As we have done every year for three years in the second week of May a group of retired teachers gathered for lunch at a Greek restaurant in the western suburbs to celebrate a win.
It was just four years ago that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the pension protection clause of Article XIII Section 5 meant exactly what it said.
SECTION 5. PENSION AND RETIREMENT RIGHTS Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.
To be clear, the five of us were not alone in this fight. Thousands of teachers and other public employees around the state, retirees especially, made their voices heard loud and clear.
This was after the state public employee union leadership cut a deal with Illinois Senate Democrats to reduce our benefits. The result of their duplicity would have cost retirees plenty.
In my own case, if I lived long enough, my benefit would have been reduced by a third.
But an organization of retired teachers, the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, refused to go along with this treachery. They promised a law suit against any bill that violated the pension protection clause. In the end the state’s public employee unions were forced to join the law suit. The case landed before the Supreme Court. The eight justices voted unanimously in favor of pension rights.
And so we gather each year in May.
While the five of us were sharing toasts and conversation, the out-going Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, was proposing more pension theft.
In an interview in which he discussed the high and low points of his administration—from making difficult decisions on city finances to getting off on the wrong foot with former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis—Emanuel disclosed that he has begun shopping his new pension idea in Springfield.
“If we can’t change the benefit, tax it,” Emanuel said, referring to the lack of action on his earlier proposal to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a reduction in the currently required 3 percent annual compounded increase in most city and state pension benefits.
First of all, can’t Rahm just go without leaving Lori Lightfoot with all kinds of suggestions nobody asked him for in the first place?
Although to be honest, Rahm is not the first to suggest taxing retirement income.
But follow his painful logic.
The court says we can’t reduce retirement earnings.
But they didn’t say we couldn’t tax it.
We can have the retirees pay for their own pension out of their own pensions and savings.
This is money the city and state should have paid into the pension plans but diverted it to pay for other things.
Am I against taxing retirement earnings?
Like most working people I already pay a larger share of my income in taxes than, say, Jeff Bezos or Ken Griffin.
In fact, I believe I have an obligation to support public schools, libraries, hospitals, and mental health clinics in my neighborhood, like the mental health clinics Rahm shuttered a few years back.
In fact, I just voted in favor of being taxed extra for the public mental health clinic to be re-opened in my neighborhood.
But a tax on our pension is just back door trickery to get around the Supreme Court ruling on the pension protection clause.
Same old Rahm trickery.