The in box. Legislators as Willie Sutton.

Since Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan prefers to see the cost of the pension benefits as the cause of our state’s pension problem, it came as no surprise this past spring that he proposed a solution that called for reducing the cost of the COLA for active teachers and other current public employees. What did come as a surprise is that the proposed legislation also included the possibility of retirees’ COLA benefits being diminished. Actually for me the word “surprise” was an understatement.   I was shocked!   Legislators of all stripes – Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals – had repeatedly said that their efforts to reduce the size of the unfunded pension liability for TRS and the other systems would never ever even consider touching the benefits of those already retired. They told us we had not only already earned what benefits we were receiving, but that those benefits were guaranteed to us by the Illinois State Constitution.  Having sworn as a state legislator to “protect and uphold the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Illinois; I not only believed them, but I went so far as to tell others that our pension benefits could never be “diminished or impaired.”So what has changed?   
The “pension-problem solvers” have made the decision to follow the advice of that notorious career-thief, Willie Sutton.  As legend has it, when asked why he robbed banks, Sutton replied,  “Because that’s where the money is!”   The state’s legislative leaders and our governor realized that if they wanted to save money (and to do it now rather than later) that it wasn’t enough to reduce the benefits of just those who are currently working, that they needed to reduce the cost of the benefits of those of us that are already retired.  They went to where the money is.  One is reminded of the old adage “No one’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.   Governor Quinn and the legislative leaders have, fortunately for their cause, found lawyers who have been willing to tell them that what they want to do is constitutional. The lawyers’ argument is to present both active workers and retirees as well with a forced choice between two equally unconstitutional alternatives and that the simple act of choosing makes the subsequent result acceptable and legal. Keep the existing COLA, but give up access to state provided health care.  Keep the access to health care, but receive a significantly inferior COLA.  If you have hard a time following their logic, just understand their plan could possibly take more than $30 billion from our pensions over the next thirty years.

The exact components of Senate Bill 1673 or any ultimate pension reform bill remain in flux, because the legislators themselves disagree on which proposals need to be enacted in order to close the system’s unfunded liability and to secure the long-term financial sustainability of TRS.   Check the TRS website for the exact details of the bill: voting in the November election, you need to know if the candidates from your district favor or oppose diminishing your pension benefits, including your health care.  Through websites, emails, and newsletters we will be providing information about the positions of the candidates on our issues.   And then you need to let the candidates know where you stand. Use letters, emails, phone and visits.  Remember all that’s involved is your pension and your health care.
Bob LyonsMember, TRS Board of Trustees

3 Replies to “The in box. Legislators as Willie Sutton.”

  1. I agree with everything that has just been said, unfortunately, there is one problem. The plan that will be utilized, in Springfield, is to vote on these important issues during the veto session. I am sure theat there will be enough lame duck legislators, then, to disregard the State Constitution as they cast their vote. The only hope of not losing pensions that we were promised is by Court action. I am very hopeful in that regard.

    1. I’m in agreement , I believe that the legislators that survive the Nov. election along with the
      lame ducks will vote to cut our pensions. If we vote all incumbents out we will however rid our selves of Cullerton and Madigan and we can let the courts decide what to do.

  2. The problem with the Nov. election is that most of the true weasels are running unopposed. So they will return to Springfield. That leaves the Court as our only solution.

    In Chicago, Rahm wants to eliminate COLAs for retirees that have been guaranteed to CPS retired teachers since the 1960s vote to increase pension contributions by .05% over the other city pension plans. Rahm also said he will not pay into the city pensions until he gets what he wants. Hopefully the Courts will see differently.

    Rahm also wants to control the CTPF as well as the other city pensions. Tom Cross is helping him with this one. They are interesting bedfellows. Mr. Cross has sponsored a bill for the last two years that will eliminate elected pension directors in all city pensions and replace them with appointed directors, the majority appointed by the mayor of Chicago. That would begin the total dismantling of our pension funds. Rahm wants the money in the fund so he will “borrow” it, stop both COLAs and health care insurance support, then rape and pillage the rest of the funds. How happy Penny Pritzker and her ilk will be.

    I can only hope that some court somewhere will decide that maybe the state constitution should actually be upheld. These legislators really believe that COLAs and health insurance are not part of the pension package. They claim to believe that eliminating either or both will not diminish the pensions of retirees. So perhaps the Court could also hold legislators financially accountable for ruining the pension systems in Illinois as well as destroying the lives of current retirees. Some of these people need to go sing camp songs with George and Rod.

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