No matter what happens at two o’clock this afternoon, don’t put your marching shoes away.

shadow governor

At two o’clock this afternoon I will be at the gym. That’s my scheduled workout time with my trainer Mike.

At a little after two o’clock Judge Belz will make public his decision on pension theft and Senate Bill 1.

I will ask trainer Mike if I can check my iPhone for the news and he will be suspicious that my request is just so I don’t have to get down and plank.

I hate those.

So I may not know the decision until three o’clock.

And I won’t be able to post until four or four thirty.

If Judge Belz rules in favor of constitutional law it will be a great victory. Not just for those of us in Illinois public employee pension funds. It will be, as my friend Glen Brown constantly reminds us, a victory for the concept of a society’s moral and legal obligations to its citizens.

I am not so high-minded as my friend Glen.

I will consider it a kick-ass victory over the likes of Mike Madigan, Pat Quinn, State Senator Dan Biss and Representative Elaine Nekritz.

If I see them I will gloat.

It will also be a victory over those in our own ranks who wanted to compromise our pension rights. There were those among our own leaders who thought it was too risky to demand payment in full on what was promised us.

Too risky to challenge Madigan.

Too risky to withdraw political endorsements and campaign contributions.

Too risky to go to court.

Too risky to call out our troops because our leaders are convinced the rank-and-file are too weak and afraid.

But they think everything is too risky.

And if Judge Belz rules against us?

Then the union and association lawyers will take it to the Illinois Supreme Court and we will fight another day.

My friend IEA General Counsel Mitch Roth explained the possible scenarios in an email he sent out yesterday in advance of Judge Belz ruling today.

The other scenarios are not within Mitch’s area of responsibility.

Even when the ISC rules and it rules for us, this is not over.

The Democrats will come at us again with another pension theft scheme that they concoct.

Bruce Rauner is already betting that the courts will rule SB1 illegal.

He’s drawing up plans to convert our defined benefit plan into an investment opportunity for his Wall Street pals.

You know who they are?

They are the ones who contributed to his campaign war chest.

The ones it is rumored are under SEC investigation.

We will talk about this again around 4:30.

Chicago Tonight. In the pension discussion where were the Democratic Party pension thieves?

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Carol Marin with Republican state Rep. Thomas Morrison, University of Chicago professor of law Julie Roin, and president of Illinois Federation of Teachers Dan Montgomery.

I watched the pension discussion on Chicago Tonight.

I’m not sure anyone who was not really invested in the issue stayed with it. It was kind of dry.

What was interesting to me was who was not there.

No Democrat Elaine Nekritz. No Democrat Dan Biss. Or Democrat Don Harmon. Certainly no Mike Madigan or John Cullerton.

These are the leaders of the state House and Senate who led the charge on cutting public employee pension benefits.

And likely will again.

Republican Tom Morrison, who was there, simply repeated his party’s talking points: A constitutional amendment to erase the pension protection clause and changing our defined benefit pension to a 401K.

But Republican solutions are mostly irrelevant.

Unless those solutions get adopted by Democrats.

Morrison plays the useful idiot for Democrats. And, frankly, for our union leaders as well.

By having him as the only politician on the panel, his proposals appear to be the main threat.

And  they provide our leadership with a reason to compromise on our constitutional protection, as they did with SB2404.

As they did with their endorsement of ALEC Chair Kirk Dillard for governor and now Pat Quinn.

If, as expected, the Supreme Court rules that Senate Bill 1 is unconstitutional, Plan B will not be coming from Tom Morrison and the Republicans.

It will come from the Democratic Party leadership in the state.

So far, they have been the pension thieves.

What is their Plan B?

They’re not saying.

Madigan’s Iron Dome.

Mike Madigan has been Speaker since 1983. Remember Lee Elia?

All this debate about whether we should vote for Quinn or not.

Save your breath.

When November’s election rolls around, the most powerful man in Illinois will be re-elected to office.

And you won’t be voting for him.

That would be the State Rep from the 22nd House District.

He will get the votes of a few thousand people, out of couple million in the state that will vote that day.

Michael Madigan.

He has been Speaker for all but two years since 1983.

The year Cub’s manager Lee Elia explained Chicago to the press.

Madigan is protected by an Iron Dome.

His daughter is the state’s Attorney General.

It is a relationship that will surely torpedo any further political ambitions she may have.

And he has appointed a legislative Investigator General who is nothing more than his golfing partner.

Roberts, 72, is a past Sangamon County state’s attorney, U.S. attorney for central Illinois and chief legal counsel to Edgar. Since 1997, he has worked for Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, a law firm based in Chicago with about 500 lawyers working in offices in 11 states. Roberts is the firm’s managing partner.

Roberts was a registered lobbyist from 2000 to 2013, state records show, but says he never lobbied the General Assembly.

His law firm, though, has financial and political ties to Madigan, other Democrats and also Republican legislators, records show. Among them:

Political committees controlled by Madigan paid Hinshaw & Culbertson more than $40,000 between 2002 and 2008, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Roberts represented Madigan during an investigation by federal authorities in Springfield into the possible misuse of state resources that ended in early 2005 with no charges filed.

Hinshaw has contributed to the campaign funds of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago; Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne, D-East St. Louis; Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont; and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. Roberts personally donated $500 last year to the campaign fund of state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission that approved Roberts’ appointment on May 30. Other members of that committee include Clayborne, who until recently worked for the law firm run by Roberts in its downstate Belleville office.

State agencies have hired Hinshaw and paid the firm more than $1.8 million over the past five years, state records show. That includes $2,339 from the Cullerton-led Senate Democrats in the 2012 budget year and $1,950 from the Madigan-led House Democrats in 2014.
Roberts says he worked directly with the Senate Democratic leaders but couldn’t recall if he personally worked with the House leadership. He says he also has counseled House Republican leaders.

Roberts says those connections won’t get in the way of him doing his job, which pays him on a case-by-case basis at a rate of $215 an hour to investigate misconduct complaints against lawmakers.

“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought there were conflicts,” says Roberts, who started in the post July 1, replacing Tom Homer, a Naperville attorney and former judge and Democratic state representative.

Right. Of course there aren’t any conflicts.

As for Rauner and Quinn?

In the words of the immortal Lee Elia, “They can kiss my f*ckin’ ass right downtown and PRINT IT.”

Illinois pension Plan B must be raising revenue. Tax the rich.


Mike Madigan and John Cullerton.

There is now broad acceptance of the fact – following the Illinois Supreme Court 6-1 ruling in Kanerva v. Weems – that the pension theft Senate Bill 1 will go down in flames.

Most of the discussion is now focused on what will be Plan B.

In an extraordinary piece of political puffery in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, John McCarron paints a heroic picture of Senate President John Cullerton.

McCarron is a former employee for the Trib and now does freelance.

What makes Cullerton so great to McCarron?

Even though President Cullerton knew SB1 was unconstitutional, he voted for it anyway. And got the Senate Democratic Caucus to vote for it.

In Illinois, that is what is called a profile in courage.

If you recall, Cullerton had worked out a deal with the coalition of state public employee unions (We Are One), and came up with SB 2404.

SB 2404 cut pension benefits, but not as much as what Speaker Madigan wanted. Cullerton was gambling that the Court might agree to less a violation of the pension protection clause rather than a full frontal attack on it.

Kanerva suggests that Cullerton was wrong.

Then there was a stand-off, with the Senate voting for SB2404 and Madigan’s House voting for SB1. That was back in May.

By December, Democrats had mostly united around SB1 and a full frontal on the pension protection clause.

I opposed SB 2404 as well as SB1. So did the Illinois Retired Teachers Association (IRTA). So did a number of other pension activists and bloggers.

IRTA promised they would take either bill to court.

We argued that any compromise of the pension protection clause would open the door for further pension cuts later.

For this we were attacked by apologists for the union leadership as union-haters.

Let me be clear that nobody in the union leadership called us that. The campaign of attacks and name-calling – Facebook posts and monumentally long emails – came from a small group of their alleged defenders.

These apologists argued that it was far too dangerous to go to the court to defend the explicit language of the Illinois Constitution. Instead we should rely on cutting a back room deal with Illinois’ Democratic leaders.

Not even in Illinois would that be considered a smart strategy for the unions.

McCarron speculates now that the state’s union leaders  – once the Supremes rule SB1 illegal – have no incentive to bargain another SB 2404.

I hope that is true.

But I’m not so sure.

We have been and can be our own worst enemies.

There is no doubt that the state’s political leadership – Democrat and Republican, Quinn or Rauner – would rather come up with another attempt at pension theft, or amend the state’s constitution, removing the pension protection clause.

This will fail.

At some point they must face the facts as we have consistently argued them.

It’s not a pension problem.

It’s a revenue problem.

We built it.

“j” writes and asks, “I still want to see a list of projects that my pension money funded….”we built it list”….maybe I can get a share of revenue from these venues…Soldier Field Bear’s ticket revenue….or a cut of Michigan Avenue store sales after I funded the flowers in the median garden beds.”

Of course, “j” is being rhetorical.

Our pensions were used to pay for it it all.

Remember Representative Elaine Nekritz’s answer to a question at the community forum in Aurora? A teacher  asked her about the General Assembly taking money out of the state public employee pension system’s to pay for the state’s expenses that couldn’t be paid for based on the current flat income tax combined with corporate loopholes and giveaways?

“We didn’t take it out,” Nekritz snidely said. “We never paid it in the first place.”

That is the Bizarro World we in Illinois live in. The world of Mike Madigan who says that it is the politicians who have made the sacrifices while the state’s employees have been getting a free lunch.

Now that the state’s most powerful political figure has told the labor coalition of We Are One to “drop dead,” where do we go. What should we do?

Of course, the state’s public employee unions, both individually and through We Are One must continue to demand to be heard.

Our position must be that a solution can be found that is constitutional, brings financial stability to the pension systems and fair to the members of the pension systems.

We must show to the taxpayers of the state and their political representatives that the current legislative movement for a graduated income tax plus closing corporate loopholes provides the foundation for paying off the unfunded liability and funding for the future. Plus it will bring tax fairness to a state where those with the least now pay the most.

More than ever, our leaders must use the greatest weapon they have: Over 700,000 members of the pension systems, their families, friends and the members of the state’s public employee unions. We are spread out across every legislative district in the state.

We are loud. We vote. We can be moved into action. We are more powerful than any lobbyist or lawyer.

The Sunday Mail.

The writers

Springfield, Illinois. January 3, 2013. Photo: John Laesch.

Larry Lessig remembers Aaron Swartz. Swartz committed suicide Friday. Aaron was a target of the feds for his insistence on freedom of access to public information.

The Washington Post exposes the high rate of expulsions by DC charter schools. 72 per 10,000. Public school expulsions: 1 per 10,000.

Forget about the Flu. It’s Seattle’s Garfield High teacher boycott of MAP testing that is contagious.

Mother Jones interviews the Viking’s Chris Kluwe.

The return of the Neocons. Boots on the ground versus drones in the sky.

Yesterday I got MY membership renewal from the Democratic National Committee — I’m supporter 011355811. All that means is I’m a lifelong Democrat and given money to every Democrat running for President since Eugene Mc Carthy. Today I’m returning my renewal with a big NO Inked over my renewal information and no check and a note to President Obama. I told the President, my President, that I worked hard to elect and re-elect — How could I stay a Democrat? How could I support the DNC when the Chair of the Illinois Democratic Party – Speaker Mike Madigan is sponsoring and testifying in favor of PENSION KILLER Bills! When Governor Quinn – A Democrat – compares me and my teacher colleagues to snakes and introduces PENSION KILLER Bills. If this is the new Democratic Party …I’m voting Green. Bob Haisman, retired teacher and former IEA President.

The Civic Committee overreaches on pensions. “Fahner made himself irrelevant.”

Talk about a fall from grace.

It was only a year ago.

Ty Fahner, former Attorney General under Governor “Big Jim” Thompson and now head of the corporate Civic Committee, was considered important enough that he signed his name along with Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to the letter announcing the withdrawal of the pension gutting SB512 from consideration in the lass General Assembly session.

Now Rich Miller, who publishes the authoritative Springfield blog Capitolfax, reports that one top Democratic official describes him as “irrelevant.”

Fahner has never been considered all that going back to his days when he was leading the investigation of the Tylenol killer. That investigation resulted in nothing. The killer has never been found.

While serving as Attorney General under Thompson, the state’s multiple pension systems were allowed to go underfunded, even though now Fahner admits that a similar practice by an employer in the private sector would lead to prosecution.

In his new role as chief corporate mouthpiece for the Civic Committee, Fahner has blundered again.

Says Miller:

Fahner’s histrionics last week over what he claimed was an “unfixable” pension problem have all but cut him out of the statehouse mix.

“He’s made himself irrelevant,” said one top Democratic official who’s intimately involved with pension reform.

In a memo to Civic Committee members, Fahner wrote that “the pension crisis has grown so severe that it is now unfixable. There simply won’t be enough money” to pay pensions for young teachers just starting out.

But then Fahner constructed a bizarre dichotomy by both claiming the problem to be completely unfixable while simultaneously demanding specific changes to the state’s pension systems. He said four things had to be done “just to slow the bleeding and reduce the size of the financial burden Illinois taxpayers must bear.”

Those four items included eliminating annual cost-of-living raises for pensioners, instituting a pension salary cap, increasing the retirement age to 67 and shifting the teachers’ pension costs to school districts and universities.

Because he said there was no real fix, there’s little to no use in negotiating with Fahner now because any solution the General Assembly comes up with will be dismissed by him as wholly inadequate.

Legislative thinking goes like this: Why bend over backward to accommodate someone who will never admit that you did the right thing?

There’s absolutely no political or legislative advantage to dealing with the guy.

Of course, there is more to this than just the blathering of a self-absorbed La Salle Street lawyer.

There still remains no consensus in Springfield on cutting pension benefits and shifting the cost of the pension obligation to local school boards and governments.

While Madigan’s COLA – Health care choice bill might pass the House, it is less likely to get through the Senate either in the veto session or the new session that starts later in January.

The current threats to public employee pensions become even more problematic if the members of the pension system can mobilize even beyond the 1.7 million no votes they turned out on November 6th to defeat the pension cutting Constitutional Amendment.

While we can’t rest on our victories, count the defeat of the Constitutional Amendment and Ty Fahner’s new-found irrelevancy as two big ones.

Saturday coffee.

Funny thing about elections.

Except in the case of a rare tie, there are no do-overs.

Sure. You can try to steal it like when Bush stole the election from Gore by having his buddies on the Supreme Court order a halt to the Florida recount.

But, in theory at least, the votes are supposed to count.

First they tried to suppress the vote. But that clearly didn’t work. Or it didn’t work well enough. In fact, if may have caused a backlash. The African-American turnout in Ohio, for example, actually went up in 2012 over 2008.

The latest craze is to spin a loss into a win. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do now.

Now Mitch McConnell argues the election didn’t count.

See, unlike 2008 when Obama would have won even if no Black people had voted for him, this year he won because he got even more Black, Latino and young voters’ votes than in 2008. And, in their view, only old white men’s votes really matter.

There is similar spinning going on in Illinois among those who want to go after public employee pensions. House Speaker Mike Madigan got every single member of the Illinois House to vote to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would undermine the constitution’s pension protection clause. And all but two members of the Illinois Senate voted the same way.

True. The 700 word amendment was confusing. But those words didn’t appear on the ballot. Instead there was a Readers Digest version that strongly implied a yes vote was the way to go.

To amend the Illinois Constitution two things are required: 60% of those voting on the issue must vote yes. And 50% of those voting at all, even if you didn’t vote on the amendment, must vote yes.

Madigan’s amendment failed on both counts.

So now the spin starts. The vote doesn’t mean anything.

I don’t know who University of Illinois economist Richard Dye is. But he is quoted in the Tribune:

University of Illinois economist Richard Dye said the result of the vote didn’t offer a mandate to either side. The measure was simply too confusing for many voters to understand, he said, and ultimately too weak and ambiguous.

“I don’t think it was a good test on the sentiment for reform,” Dye said, “because if you understood it, you understood it really didn’t do anything.”

Oh really, Professor Dye.

So around two million voters knew enough to vote no, but we were too stupid to understand it. And if we understood it we would have known that it didn’t mean anything.

Well I spin it differently then the professor. Who, by the way, might be a little more savvy since his pension as a U of I employee is impacted by this as well. I say it shows that there is a strong political base in the state for leaving public employee pensions alone.

It shows, along with the polls, that most people understand it is not the employees that should be paying the price of the budget problems of the state.

But the spin-meisters will try to say that two million voters’ votes don’t really mean anything.

You would think an economist of all people could count.

IEA rewards pension killers with massive campaign contributions.

No Illinois legislator who was not running for higher office received more money from IPACE over the past decade than GOP Leader Tom Cross.

I recently encouraged IEA members to send a letter asking for an IPACE rebate. IPACE is the political action committee of the IEA.

This followed receipt of this year’s IPACE recommendations for the November 6th election. Your money is better spent making individual campaign contributions to candidates who really represent your views.

The emails have not stopped coming in on member outrage over a number of the legislative recommendations. None so much as the recommendation of GOP House Leader Tom Cross from Oswego.

Many of my IEA friends were surprised to learn that this is not the first time Cross has received an IPACE recommendation and IPACE money. In fact, from 2004 up until the most recent campaign finance reports, Cross has received a quarter of a million dollars from IPACE. No legislator who was not running for higher office has received more money from the IEA than Cross.

And what did we get in return?

Not much. For example, Tom Cross was the chief sponsor along with Democratic Party Boss Michael Madigan of the 2011 House Bill 512.

The attack on teacher and other state employee pensions benefits has been so unrelenting that you may have forgotten House Bill 512.

That was the bill that would set up a three-tier system, require teachers to pay more into the system and extend the retirement age. The fact that the bill failed was no fault of GOP Leader Cross. And Cross continues to lead the attack on teacher pensions.

It was notable that when the legislation was withdrawn in the final hours of the 2011 legislative session, the letter announcing its withdrawal was signed jointly by Mike Madigan, Tom Cross and President of the Civic Committee Tyrone Fahner. Fahner is a millionaire lawyer and former Republican Attorney General of the state. The Civic Committee is the main mouthpiece representing corporate interests in Springfield and backer of Illinois is Broke, an anti-union, anti-pension front group.

With friends like that who have money like that, what does Cross need with teachers’ money. And why are we giving him so much?

Or any?

Riders, mount your steeds. Today let us talk about COLA.

Graphic: Chicago Reader

I was planning on doing a Monday post on the threats to Illinois teachers’ COLA, the cost of living increases that are a part of our TRS pension benefit.

How lucky then that my friend Glen Brown published Roger Sander’s piece on COLAs on his blog this morning too. Now you now have some important reading to do over your coffee.

Don’t expect to find this over on the IEA website.  They have been amazingly silent on this.

As of this moment there are two big threats to our pension cost of living increases.

Constitutional Amendment 49 that will appear on the November ballot and SB 1673.

Last year the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky called me the Paul Revere of SB 7.

I’m back on my horse. And we have added some more Paul Reveres too. Like Roger and Glen.

We have mounted our steeds. “The attacks on our pension are coming!”

What is SB 1673?

If passed, the bill would require teachers to choose between their present guaranteed 3% cost of living adjustment or their health insurance benefit. Retired teachers in Illinois rely on TRIP, a state retiree health insurance. If we choose to keep TRIP, our cost of living adjustment would be reduced. If we keep our 3% COLA, our TRS creditable earning would be capped and no future salary increases could be used in calculating our retirement benefit.

The view of the political leaders in the state is that by providing a choice, the law will pass constitutional muster. Our state constitution prohibits any act that would diminish or impair our pension benefits. But is this a constitutionally acceptable choice if both options diminish and impair our benefits?

Roger’s article on Glen Brown’s blog gives more details.

The other threat to our pension and COLA is House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 49 (HJRCA49). I will now forever refer to this at Constitutional Amendment 49.

Democratic boss and Speaker Mike Madigan rammed this through the House last Spring and got a 113 to nothing vote to put it on the November ballot.

If you have one of those liberal Democratic state representatives (oh, like Robyn Gabel up on the  north shore), ask them to explain their vote on this for you and me. Let me know what they say.

Constitutional Amendment 49 is a basic bait and switch. The uneducated voter will read that CA49 requires a super majority three-fifths vote of both houses of the General Assembly to enact a benefit increase and they will think, “Who the hell is asking for a benefit increase in a time like this?”

But is the 3% COLA a benefit increase?

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says that the language is vague enough that a COLA adjustment could be considered a benefit increase under this law.

At the root of all this is the faulty premise that the source of the pension problem in Illinois is employee benefits.

It is not.

The source of the problem is the failure of the state to meet its funding obligations for the past four decades. It is a failure of revenue. It is not a problem of benefits.

Some will say, “Too bad. That’s water under the bridge.”

But to the retired teacher, a senior with TRS as their only source of income, it is not water under the bridge. It is food on the table, a gas bill paid, a roof over their head and the ability to see their doctor.

And a promise made to them many years ago.