Chicago Machine Politics, Pensions and the Illinois Legislature
Many conservatives in Illinois despair of ever having an honorable government. (Isn’t “honorable government” an oxymoron these days?) We work locally to keep as many malfeasants out of office as we can trying year after year to save a state that has for decades been riddled with corruption. Most of our governors serve their final terms in jail in Illinois and we know have an extension of Washington as head of the Chicago Machine. Rahm Emanuel won with little fanfare. Everyone knew he’d have the baton of the Machine passed to him from Daley in a macabre dance where zombie voters grant a crony win in every Cook County election.
And now the dance continues with the teacher pensions. For years, the state squandered their responsibility to help fund the TRS (Teacher Retirement System). Hundreds of thousands of teachers paid into their pension system and their retirement insurance coffers for their entire careers. Every paycheck, every month, every year for years and years while the state, because of a loophole in the system, was able to spend the dollars they were to contribute on pet projects and other agenda items, ignoring their part in the process. Illinois is not a state where the teachers did not have to pay for their insurance or pensions. They dutifully paid into a system which is now close to bankruptcy. It isn’t politically correct now to complain about that. People are without work in the private sector. They don’t have pensions and although they DO have Social Security–it’s broke too–for similar reasons–the squandering of government systems.
In Illinois, there is a crisis and lawmakers are crying foul. It’s a mess. But rising out of that mess is a lawmaker who isn’t very popular with unions or his fellow legislators for that matter. This dislike may stem from many reasons the public isn’t privy to but I know that the fact that Chris Lauzen has been outspoken about conservative values is one of the causes for resentment from both factions. Now Chris is leaving the legislature after almost 20 years for a new elected position as Kane County Board Chair. Good for him. He will be a champion in our county. I’m sad to see him leave the Senate and I know I’m not alone. He fought the good fight and as he left, he gave the Illinois Legislature a gift–a solution to our pension and bankruptcy woes. And just as they did when he was a part of that legislative body–they’ve chosen to ignore it. True to the Chicago way, they have their own agendas–their own cronies to please and many pet projects and pockets to fill. The Chicago Machine continues–the beast is fed by backhanded deals and continued corruption.
As Lauzen wrote regarding the Illinois budget:
The Blagojevich and Quinn administrations along with their enablers in the General Assembly have bankrupted the state over the past decade, as you already know. They have raised our income taxes by 67 percent, driven hundreds of employers and thousands of jobs to other states, begun to cut social services including homeless shelters and early childhood learning, and now they’re talking about multibillion (with a B!) dollar cuts to Medicaid and public employee pensions. Who votes for these folks?
This time, over 300,000 retired educators and the people in the state of Illinois are the ones who will suffer from this corruption–whether you agree with the pension system or not, imagine planning your whole life on it to be told–when you get to retirement age, that the rules are being changed. Oh. Not for the judges…that would be political suicide…and oh…not for those in another state system (IMRF–Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund) because they were smart enough to not have a loophole in their plan. The Illinois lawmakers would rather strip educators and cheat taxpayers than even consider a plan that Forbes magazine calls ” …a clear map out from under the $3 trillion debacle.”
What is Lauzen’s plan?
1.) “Cap and Age”would cap the abusive amounts being paid to some highly-paid administrators when they retire.
2.) Public employees would work until 62 which is the “early retirement” age under social security with a grandfather clause built in for those close to retirement.
3.) Lastly, reducing the COLA (Cost of Living Increase) by 1%
These three proposals would rescue Illinois, Lauzen states, from the insolvency threatened by its $83 billion unfunded liability. He also requests that a clause be added to the TRS agreement, similar to the one in IMRF, where the state would be unable to squander the funds under penalty of not receiving those funds.
So I wrote to the IRTA (Illinois Retired Teacher Association) which is connected to the Illinois Teacher Unions. I shared Lauzen’s plan with them and was told, and I quote, “The Lauzen Proposal is getting NO traction because he is disrespected by both his Party (R’s) and Dems. His proposal no matter what he might say is dead in the water.” I was told privately from two different upper level union sources that it was a viable plan (except for the TRS agreement change verbiage). So then I got a letter from IRTA telling me the following:
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has decided to allow a limited pension-reform bill (HB1447) to be considered when the General Assembly returns for a special session on August 17th. The bill requires State Employee Retirement System and General Assembly Retirement System members to make a choice between receiving their annual 3% compounded COLA in retirement and give up their access to retiree health insurance or choose to continue to have health insurance access and in exchange their COLAs would be reduced to 3% simple or one-half the consumer price index whichever is less.
Retired educators have paid into their retirement insurance and their own pension system for up to 34 years and beyond. To eliminate either is the ultimate corruption. This is a quickie fix which makes already retired educators choose between a cost of living increase (COLA) or their insurance. Not only does this plan rip the Illinois Constitution, it also forces already retired teachers to either find other insurance or reduce what they have counted on their whole careers. Most but the most radical retirees would accept Chris Lauzen’s plan to reduce pensions but not demolish whole parts of them and save Illinois at the same time. To ignore this solution for political reasons is insanity and Chicago Machine politics on steroids.