Rich Miller’s Uncle Kenny.

Rich Miller at CapitolFax:

I spent some time at my Uncle Kenny’s house in Ashkum last weekend. We went to the Iroquois County Fair, which is like taking a step back in time.

The fair hasn’t changed much at all since I was a kid. They still don’t allow alcohol on the clean grounds where kids safely run free.

I was at that fair every day back when I was growing up, often accompanied by my Uncle Kenny.

I’m the oldest of five sons, so Kenny was like my big brother growing up. It was a nostalgic weekend, and it felt like old times.

Kenny worked hard all of his life, putting in more overtime hours as a state groundskeeper during blizzards and mowing season than I could count, and he finally retired after then-Gov. George Ryan signed early retirement legislation shortly before leaving office.

I insisted that Kenny take the early out because I knew incoming Gov. Rod Blagojevich was a vindictive little jerk. I told Kenny I had a strong feeling that things were going to get rough with this guy and if Rod ever found out that I had a state employee relative, then either Kenny would be in a world of hurt or I’d be put in a very difficult spot, or both.

Kenny mows lawns to supplement his modest state pension. He’s not one of the few greedheads you read about all the time. Kenny followed the rules, he didn’t game them. You’d think by reading some of the media coverage that all public employee retirees have huge incomes and laugh at the taxpayers every time a bloated pension check arrives in their gold-plated mailboxes.

Not true.

Kenny doesn’t charge much for his side jobs, but he may have to raise his rates soon.

We as a state have a problem. A big problem. For at least 60 years, Illinois has never consistently made its full payments to the pension systems and kept promising to pay out more benefits than it could afford.

A payment plan approved in the 1990s kicked the solution down the road, but the resulting payments ended up being so high that Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly decided not to make them. So, now we’re even deeper in the hole, and last year’s $7 billion income tax increase couldn’t solve the problem.

If the current pension reform package that’s on the table becomes law, my Uncle Kenny will have to make some difficult choices about whether to give up his compounded cost of living increases every year or his state subsidized health insurance. He’ll survive, but it’ll hurt.

Nothing stays the same, I suppose. I used to bring a steer to the fair every year and competed against dozens of fellow 4-H members. But the competition eventually got out of hand. Parents were spending small fortunes to gain even a slight advantage for their kids’ animals. This year, only a few steers were shown. Times are just too tough to be spending that much cash.

But we as a state can’t just stop making pension payments because the costs are too high and times are too difficult. Another way has to be found.

The taxpayers have done their part to address the pension deficit with that income tax increase, which is about equal to a week’s pay every year. The retirees (who pay no state income taxes on their pensions) and the active employees are going to have to pitch in to save the system.

This situation truly sucks. People like my uncle shouldn’t have to be targeted. But so far, I’ve seen no other way to do it.

Here’s how:

Secure the constitutional pension benefits of state workers. Stop threatening what is essentially a retirement tax that reduces the retirees spendable income, hurts the working class most and worsens a lousy economic climate in the state.

Restructure the debt owed to the system.

Create a progressive graduated income tax system that no longer puts the heaviest income tax burden on those with the least money.

Stop the tax give aways to corporations like Sears, CME and Motorola.

End the corporate tax environment that has created what Crain’s says is the lowest effective corporate tax rate in the midwest.

Otherwise a great story, Rich.

One Reply to “Rich Miller’s Uncle Kenny.”

  1. Why is it that those in Springfield can see “no other way” to fix the pension issue Uncle Kenny didn’t create, yet not one person in a position to affect change talks about Illinois’ structural deficit and it’s regressive tax code that emulates only a rare handful of states that sport a flat tax? What is it? Selective blindness?

    Nope. It’s easier to hurt Uncle Kenny and the hundreds of thousands like him – and tank the state’s economy in the process – than to actually fix the revenue problem inherent in Illinois structural deficit and regressive flat tax system.

    And after Uncle Kenny “pitches in to save the system” he didn’t break by diminishing benefits protected by the IL Constitution and US Constitution, what is to stop those in Springfield who aren’t following the very law they passed to fix the problem from coming back and asking for more of Uncle Kenny’s retirement benefits every couple of years?

    Selective amnesia?

    The real reform needed is to reform Springfield. I hope Uncle Kenny and the hundreds of thousands like him remember that.

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