A remarkably clear explanation of Illinois public pension issues.

Blond Boy Crying

There are two things that happen when Illinois’ pension problem gets brought up in my presence.

I start talking.

Everyone in the room’s eyes glaze over.

Some old friends have been known to cross the street when they see me coming.

Dogs bark.

Little babies start to cry.

I can’t quit it.

Crain’s and the Better Government Association provide a remarkably clear explanation of the root of the problem and the current situation.

Bullet points:

  • The median pension in 2017 for retired suburban and Downstate teachers stands at $52,016, the analysis shows, while the median for general state workers is $28,946. For university workers, the median pension stands at $26,101, while for non-public safety municipal workers outside of Chicago it is $9,064.

  • Just five of the 17 pension funds—those managed by the state for public university workers, suburban and Downstate teachers, general state employees, judges and legislators—collectively face an unfunded liability of $130 billion.
  • A recent analysis by the legislature’s economic forecasting arm, a bipartisan body akin to the Congressional Budget Office, vividly illustrates the central role played by the state’s chronic failure to meet its pension funding obligations in the explosion of debt at those five state funds.

  • TRS, the largest of the state’s pension funds, possessed more than $45 billion in assets to cover its pension obligations in fiscal 2016, according to data from the legislative commission. Even so, the commission pegged the cost of long term pension obligations at the fund at more than $118 billion, resulting in a funding ratio of just 37 percent.

  • As a rule of thumb, pension experts generally consider a pension fund healthy if it has on hand at least 80 percent of the financial resources it needs to cover future obligations to retirees. There are some exceptions, but most big pension funds in Illinois are nowhere close to meeting that benchmark, with many in the sub 40 percent category.
  • In fiscal 2016 alone, the state obligation to TRS and the other four employee pension funds it maintained was $6.8 billion, an amount so large it consumed more than 26 percent of the day-to-day operations budget of Illinois government, according to Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

    But Martire said only $1.6 billion of that amount, less than 24 percent, was needed to cover the so called normal cost of pensions, benefits actually earned by employees in 2016. The other $5.2 billion amounted to late payment charges.

    “The real problem is a debt-service problem and a tax-policy problem,” said Martire, whose Chicago-based think tank contends Illinois finances are being crippled by insufficient taxes.


Podcast: Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers #16.

Democracy in Chicago? It’s complicated.


“He’s a proxy,” CTU President Karen Lewis said of Claypool.

When the members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to express no confidence in CPS CEO Forrest Claypool they were actually voting no confidence in the Mayor.

CTU President Karen Jennings Lewis made that clear when she spoke yesterday at the City Club.

“He’s a proxy,” Lewis said of Claypool during a press conference that followed her City Club speech.

Why not a vote on the Mayor?

“What could we do about that right now?” said Lewis.

For those readers who live in functioning democracies this may seem confusing.

The CTU members voted against someone doesn’t stand for election and didn’t vote this past week against somebody who will.

Maybe he will.

In Chicago we are permitted to vote for people who run the water district but we are forbidden to vote for the people who run our schools.

If you live in a functioning democracy, you may find that odd.

So the teachers’ no confidence vote is symbolic.

Symbols can be powerful things.

I remember one year in my old suburban district when, quite out of the blue, a kindergarten teacher stood up at a general membership meeting of the local and moved for a vote of no confidence in the superintendent.

Another teacher jumped up and seconded the motion.

We were always a democratic union local and although we were all taken by surprise, the motion was moved and seconded. A vote was taken and the membership approved the motion unanimously.

The board of education had no immediate response.

Except at the end of the year the superintendent’s contract was not renewed.

Of course, our little suburban district had an elected school  board.

Not so in Chicago.

In a couple of years we will get to vote on Claypool’s boss.

Not by proxy.


Alderman Arena. We better have his back.


Veterans for affordable housing in Jefferson Park at Mondays City Hall hearing.

John Arena, the Chicago alderman from the city’s far north 45th ward, supports an 80 unit affordable housing project on Milwaukee Avenue near a CTA/Metra train stop.

Arena, a member of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, supports it because it is a good idea.

Milwaukee Avenue is seeing construction of high density residential buildings near public transportation as it runs through all different wards from Wicker Park and Uke Village up to Arena’s Jefferson Park.

Many of the developments have witnessed anti-gentrification protests. The $4,000 a month rental units in the newly constructed high rise buildings in Logan Square are viewed rightly as a threat to the affordability of what was once a working class, multi-racial but mainly Latino community.

Arena’s Jefferson Park project is different.

It brings needed density, affordability and diversity to a neighborhood that needs all three.

Needed density?

Sure. Walk around Jefferson Park near the transit stations and you will see  empty store fronts. Neighborhoods need a certain level of density to support a neighborhood economy.

Unless you like driving to a Mariano’s every time you need a quart of milk and a loaf of bread.

The project includes 20 units subsidized by the Chicago Housing Authority, 20 for disabled people, 20 for veterans and 20 that will rent at market rates.

There is a clear racist tone to the opposition.

It is a tell when speakers opposing the Jefferson Park project show up (out-numbered two to one by those who support it) at a City Council hearing feel compelled to start their testimony by denying their racism.

It’s like that racist uncle who at Thanksgiving starts his annual racist tirade by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a racist, but…”

The fight for  open housing, affordable housing and for desegregated communities has always been a tough fight in our City.

When Martin Luther King came north, he came to Chicago to fight this fight and was met with racist resistance he said was worse than anything he saw down South.

The Jefferson Park project was approved unanimously by the aldermen in committee yesterday. The project will go forward.

We need more of this.

We need more aldermen like John Arena.

And we better have his back when election time comes around again.

SB1 is a bad school funding bill and that’s not crazy talk.


If I write about pension theft in Illinois someone inevitably will tell me that all I ever talk about is pensions and I’m selfish and I don’t care about the needs of others.

Of course,  the current attack on pensions is not directed at folks like me who are already retired, but at current active state employees.

Damn, I can be such a jerk.

If I write about Senate Bill 1, a school funding bill that eliminates direct funding for students with special needs in Illinois, I get accused of talking crazy and besides, I don’t personally have kids in Chicago schools anymore and this is the only chance to get money for CPS and I am being selfish.

See how that works, I am such a jerk.

I am told that opposing SB1/HB2808 is crazy talk.

The thing is that SB1, now being considered in the Illinois House as HB 2808, is a bad bill that increases funding for some Illinois school districts at the expense of support for children with special needs and for special education students.

There I go again, being selfish.

Senate Bill 1 would provide funds for just one position for every 141 Pre-K children with disabilities.

It would  provide for just one position for every 141 K-12 general education students including a special ed teacher OR speech/language OR social worker OR OT OR PT, says special education advocate Bev Johns.

Johns is another one those selfish people who has spent a career guarding the needs of children with special needs.

With some people it is always “me, me, me.”

As now amended, the bill will cut 10 percent of funds from the state’s poorest districts.

Even if $3 billion in new dollars were were added today220 school districts would be funded at 79 percent or less of adequacy, based on an Advance Illinois analysis.

Johns says we will be lucky to get $350 million, not billions added.

It has been noted that even if the maximum of $3 billion were added, most of the downstate districts would still miss their ‘adequacy targets’ by a mile.

The bill will end direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers statewide and will permit districts to spend those dollars on anything they want, leaving our most vulnerable children and families unserved.

That’s crazy talk.

The Sunday times.


Robert E. Lee, New Orleans.


Stanley Green died on Friday in Paris. He was 68.

“He was one of those journalists who went toward the bullet,” Ms. Tucker said, “because that’s where the story was.”

Stanley Greene was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 14, 1949, and grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. His father, also Stanley, was an actor, producer, filmmaker and director; his mother, Javotee Sutton Greene, was an actress. His father, an activist devoted to black culture, was blacklisted as a Communist in the 1950s and was reduced to taking anonymous bit parts.

Aleppo, 2013. CreditStanley Greene/Noor

The younger Mr. Greene had a “somewhat privileged yet traumatic childhood,” said his longtime friend Jules Allen. “There was a loneliness there that was insatiable, but he was blessed enough to at least partially deal with his pain through photography.”

As a teenager, Mr. Greene joined the Black Panthers and was active in the antiwar movement. His dreams of becoming a painter gave way to photography, and he was encouraged in that pursuit by the renowned photojournalist W. Eugene Smith.



Tonight the IDF violently attacked our Sumud Freedom Camp as we were celebrating our second night restoring the displaced village of Soroura.

Our coalition of Palestinians, Israelis, and Jews from around the world stood our ground as the military tore down our structures and assaulted our people.

I was pushed, choked, pulled, and rammed with the butt of a soldiers rifle. Many friends were shoved, punched, and jeered at. We did not push back. Instead we sang. Our movement is rooted in nonviolence.

Our actions – upholding the right of Palestinians to live with dignity on their own land – drew out the violence of the occupation.

I am safe and ok. We are here under the stars planning our next steps.

We will not back down. We will build the world with love.

Please donate now and share: tinyurl.com/donateSumud

Ethan Buckner’s Facebook Page


Teachers at Passages Charter School will walk out of their classrooms next Thursday if they can’t come to an agreement with the school management by midnight Wednesday, union leaders said Friday.

At a rally outside the school at 1643 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Friday afternoon, third-grade teacher Gina Mengarelli said they’ve had no success coming to an agreement with Asian Human Services (AHS), which runs the school.

Two weeks ago, teachers voted 43-0 to give the bargaining committee the power to set a strike date. It was the third time this year a charter school in Chicago has threatened to strike, according to the Tribune.

The teachers union, ChiACTS Local 4343, was scheduled to formally meet with officials at the school Friday. Over the next few weeks, several meetings are also scheduled, according to a note posted to the school’s website. DNAinfo





In response to Northwest Side Unite’s City Hall press conference, members of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park also addressed the media outside the Council Chambers.

Organizer Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran said opponents of the seven-story apartment complex were motivated by “unvarnished bigotry.”

The apartment complex — which developer Full Circle Communities has yet to formally ask city officials for approval — would rent 20 units at market rate and up to 30 units for residents from CHA wait lists. The rest would be held for tenants making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income — roughly $25,000 to $45,000 per year.

At least 10 units would be built explicitly for wheelchair-users, and the operators have vowed to reserve at least half the apartments for military veterans and people with disabilities.

Nick Kryczka, who supports the development, said city officials next week will “face a clear choice — whether to open Jefferson Park to new neighbors” and bolster the effort to help low-income Chicagoans find adequate, affordable housing.

Gronkiewicz-Doran said opponents of the apartments’ were using concerns about the height of the building as a “convenient cover.”

Opponents of the development interrupted the news conference by supporters until a reporter asked them to allow him to do his job and act with courtesy.

The introduction of the development at a meeting in February created an immediate firestorm, with most of the attendees who spoke excoriating the complex’s affordable housing component, saying it would threaten homeowners’ property values and attract crime to the relatively safe neighborhood.

Napolitano first criticized the Jefferson Park project in February in remarks to a DNAinfo reporter, violating the longstanding practice of aldermen refraining from opposing developments outside their wards supported by that ward’s alderman.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), the council’s fourth most senior alderman, said he had never seen one alderman violate the unwritten rules of the council so blatantly.

“The freshman alderman from the 41st Ward should focus on his own ward and stay out of the 45th,” Munoz said.

Munoz also criticized Napolitano for “claiming to be a patriot” but opposing a project where the developer has vowed to prioritize veterans and to strive to set aside half the units for former members of the military. DNAinfo

When decency and kindness is a radical concept. My bed is made.


Even though this is a dreary, rainy Chicago day I’m in a good mood. Yesterday morning we did a great Hitting Left with our friend Jerry Harris. And then last night we had dinner and good conversation with old friends.

In a few weeks this blog will hit the 4 million page views mark. Our podcast numbers are increasing each week. A lot of people like what we say.

But inevitably the small – I want to emphasize small – number of trolls need to send nasty and mean spirited comments. It’s not that they disagree. I’m good with that. It is that they are mean and anonymous and know that their comments will never see the light of day on this blog.

They just get off on sending them.

I mentioned on the radio show yesterday that it seems that a political party with a program of decency and kindness would seem radical in today’s climate.


To show you what I mean I will make a rare exception. This morning this appeared in my in-box:

One can get tired of listening to the bitching from people that freely chose a path in life for reasons that had little or nothing to do with money and then at the end they decide to count the chips, they find out there are not as many as they thought.

So you bitch, piss and moan out of jealously and a perceived lack of fairness in the world, then try to figure out ways to get some for yourself based on the mistaken belief that you some how “deserve” it.

After all you did work hard and are good people, and contributed a lot more to society than the assholes that got it all.

To you I say KISS MY ASS!!!!

Or as grandma would so eloquently put it “you made your bed…………..”

As I said, I’m in a really good mood this morning and so I’m going to respond to this worm wearing a happy smile.

First, anonymous, you are wrong on the facts.

I didn’t just discover I don’t get chips. Our chips were taken from us by the state.


I always find it ironic that those who lecture us about freedom and how bad big government is have no problem with the idea that the government can steal and violate contractual obligations and respond with, too bad and kiss my ass.

Some free market advocate you turned out to be.

Beyond contracts and law, what is most annoying about these anonymous comments is their total ignorance of the lived lives of people in this country and around the world.

It is like that Republican Congressman who, in voting against healthcare said that healthy people were good people and people who got ill were bad people. “Good people,” he said, “don’t have pre-existing conditions.”

The argument my anonymous troll is making is that your status in life is a result of the choices you have made.

If you are poor, you made a bad choice.

If you are rich it is because you made all the right choices.

If pressed, anonymous might even admit that luck enters into the equation.

But those who argue life is all about the choices you make will never concede that we live in a system of institutionalized racism and gender discrimination. They will never concede that profit trumps decency.

For them, it is all about choices.

For them, a system based on decency and kindness is a sucker’s game.


Tell your Illinois state representative to vote no on pension theft. I did. Will Guzzardi responds.


Illinois’ 39th District State Representative Will Guzzardi.


The “consideration model” in Senate Bill 16 is plainly unconstitutional. Retirees would be forced into choosing between one diminishment of benefits and another, and that choice can only reasonably construed as a diminishment. It’s like a restaurant that only sold burgers and hot dogs calling itself a vegetarian restaurant because you had a choice between two options. 

And as for the savings by creating a Tier III, it’s not at all clear to me that Tier III benefits meet the Safe Harbor test — that is, that the benefits are at least as generous as Social Security. If not, we’ll end up putting all those members in Social Security, which means the savings they plan to realize won’t come to fruition.

All in all, it seems like SB 16 is trying to cleverly avoid the plain fact stated by the Illinois Constitution and affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court: pension benefits are a promise we have to keep. There’s only one real way to fix the unfunded liability. We need to raise revenues and pay what we owe. 

Will Guzzardi

State Representative 39th District

Keeping retirement weird. Wealth matters? It sure does.

One of the subjects that Dad and I didn’t need to talk have a talk about as he approached his passing at age 85 was handling the inheritance.

There wasn’t any.


Vicki and Ron Weiner have talked with their two daughters about the wealth they will inherit. “The thought of being left all of this money is outside of their frame of reference,’’ Mr. Weiner said.CreditAlex @roblewski for The New York Times

Dad had Social Security and some veterans benefits. But after a lifetime of hard work there wasn’t anything in the way of savings or investments.

Like millions of working class Americans, he left the world leaving pretty much nothing behind in the way of money or possessions.

It made his final years stressful, to say the least.

It is a common story.

That is why when state legislators threaten to take away pension benefits that were promised to those who are depending on those benefits, as Illinois senators did last week, it is really shitty.

Someone wrote me last week complaining that all I do is talk about the problems of pensioneers (sic).

I don’t. But it wouldn’t be wrong if I did.

Then there are the wealthy.

The New York Times runs a column called Wealth Matters.

And it sure does.

This morning, writer Paul Sullivan addresses the issue of how those with over $20 million dollars in assets address the inheritance issue with their offspring.

Hey. It’s really hard for them.

Two-thirds of the 57 people polled by Wilmington Trust, a bank founded by the du Pont family in the early 20th century and now owned by M&T Bank, said they were “apprehensive about sharing inheritance details.” All participants had a net worth of more than $20 million, and only a tenth of them said they had given complete information about inheritance to their heirs — apparently for fear of dampening their work ethic.

Absolutely. You don’t want your kids laying on the couch all day watching Judge Judy when they will have $20 mil coming soon.

You gotta have the talk, people!

Joel Treisman, a family wealth coach who leads a monthly group for Tiger 21, an investment club for people with more than $10 million, said he had been left to surmise his family’s wealth on his own. He is a descendant of the Cullman family, whose wealth came from Philip Morris tobacco, and also the Lehman banking family.

“Despite a Stanford degree and a Yale M.B.A. with all these financial management courses, I was totally unprepared to be an inheritor — and that was in my 40s,” Mr. Treisman said. “There was no family preparation. It was delegated to the family trust-and-estate lawyer to send me a letter on my 21st birthday to talk to me about wealth that was going to revert to me outright.”

I just want to say, “Me too.”  I was totally unprepared to be an inheritor.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to spend any money on a family wealth coach.

Podcast Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers #16.