Interrogating the pension bombers.

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Interrogating Senator Biss and Representative Gabel on pensions.

The room at the Wilmette Community Center had 200 chairs. Not enough. They had to open up another room and split up the presenters.

There were 250 copies of their handouts. They ran out soon enough.

The grass roots movement of active and retired public teachers in defense of their pensions struck again last night.

Senator Dan Biss and Representative Robyn Gabel, who are among the state representatives behind the pension bomb, were clearly not expecting the turnout. Nor were they expecting the level of anger and the articulate presentation of the facts from those who filled the two rooms.

Senator Biss is known for his arrogance and self-importance. He did not disappoint. When challenged on the constitutionality of the bill that he, Gabel and Elaine Nekrtiz are pushing, he announced that he didn’t know about the constitutionality of what they were proposing. “But I know math,” said the former math professor.

Math teachers have cause to take offense.

Robyn Gabel looked like the proverbial deer. She was left to reading a pie chart of the state budget to the crowd, making no attempt to defend what she has put her name to.

Several years ago when Gabel was first running for State Rep, I came across a youtube video where she talked about increasing the retirement age for teachers and cutting payments.

I called her up and said, “What is this about?”

“Oh. I really don’t know anything about pensions. I was caught off guard by the question.”

The magic of Springfield is that someone like Gabel can go there and in a matter of two years go from admitting to knowing nothing to being such an expert that she can co-sponsor a bill that unconstitutionally goes after public employees.

She is what passes for a progressive Democrat these days.

Biss explained that our pensions were responsible for “draining money from poor children.”

He is shameless.

But what a group we retirees are. Hundreds showed up, mainly by way of word of mouth, but prepared with facts and figures to defend ourselves and our colleagues who are still in the classroom.

My main takeaway from the meeting is that Biss seemed resigned that their will be no “grand bargain” on pensions. In spite of his contention that he knows little about the Illinois Constitution, he is fully aware that his bill will not pass constitutional muster.

What’s he up to?

I’ve heard that he has his sights on the congressional seat now held by Jan Schakowsky if she should retire or get an appointment to the Obama administration. Just as I’ve heard that Nekritz is anticipating replacing the aging Mike Madigan as Speaker.

This is not the first time that teachers were used as scapegoats by cynical politicians for their own political ambitions.

22 Replies to “Interrogating the pension bombers.”

  1. Also the few non-teachers who spoke up at the end had their winter tans, expensive cotton shirts, and smirky frat boy attitudes …sent by the civic committee…..and showed they consider teachers to be nannies who deserved low benefits.

  2. Well done, everyone who attended. If Biss can do that math, he can also do the math on the amount of money the state is giving away through loopholes and an archaic taxation system.

    The only thing that’s going to make a dent in any of this is if one of the trio loses in the next election, and for my money, the low-hanging fruit is Nekritz. She beat her opponent by ten points, but that was without an active, angry union base working against her.

    I teel that people are just going to have to accept two years of Republican representation in that district in order to get a non-horrid Democrat back in there. Nekritz has to go— it matters very little if one more Republican vote is added to the House. It’s a temporary thing.

    I’d be willing to work that district for sure. I’d do it for a Republican. And if the GOP is smart enough to run someone who isn’t an absolute knuckle-dragging throwback on social issues, then they have a chance.

    We need better Democrats, and the only way forward there is to get rid of the ones we’ve got. Nekritz’ district is fertile ground for someone who can actually explain that a graduated income tax doesn’t mean higher taxes for the middle class. Let’s find that person and rally around her/him.

  3. The meeting last night was interesting, to say the least. I was in the other room. The tension increased as they started talking about shared sacrifice again.

    My take away: The state reneged on their obligation to fund pensions for 40+ years thus freeing that money to be used for the benefit of all residents of the state and allowing them to avoid dealing with the real issue of a revenue shortfall. Apparently, we have had that shortfall for 40+ years or the pension system would have been funded. So now, they come to us to dig them out of the hole again with more “shared sacrifice” while the state still hopes to avoid dealing with the revenue shortfall. No. It is time to deal with an antiquated tax code and raise the revenue that we have apparently needed for more than 40 years. As I continued to digest what I heard, it dawned on me that the abuse of public employees extends beyond the state’s trying to wiggle out of its funding responsibilities; they have stolen much more in the investment returns lost.

    The pension funds have been the legislature’s piggy bank for long enough. Do they really think that local governments are going to take on the state’s obligations and let the state maintain control with its record of malfeasance? We have the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt states in the nation. As it was pointed out by Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, the past actions of the state would be considered criminal in the private sector. Perhaps it is time for the legislature to step up and do the ethical thing rather than just the expedient.

  4. When we met with Rep. Biss some years ago, he was a freshman representative looking for answers, one who knew to say no when it came to putting SB512 through the House Pension Committee. At that time, it showed some real chutzpah. I remember hearing from another Rep. that Biss was left alone in the room to deal with the rage from Fahner after the vote – even though the numbers from Civic Committee were blatantly wrong as even all the Pension Committee members could clearly see.

    What a change has happened. Now he is delivering the new and more deadly version of SB512, and he claims to know the math. Now, suddenly, he and Rep. Nekritz have decided to go the route of the corporates who would bleed the unions even further for the General Assembly’s and Madigan’s sins; then, place an unfair, immoral and possibly illegal burden on the backs of younger professionals in Illinois; and break the contracts made with many thousands of retirees.

    One wonders what their own plans might truly be when and if (hopefully not) all this returns home to roost. A state with an eviscerated public education system, a public sector service system that can barely survive or function, and a still blind adherence to a ramp developed by the math experts in 1995.

    Thanks for going – all of you. Thanks for sharing the voices and fears of thousands and thousands of us who could not go.

  5. Good Post Fred! Good God where do they get these legislators?? Biss is supposedly one of the “smart” ones — How many times did he mention MIT or where ever he got his degree?? He might ….”might” know math but clearly not the principles of the Democratic Party. To think that he and Nekritz could even think about leadership positions is beyond my comprehension. Nice job on getting “the feel of the meeting” …….

  6. My take away from last night’s meeting is that Biss and his crew don’t care about who they hurt with their budget saving cuts as long as they are not members of the civic committee. It seems like his goal is self promotion, not problem solving. Biss put on a sad face when he talked about the tough cuts he and his mob made to Medicaid, and other social services, and continued without pause to talk about the reality of pensions being cut. He thinks it is unfair, and unjust, but he is still willing to do it. While he agreed that we need a progressive income tax and to look at the CME tax and closing corporate tax loopholes, he has no intention of making any of those ideas happen; not until he helps to create more poor people for the future.

    It was really sad to listen to Gabel – she knows only what she is told or what she can read from her notes. And there you have the Illinois politicians. They chase useless legislation for their own gain or follow the leader. I’m not convinced that they have the best interests of Illinois citizens in mind.

  7. You would think that Biss et al would have at least consulted a constitutional lawyer about the bill they are sponsoring. As for Biss replacing Jan Schakowsky, you’ve got to be kidding.

  8. I was there last night. Fred accurately captured the essence of the “forum”. I have spoken with Dan Biss numerous times, and every time, he makes reference to “all the social programs” that have been cut, the implication being that teacher pensions are to blame. What BS, but I worry about who is buying that.

  9. I gave a Biss staff member about twenty minutes of my opinion this morning. She said the “draining money from poor children” remark was misinterpreted.

  10. Klonsky was quite out of line with his attack on Gabel, and looked like quite a “donkey” to most people. What is wrong with pushing retirement to age 67 anyway? THAT IS WHERE IT BELONGS. Nobody should be retiring from any public sector job before age 65, only to collect 15 years of pension with an undeserved 3% COLA.
    Perhaps she didn’t know much about pensions 3 years ago – I bet most people didn’t back then, but we are now forced to study it daily.

    This is shared sacrifice people. The numbers don’t lie, and we must all contribute to this reform effort.

    Yes, I am a public employee who is a member of the pension pool. But you people really need to wake up and face reality, not to mention stop acting like children and throwing tantrums, personal barbs etc in order to be taken seriously….

    1. Glad to post your comments, anonymous Reformer. Anytime a critic of mine demonstrates that they are delusional, it gets a featured spot on this blog. Your own goofy pension views aside, your are living in a fantasy world in which you can walk into a room (two rooms actually), hear and see a crowd of people who are saying one thing when they are saying the opposite. No wonder you are a Gabel supporter.

    2. I don’t know where “reformer” gets his information as a public employee, but I worked in Corrections–Stateville for most of my “sentence” and since I’ve retired, I’ve lost many friends and associates in the past couple of years, all but 1 being under 60 and all of them under 67. In the past year there have been 5 deaths of business associates and friends and this is not just anecdotal…its backed with studies.
      The silly deal of increasing the retirement age is done with the false anology of the higher age of mortality without the understanding the we are not living longer, but infant mortality has decreased which makes it seem like we are all living to 77. We aren’t.
      If it was truly a “shared sacrifice”, we’d see the GA cutting their salaries(they are the 2nd highest in the nation. Illinois workers are 7th in the nation and we public employees are only the 9th highest in the nation, lagging behind both private workers and our royal GA) so their salaries reflect salaries in IL. We also see the GA closing loopholes for corporations and getting these bodies to PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE. Sorry for the yelling.

    3. A contract is a contract, Reformer. Unless the State of Illinois is ready to declare bankruptcy and turn over finance decisions to the bankruptcy courts, I see no basis on which to arbitrarily cut retired public employee pensions by (at last proposal) 50% over the next decade (75% for survivors). And, regarding that “undeserved 3% COLA”. What makes it “undeserved”? The fact that employees PAID EXTRA each month to cover that expense? Or is it, simply, that those who planned and saved for retirement by paying in 100% of required contributions just should have known better and refused to accept contracts that included pension benefits in lieu of salary increases?

  11. Someone mentioned that we paid for the COLA. Well every active teacher paid .5% every paycheck for the COLA since July 1,1969. Every active teacher also paid .5% for insurance upon retiring since about the same time (1971?). The state was to match the .5% from the teachers.
    My question is: How can SB1 Plan B ask us to choose between a COLA or insurance when we paid for both already? How is loosing one of these not a diminishment? Its like being told to choose between breathing or eating. Dave Specht

    1. Thanks, David, for the specifics that I didn’t have when I stated that “employees PAID EXTRA each month to cover that expense”. In no way did I mean to imply that anyone eligible for the COLA did not pay for it.

  12. I interviewed Daniel Biss when he sought the Illinois Federation of Teachers endorsement the first time he ran (and lost) for state representative. He didn’t impress me then as someone whose first consideration would be his constituents. His move from the state house to senate was just pure luck. While Jeff Schoenberg didn’t always give us his support, he was honest and earned our respect and endorsement time after time. I miss him; I miss dealing with someone who’s honest and whose head can still fit through the senate chamber doors.

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