Q: You’re going to Springfield tomorrow?
A: Yes. A couple of us our driving down at 7AM. Thousands more will be there.
Q: What’s up with that?
A: The Governor has called the General Assembly to meet for one day to address the pension issue. There are several ideas and bills that will be considered. They involve creating a forced choice for state workers between a cost of living adjustment and health care and shifting the cost of the state’s pension obligation to local towns and school districts.
Q: I take it you think this is a bad idea.
A: You take it right. Not only is it unfair to teachers. It is bad economic policy for a state that is still deeply in debt and state economy that continues to hit all working people very hard.
Q: Okay. We know what you are against. What are you for?
A. The issue must be reframed. Cutting working people’s earned benefits from a lifetime of hard work will only make matters worse. The Governor and the General Assembly must change the way revenue is generated. A flat tax that demands as much from the lowest wage earner making beds in a Hyatt Hotel as it does from Penny Pritzker who owns the hotel makes no sense. A graduated income tax would raise billions of dollars. It would revive the state’s economy. And it would be fair.
Q: What are your union leaders saying?
A: It is a muddled message. On the one hand they support the tax reform and restructuring. On the other hand they are still talking about agreeing to benefit cuts, including a 1% increase in the existing 9.4% contribution teachers already make to the Teacher Retirement System.
Q: Some have claimed you blame the union leadership for the current mess.
A: I blame them for the muddle. Not for the mess. Teachers want leaders to lead. We are not getting fighting leadership.
Q: What do you expect to happen tomorrow?
A: Following the angry reception that the Governor received at the State Fair on Wednesday, I expect a large crowd of angry state employees, including teachers. Most observers expect that the divisions among the Democrats and the divisions between the Democrats and Republicans will prevent anything from happening. But I’ve seen them do a lot of damage in a short time before. I would say that every teacher who is not working tomorrow and who can get to Springfield should get to Springfield.
You can’t take your eyes off those people for one minute.