This was a rough week for public employees in Illinois as the state legislature narrowly passed pension “reform” measures that will take a lot of dollars away from public retirees. On Monday, the day before the legislative vote, the Daily Herald editorialized in favor of the pension package.
My friend and colleague Jim Weaver wrote a response to the Herald that I’m pleased to present here. (The Daily Herald allows comments on its editorials and articles, but all comments are automatically routed through Facebook, and they tend toward oversimplification and name-calling.)
Jim is a veteran teacher and coach with many family ties to Illinois public education. His voice is passionate, and the perspective he provides here is one I haven’t seen offered elsewhere. — GAWhere in the proposal (or ANY pension reform proposal) is the part where the politicians offer to cut or eliminate THEIR OWN pensions along with the teachers? We are only in this mess because the state of Illinois (per its politicians) have illegally skimmed money from the pension fund for years, while at the same time not meeting its legal obligation to pay into the pension fund. That is where the shortfall comes from.
During that time, teachers have continued to pay 9.4% of their annual salary into that pension fund, having done so in good faith since its inception, without ever being asked if they wanted to opt out. This while in their SAFE pensions, politicians can make up to 85% of their salaries (10% more than teachers can make in their pension) and only have to serve in office for 20 years to do so (15 years less than a teacher). Politicians argue that attaching similar changes to their own pensions would barely make a dent in the crisis, so why bother? You bother because you made this mess; not the teachers or other public workers who have been paying into that system for their entire careers in good faith that the state would legally and appropriately take care of the money it was entrusted to secure. Oh, but now, according to the brilliant editorial above, there will be a “FIRM requirement on the state to make its promised annual payments.” And the Editors of the Herald bought this? There has ALWAYS been a requirement that the state would make promised annual payments. But now that it’s a “FIRM Requirement,” then the state will REALLY follow through this time. It won’t be like last time. Promise…Yep…Feel better now!
As an analogy, speak up nice and loud if in your personal life with your own checkbook, you would let someone steal money from you for decades (as the state has taken money from the pension fund), and then when they are bankrupt from mismanaging the money they stole from you, you would be ok with handing over your retirement savings as well, to help them fix their financial problems, because, you know, there’s no other way to help them fix their issues.
Would the Daily Herald be OK with this if the state did this to their business? Yet they feel the deal “deserves approval?” Excrement! The state has no more right to the money in the pension fund than it does money from the Daily Herald‘s checkbook, or money from anyone else’s 401K for that matter. I don’t see the Herald stepping up and offering to write a check. Oh, that’s right, again with the “wouldn’t make a dent” excuse.
So here’s an idea. Hey politicians. Hey Governor Quinn. Come and put YOUR pensions into the proposal along with the public workers whose pensions you are threatening. The system DOES need fixing, now that YOU’VE busted it, so once you present a plan where your own pensions and futures are at risk, I will try to see this situation differently. Not before.