Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Dear Friend, Roberta Rebb (May 1, 1951 - December 20, 2015)

Roberta Rebb became my friend in 2011. She wrote dozens of encouraging and inspirational letters not only to me but to many others as well. Even when she became ill, she continued to fight against pension theft and other injustices. I am sharing two of her letters. She was a beautiful and remarkable woman.

Dear Sen. Syverson:

I want to thank you for your attempt to explain Illinois' pension difficulties.  From what I am reading, however, it appears that part of the problem was caused by teachers receiving cost of living increases and being paid too much before they retired.  Actually, as I see it, had the state properly paid its share of pension payments over the last 50 years, we'd have no difficulties at all given the rate of market return that boomed in the 1990s.

In 1995, I was forced to incur an over $15,000 debt to pay more money into the pension system to cover the state's indebtedness, and that, I was told, was going to "fix" the system and enable me to collect my pension benefits.  That was 2.2 percent more of my pay being taken away when I was only receiving a 1 percent pay increase from my school district.  

By working extra jobs and longer hours, I never failed to meet my responsibilities and make my payments into the system.  It took me five years to completely pay this debt off.  Additionally, I was assessed a payroll deduction to fund insurance for retired teachers in TRIP and was never asked whether I wanted to do that either.  The money was just withdrawn from my paycheck each pay period once again to cover the indebtedness of the State of Illinois.

I'm certainly no fan of Mike Madigan or Rod Blagojevich but, if memory serves me, I believe it was Jim Thompson, a Republican governor who repeatedly took "pension holidays" and reallocated pension funds for other uses. George Ryan, another Republican governor also provided only a little over 60 percent of the payment to the fund. 

What I see is a problem created by greedy legislators and incompetent governors--a good number of which occupy federal prisons today rather than a problem caused by teachers.  It's easy to point fingers and fix blame on others--a good way to cleanse the conscience of guilt--but it does nothing to solve the real problem.

That very real problem is obviously the ability of Illinois to generate revenue to meet its expenses.  This problem results from giving huge tax breaks to CME stockbrokers who find it inconvenient to pay sales taxes like the rest of us,  or to Sears, UAL, The Museum of Public Broadcasting, and others, particularly when Illinois taxpayers  have received NOTHING of value in return for the benefits provided these corporations. Since December, 2011, more than $160 million have been given out in tax breaks. When was the last time teachers took trillions in taxpayer-funded bailouts, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and then paid no taxes?

When millions of dollars are so freely given away without thought to the current budget deficit Illinois faces, surely there must be some recognition for the consequences.   There is a very real need to redefine and restructure the current income tax so that it is a PROGRESSIVE one that allows ALL citizens in Illinois to pay their appropriate share of taxes into the system rather than allowing that burden to rest solely on the middle class. Yet, I see no mention or discussion either by the Governor, the legislature or you about the need to generate revenue to cover expenditures. That's a basic accounting principle.

It's always easy to tromp on the rights of those who cannot defend themselves like the elderly, children, and the poor and take away the assistance a civilized society provides for those in need--they don't make big political donations, so who cares. It's quite another thing to create a new genre of disadvantaged by depriving those who've faithfully paid for their benefits and relied on the promise given by the State of Illinois to provide those benefits to them once they retire. I believe what we have here is the offer of benefits for the offer of payment which is a benefit for a detriment and in any legal book that creates a contract. That's what the teachers have with the State, a contract and a constitutional guarantee that these benefits are sacrosanct.

I respectfully suggest then, Senator, that you begin to fulfill your oath of office to defend the constitution and protect the citizens of Illinois, in this case the teachers, and create a REAL solution to the unfunded liability and the state's breach of contract.  A real solution that goes beyond ridiculous party loyalties and ego-maniacal maneuvering.  A real solution that doesn't involve another tax.  Work to enact legislation that provides for the restructuring of Illinois' income tax to be a progressive, revenue generating instrument instead of using pension money to subsidize the corporations and the wealthy. Thank you for your consideration.


Roberta L. Rebb, M.Ed.
June 21, 2012

Dear G. Brown, J. Dillon, F. Klonsky, J. Lindgren, T. Mertz, J. Laesch, R. Sanders…

I'm sure you've being wondering why I've been so silent for the past two weeks.  Unfortunately, I've been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia attributed to environmental hazards and have been admitted to Rush University Hospital where I am undergoing a very aggressive form of treatment in the hopes of putting this in remission.  I have been passing information on from my bed but have no idea when I will be leaving here.

I want you all to know how much I admire this important fight we're carrying on and the courage you've shown in moving our issues to the forefront.  The energy and innovation you've invested have kept our benefits safe so far and made us a stronger network.  I hope you will continue to fight on my behalf as I fight this terrible disease.  Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I hold you all to my heart.

April 15, 2013


  1. One of my favorite notes from Roberta:
    Re: Klonsky and Brown v. Haisman


    Play nice, please, fight nice please. Let's respect differences but continue our fight for pension benefits. You are all my heroes for your tireless, relentless effort of advocacy on our behalf. I am so grateful for all of energy, knowledge, and experience, and feel blessed to know you and be able to do what little I can these days to lobby in support.

    Your fan,
    June 18, 2013

  2. Thank you for doing this, Glen. Roberta was always such a quiet voice of reason and sensibility in her approach to pension injustices, students' educational needs, political reivers, and her own battle with a terrible illness. We will all of us miss her.

    John D.

  3. I am so sorry to hear that she lost her fight with leukemia. Such a wonderful woman. In her honor, I will NEVER cease my fight for what is right in Illinois despite the governance by liars and thieves.