When the Trib operations moved out of the Tribune Tower on north Michigan Avenue the other day they missed an opportunity to leave one of their editorial board members behind.
That would be Kristen McQueary.
“I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury,” wrote McQueary in her column; “a dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.”
Even by the Chicago Tribune’s usual anti-union, anti-labor, anti-pension standards, McQueary was a bit harsh.
You might say, ghoulish.
But it appears McQueary has a long-term lease with the Trib.
Monday she wrote an op-ed column on the budget settlement in Springfield. It was a scolding for failing to address the pension issue.
Of course, the Illinois legislature did address the pension issue. They passed an unconstitutional buyout option. It is unconstitutional because it is offers a diminishment of benefits which the courts have already ruled out of order.
Also. Any teacher who would take such a buyout is crazy. We are not crazy. So it will not save the state what they are claiming.
They also passed a 3% cap on pensionable earnings. The cap is an intrusion by the state on the collective bargaining rights of school boards and unions who are bargaining salary, as well as making a target of retiring career teachers.
I’ll have more to say about the 3% pension cap some other time.
Back to McQueary’s Monday column.
The legislature could have immediately sent a “consideration” model, perhaps trading one benefit for a lesser one, back to the court. Some constitutional experts say it might have been upheld. Lawmakers also could have created a third pension tier with less costly benefits for incoming workers. Or they could have transitioned new workers to 401(k)-style plans.
Rauner and legislative leaders could have launched a campaign to change the strict pension clause in the Illinois Constitution, as Arizona did. That state’s constitution contained similar language to Illinois’ that pensions could not be “diminished or impaired.” Arizona’s high court also had struck down attempts to curb pension costs by altering benefits.
I don’t know who the “some constitutional experts” are that McQueary is talking about. Maybe those at the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute. But the consideration model that McQueary mentions is a term dealing with contract language. “Consideration” is a bargained exchanged where the value of the exchange must be of equal or greater value and agreed to by both parties.
Enforcing a lesser benefit on employees is not consideration and the courts would agree.
McQueary must have been sleeping during an editorial board meeting when the news came in that the legislature already passed a Tier III to the Teacher Retirement System this year with a 401(k) option.
And lastly, about that constitutional change to the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution.
Current members of the Teacher Retirement System have a contractual and constitutional right to the pensions they earned.
They can change the rules going forward. They already have several times. But the bill of $130 billion and counting – if nothing is done to pay it – is not going away.
Not even by a hurricane.