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Thursday, April 28, 2016
“Is there something morally unacceptable about a battle between two entrenched parties that results in the obliteration of the least empowered and the most marginalized of our citizens?” —John Dillon
Simple Answers: and some Serious Questions by John Dillon:
“My blogger friend and I went to Benedictine University the other night to listen to three members of the General Assembly and the currently appointed State Comptroller explain their perspectives on Illinois’ current budget morass. We had to fill out questions beforehand on small cards and submit them for approval before the program really began.
“Governor Rauner appointed Leslie Munger to her current position as State Comptroller after the death of Judy Baar Topinka. Munger will be running against Democratic Representative Susanna Mendoza (1st District) in November to retain the office. Senator Michael Connelly and Representatives Ronald Sandack and Grant Wehrli were also present; Sandack sitting in for Jeanne Ives who was unable to attend.
“The opening and ending of the program was telling for anyone who happened to be a retired state worker there. It began with a question of how to reform pensions and ended with a general question of ‘If you ruled the State?’ – a variation on Tony Bennett’s song but without the ‘Every man would say the world was his friend/ There’d be happiness that no man could end.’ Nope. Not in their world.
“Pension reform is a must – especially for those who might be coming aboard to work in the public sector. ‘We’ll need opt outs, buy outs, 401k’s, choices between, options moving forward, reductions in costs, curtailments according to actuarial adjustments…,’ they all affirmed. Good answer.
“But, serious question: If the income of new workers is gone from the necessary investments in TRS and the state continues to make insufficient payments into the public pensions, might the pension system become broken? And if, according to the Illinois Supreme Court, the state still owes that money, won’t the people of Illinois be obliged to pay for it by sale of state owned property or higher taxes?
“Yet, they all confessed one way or another the Illinois Supreme Court had made lucidly clear that current Tier One and Tier Two public sector workers and teachers are guaranteed what they were promised once they began their employment.
“Representative Sandack described how the conversations in the Capitol Building had undergone an unreserved shift from an ever present concern for pension-reform-now to a subdued notion no longer discussed. In the end of the evening’s program as petty ‘philosophical’ dictators, not one of them thought to attack the strength of the current Pension Protection Clause. Lots of other bullet points, but not the Pensions.
“During the evening, Comptroller Munger warned the audience that the current payment for pensions and pension debt would balloon next year to eat up even more of the state revenue – if there actually was a budget and any state revenue.
“Serious question: My friend had sent a note asking about re-amortizing the debt like a sensible household in order to eventually reduce annual debt payments rather than pay out more and more. It must have been lost on the way to the podium.
“Representative Grant Wehrli declared that the lack of local control sought by Governor Rauner in his Turnaround Agenda had forced many local districts to labor under the pension pick-ups which were so injurious to local taxpayers.
“Serious question: Aren’t pension pick-ups really a negotiating strategy and not mandated by anyone; in short an agreement between the local teacher or workers union to accept another form of raise rather than direct monetary remuneration?
“Comptroller Munger cited her handout, which demonstrated for those of us unaware just what our state finances might look like if we were all facing the same tsunami of bills that she faces daily.
“And she reminded all of us, those unpaid bills come with an additional cost. All the postponed bills to health services, hospitals, or other businesses (that survive the impasse) must be paid extra interest for the state’s late payments. She suggested the amount is generally one percent, but in some cases more dependent on time and arrangement. And who pays this? It’s an extra we taxpayers pay for the impasse.
“Serious question: When the Comptroller received a rousing applause for the postponement of salary payments to the members of the General Assembly as a notice that ‘they have not done their duty and passed a budget,’ did anyone wonder if she had penalized those same applauding taxpayers with an additional payment for her symbolic actions? State payroll, in fact, does not meet the threshold for an interest charge, so while there is no timetable for when a legislator might be paid they can count on nothing extra in the waiting. None of the three legislators in the room were dependent on the income from their elected positions.
“Serious question: And when she says this action – stopping salary payment to legislators – will help with nearly $1.3 million per month to be used for possibly human services, hasn’t the recent report by the Illinois Fiscal Policy Center indicated that $billions are being jeopardized each month by this impasse which will result in the permanent closure of programs for the poor?
“Shortly after that, and ignoring hypocrisy, someone’s redacted question touched upon the attempt by Representative Lang of Skokie to pass a law for a progressive tax in the state of Illinois. Representative Sandack, an exhaustedly animated speaker, flailed throughout his moments on the microphone decrying the bill as a blatant attempt at class warfare. He warned us all that the bill would force those of us in the room (white middle/upper-middle class) we would pay more in the end. Why? ‘Because all the millionaires will leave the state of Illinois and we will become the ones left to pay for the programs.’
“Serious question: Where will they go? The nirvana of Indiana, which has a higher flat tax than we do? This seems to suggest ‘we’ would have to pay for ‘them.’ Isn’t that class warfare? And which states would they run to? There are only six left? Michigan (much higher tax)? Colorado (much, much higher tax)? Utah? Pennsylvania? Massachusetts (way over 5%)?
“When questioned about whether or not Governor Rauner might be causal to the pain inflicted on our current situation, Senator Connelly had a moment of extreme emotion. Exclaiming that Rauner was not the problem, and instead it was Madigan, Connelly reminded all of us that the man did not have to take this position. He did it for 'the love of his state.' He reminded us that he had negotiated by taking Right to Work off the table in his Turnaround Agenda 'months ago,' although the specific campaign for Right to Work was never an integral part of the original proposal. ‘He’s only been here 14 months!’ Connelly shouted. ‘You can’t blame him for this.’
“Serious question: What will Rauner additionally be able to ‘make better’ for all of us in another 34 months? One shudders to think of it.
“Finally, Connelly and the others responded to a question regarding the inability of the state of Illinois to declare bankruptcy but wondering what might happen on the local levels. They all agreed that locals should be able to declare bankruptcy. Senator Connelly had it on good opinion that there were villages and cities on the south side of the city where this would only be a matter of very short time, where their revenues were so paltry that there were no longer services for the people. The other Representatives agreed as the Comptroller nodded sadly. And these impoverished places, like Dixmoor, Harvey, Posen, Midlothian, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, etc., are the same places where the greatest amounts of human social services are being denied as part of the budget impasse.
“Serious question: Is there something morally unacceptable about a battle between two entrenched parties that results in the obliteration of the least empowered and the most marginalized of our citizens? ‘Do unto others’ was not a suggestion; it was a command” (Simple Answers: and some Serious Questions by John Dillon).