walker first took office and, with his reelection, he has cut public schools to $0 per student while giving $1500 per student to private charter and voucher schools.  I have all the requirements to be certified as a reading specialist, but they will only give me the license if I don't work for a public school.  

Whenever a teacher leaves, he/she is not replaced.  I am averaging 70-hour work weeks this year, and Bob and I had a long discussion about whether I should sign my contract for another year.  However, it's five more years until I can retire, and though our health insurance costs have risen it's still one of the better plans out there.

We have a 190-day contract (including six unpaid days), and we work until the end of the 2nd week of June every year.  Special education teachers start August 17th this year, again with no pay until August 24th.  I know it's crazy to keep working this hard, but we live out in the middle of nowhere for Bob's job and we don't want to lose it.

I do love my kids. I teach 4K through 5th, but administration has promised to make it 4K through 4th next year.  If it wasn't for loving my kids, I think I would have left teaching a long time ago.  It's difficult to keep working so hard and being treated so poorly and with disrespect.  The latest projection in WI is that only 5% of graduating high school seniors are choosing teaching as a career.

I am hoping the Democratic legislature in Illinois will block all Republican plans to emulate WI.  

Thanks for listening to all that!  I am very much looking forward to summer break, but we have been assigned a book to read over the summer as a book study. That would be funny if it wasn't true!

Hope everyone in your family is doing well.  I know we are ALL looking forward to summer!

Take good care,

Friday, May 29, 2015

A reflection on the IEA leadership at the Representative Assembly that still bothers me six weeks later

What kind of union is the IEA or how to keep members from talking about significant issues:

Case in point: A New Business Item was presented at the IEA Representative Assembly last April.

It was called New Business Item #3:

Text of Motion: “The IEA-RA directs the IEA-RA Planning Committee to no longer have an invocation that is led by a religious figure who mentions religion or a religious deity.”

Rationale: “The IEA is a non-religious union who should not expect its members to ask any religious deity (i.e. ‘Holy Father’) for guidance. Members of this union are not just Christian, but of other religions as well.” (Submitted by Justine Rovin and seconded by Louis Passau).

Budget Committee Comments: No financial impact.

The “invocation” discussion was allowed more time (at least several minutes) on the floor than any other issue. The New Business Item did not pass. Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution was never cited.

What the IEA never talked about at the Representative Assembly were strategies for after the Supreme Court ruling -- no plan on how to proceed in protecting our pensions again and battling the privatization of public schools; no discussion about pushing the issue of a progressive income tax again or preventing the possibility of the state transferring the normal costs (to pensions) to school districts; no strategies were debated for dealing with a despotic governor and his right-to-work agenda and vehement attacks on unions; no thoughts about promoting a progressive candidate early on for governor in the next election to avoid supporting another ALEC candidate and a politician who signed the so-called pension reform bill; no tactics were discussed for engaging the many liars and thieves of the Illinois General Assembly, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, the Illinois Policy Institute, and the media...

"Unions, organizations formerly steeped in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with those who sought broad social and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into domesticated partners of the capitalist class. They have been reduced to simple bartering tools. The social demands of unions early in the twentieth century that gave the working class weekends off, the right to strike, the eight-hour day, and Social Security have been abandoned” (Chris Hedges).

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Is it a spending or revenue problem in Illinois? by Bill Barclay

(1)   If the State of Illinois was collecting a higher share of residents’ personal income and therefore spending more of its citizens’ money than other states, this would constitute a spending problem.  But, the reality is Illinois is low tax, low spending state when compared to surrounding states.  Nationally, Illinois ranks 19th in taxes (income, sales, property and miscellaneous taxes) to income comparisons. Minnesota (an important comparison to come back to), Indiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky all have a higher tax to income percentage and Michigan and Iowa are only slightly below Illinois. The State of Illinois is not “over-taxing” its residents.

(2)   However, many Illinois families are taxed too highly.  Illinois taxes are among the 10 most regressive in the country, taking a higher percentage of income from the bottom half of households compared to the percentage collected from the top 1% or 5%.   The bottom three income quantiles in Illinois all pay 10% or more of their household income in state income, sales and property taxes.  In contrast, the top 1% of households pays less than 5%, and the next 4% pay only 7.5% of their household income in these three taxes.

(3)   "Most of spending by the State of Illinois is on wages and salaries for public employees.  Maybe Illinois has too many such employees or pays them too much and that is the source of our budget problem." This is not true! Illinois ranks among the bottom 10% of all states in terms of public employees/capita.  While the average salary paid to public employees in the state is higher than in the private sector, this comparison forgets to take into account the level of education.  When educational level is factored in, Illinois public sector workers are paid more than 10% less than their private sector counterparts.  This pay discrepancy should be of concern since it makes it difficult to attract the top talent in a time when budgets are tight and needs are large.  

(4)   Overall, the State of Illinois does not have a spending problem, but the state does have a serious distribution and tax burden problem.  This can be highlighted by one simple comparison: if Illinois households in the top 1% of income receivers paid taxes – sales, property and state income – at the same rate as households in the middle quantile, the state would have over $5 billion more in revenue.  This would be enough to make the required pension payments and still have about $2 billion more to use for other purposes.  If the top 5% of Illinois households paid the same share rate as the middle quantile, there would be an additional $7.2 billion in revenueNote that this is not a progressive tax. It is simply the same overall flat rate.

If Illinois does not have a spending problem but it has a revenue problem, what are some possible choices?

While perhaps the State of Illinois is late to the game in thinking about this we do, as a result, have the advantage of assessing the choices made by other Midwestern states in dealing with budget, employment, and economic growth problems.  The best comparison is to consider the different policy choices and outcomes by Wisconsin and Minnesota over the past few years.  

The Wisconsin story:  Under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker, WI took several steps in response to the ravages of the Great Recession, which at the worst point left WI with a $3.6 billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 9.2%.  Specifically:
(1)   WI reduced spending on education.
(2)   WI shifted costs of health care and pensions to state employees.
(3)   WI reduced taxes on high income households in an attempt to stimulate investment and job creation.
(4)   WI became a “right to work” state in the belief that this would attract investment and increase job growth.
(5)   WI rejected the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.
(6)   Governor Walker spent much time and political capital attacking unions, especially public sector unions.  While he survived a recall campaign, the state is now politically polarized.  

The Minnesota story: Under the leadership of Governor Mark Dayton, MN also took a series of steps in response to the ravages of the Great Recession, which at the worst point left MN with a $2.6 billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 8.3%. Specifically: 
(1)   MN increased state spending for education, especially at the post-high school level.
(2)   MN increased state spending on job training.
(3)   MN increased the tax rates for higher income households (for households receiving over $250,000/year, MN now has the 4th highest income tax rate of any state).
(4)   MN increased the corporate income tax rate.
(5)   MN took the Medicaid expansion offered under Affordable Care Act.
(6)   MN increased the state minimum wage to $9.00 (8/1/15) and then $9.50 (8/1/16) for businesses with $500,000 or more in annual sales and indexed it to inflation beginning in 2018.
(7)   Governor Dayton worked with both public and private sector unions.

What were the outcomes to these two very different approaches in making a state “great and compassionate?” 

(1)   Although WI’s labor force was a bit larger than MN’s (reflecting a larger population), MN has created more jobs over the past four plus years than WI.
(2)   WI still has a budget deficit. MN has a budget surplus of $1.2 billion.
(3)   WI's unemployment rate in March was 4.6% vs MN's 3.7%.
(4)   MN’s rate fell from by 41% while WI’s increased – and it is costing WI $150 million more to cover fewer people through “Badger Care.”
(5)   Manufacturing wages in MN are now $600/month higher than in WI.
(6)   WI's personal income growth since the official end of the Great Recession has lagged behind that of the US as a whole (ranking 44th in the country), while MN's personal income growth has been faster than the US as a whole.
(7)   WI’s state GDP has grown by less than 2%/yr. in each of the past four years. While MN’s state GDP has grown by over 2%/yr. and in 2010 by almost 4%.

In short, comparing WI and MN shows IL what to do – and what not to do.

Actions the State of Illinois should take:
(1)   Invest in education, especially education beyond high school.
(2)   Invest in job training.
(3)   Expand access to health care for the remaining Illinois residents who do not have adequate access.
(4)   Increase the state minimum wage to at least the $10 level and index to inflation.
(5)   Address the regressive nature of the tax burden in IL:  
a.       In the long run, this is most efficiently done through an amendment to the IL constitution removing the flat income tax requirement.  This would enable the state income tax to be reset in a progressive fashion, countering the regressive impact of the sales tax.
b.      In the short run, the state should increase the flat rate tax while (i) providing credits against the sales tax on a progressive basis and/or (ii) imposing a surcharge on households with incomes over a specified level, perhaps $250,000 -- an income that  puts an Illinois household in the top 5%.  There is political support for this as evidenced in the Nov 2014 referendum vote on a 3% surcharge for households with incomes over $1 million. This was supported by 64% of Illinois voters. (iii) End the EDGE program where the employer pays no state income tax and instead actually gets the money paid to the state by their employees.
(6)   Give serious consideration to a small tax on the trading of financial assets on the Chicago markets.

Actions the State of Illinois should not take:

(1)   Don’t waste time and effort fighting public (or private) sector associations.
(2)   Don’t pass out more tax breaks to businesses – especially those without any claw back provisions.

As Einstein is supposed to have said: continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.  

--Bill Barclay

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Just How Dictatorial Is Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner?

“…Rauner has said that if we don’t agree to his terms, he’ll force a strike and shut down state government until we do. Those kind of threats don’t serve the bargaining process or the citizens of our state well. The services we provide are essential to Illinois citizens. And there’s no way that ‘replacement workers’ could perform the complex and challenging jobs that we do. That’s why our union is doing everything possible to reach a fair settlement at the bargaining table…” (AFSCME). 

What does Rauner want to do to state workers?

  • No wage increases.
  • Freeze all step increases.
  • Eliminate longevity pay (including for all those currently receiving it).
  • Eliminate almost all semiautomatic promotions.
  • Eliminate maximum security pay.
  • Reduce callback pay and standby pay.
  • Restructure the group health plan to drastically shift costs to employees—with employees paying 40% of the premium cost PLUS 40% of the cost of medical care, paid through much higher copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. Employees’ costs would increase by thousands of dollars.
  • Increase dental premiums by more than 100%.
  • Increase retiree health insurance costs.
  • Increase “outofpocket” maximums, likely to the highest allowable under federal law.
  • Require all employees hired before July 1, 2011 to “voluntarily” agree to reduce their pension benefits to the Tier 2 level.
  • Eliminate the Upward Mobility Program in its entirety, as well as all other forms of tuition reimbursement, continuing education, and licensure reimbursement.
  • Calculate overtime pay based on over 40 hours worked in a full week (and excludes benefit time).
  • Reduce amount of holidays and vacation time.
  • “Management Rights” clause would not be limited by the terms of the Union contract.
  • Allow Management to suspend the contract if it determines an “emergency” exists.
  • Redefine grievances to refer only to violations of the “express provisions” of the contract.
  • Refuse to allow union dues, PEOPLE contributions, or Fair Share fees to be deducted from employees’ paychecks.
  • Delete all language that restricts subcontracting or personal service contracts—allowing Management to privatize any state services‐‐replacing bargaining unit employees with vendor employees‐‐at any time without any notice, justification or review.
  • Void the Memorandum of Understanding that places limits on mandatory overtime, allowing Management to mandate overtime without any restrictions.
  • Eliminate most seniority rights during the layoff process including eliminating all bumping rights. • Require employees to use their own time for grievance meetings.
  • Require Union stewards to use their own time to represent employees.
  • Completely eliminate requirement to bargain about changes in working conditions.