Questions for Illinois’ so-called progressive Democrats who have chosen to run and hide on Janurary 3rd.


The great heavyweight champion Joe Louis is famous for saying, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

Thousands of Illinois public employees, teachers included, made plans to talk to state legislators when they were going to meet in lame duck session January 3rd.

Emails were sent out. Phone calls were made. Buses were rented. Vacation plans were changed.

Chicago area’s so-called progressive Democrats like Dan Biss, Elaine Nekritz, Robin Gabel and Kelly Cassidy are sponsoring a pension reform bill that will do great harm to retirees if it is passed.

But once the word went out that we were coming, the House cancelled their session until January 6th.

So since I’ll be in Springfield on January 3rd and the so-called progressive Democrats will be in hiding, here is my point:

1. You know now that your bill and any bill that diminishes or impairs the retirement benefits of state employees is in violation of the state’s constitutional pension protection provision.

2. You know now that it breaks a contractual agreement.

3. You know now that cutting benefits such as cost of living increases to retired seniors or denying them access (Just access. Teachers already pay their own premium.) to the state’s retiree health insurance does nothing to reduce the billions of dollars in pension liability.

4. You know now increasing teacher contributions won’t make a dent in the state’s pension obligation.

5. You know now that shifting the cost of the pension obligation to local districts will create havoc for already cash-strapped school districts and local tax-payers.

6. You know now that going after retirees in spite of promises made to them when we began our teaching careers is morally indefensible.

7. You know now, as my post yesterday demonstrated, that cutting pension benefits is a financial hit on the working people of your legislative district, not just on the members of the pension systems.

8. You know now the solution to the pension issue does not rest on cutting benefits, but on finding revenue. You know now that the current state income tax, one that taxes the rich and the poor at the same tax rate, can’t possibly raise enough revenue to pay the state’s bills. You know now that only a progressive income tax, one which asks more from those most able to pay, can raise enough revenue without financially crushing working people.

You know all this because we have presented the evidence to you for years.

And many of you even admit that it is true.

What can we conclude?

We can conclude that your only interest is protecting those that can most afford to pay, no matter who it hurts.

When we say that even though the current system asks the housekeeper at the Hyatt Hotel to pay the same state income tax rate as Hyatt owner Penny Pritzker, you refuse to act.

“We don’t have the votes for tax fairness,” you told me.

Even though Democrats have won both houses of the Illinois General Assembly by veto proof majorities and a Democrat is governor?

For years you have tried to cut the benefits of retired public employees but have done nothing to address the revenue issue.

We’re coming next Thursday.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Pension Tuesday.

Readers shared with me some responses they received this week from legislators regarding our pensions. So, I’m sharing them with you.

Senator Michael Frerichs from the downstate 52nd district wrote this to a constituent:

Members of the General Assembly have been expecting Governor Pat Quinn to call us back for a special session to address pension reform. I have been waiting for that call to communicate the current proposal from the Governor.

It now seems like it will be a while before we are called back. It is possible that is might not be until Veto Session in November. With that in mind, I wanted to write to you to recap what transpired during the last weeks of session.

There had been much discussion in the media about pension reform and different proposals from different legislators and groups. Thank you for contacting me about your opposition to them.  I’m happy to tell you that none of these pension proposals passed the General Assembly this session.

Senate Bill 1673, left the Senate as a different bill; in the House the bill underwent changes as major amendments were added in the House. Ultimately in the House, the measure was not called for a vote by either of the bill sponsors: Speaker Madigan and Leader Cross.

Three separate proposals were introduced in the Senate; one proposal, House Bill 1447, which would have forced current and retired state employees to choose between diminished benefits and losing access to retiree health insurance and pensionable raises, passed the Senate against my opposition.  The bill was not called for a vote in the house.

As I have continued to promise, I will do everything in my power to uphold the benefits that you as a state employee have worked so hard for while also working to fully fund our commitments. 

Brad Wohlgemuth reports:

I had a phone call from Senator Katowski regarding the amendment 49. His claim is this would not enable legislators to modify current benefits for current retirees. I told him I thought he was mistaken. He said he would check it out. I was going to send him one of Glen’s pieces on 49.

Constitutional Amendment 49 will appear on the November ballot thanks to Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and House Speaker Michael Madigan. In the House it was passed 113 to 0.

If the voters agree, the Amendment would require a super majority in both houses of the General Assembly to increase state employee pension benefits.

This could impact yearly cost of living increases (COLA) benefits that retirees now receive.

Why would Senator Kotowski believe that current retirees are excluded? Does it say that in the Constitutional Amendment?

Good for Brad for sending the Senator Glen’s posts.

If you don’t read Glen Brown’s blog, you don’t know about the pension problem in Illinois.

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.

Virtual Lobby Day Tuesday.

You have two lobby jobs today.

The first is to contact your state senator and state representative and remind them of the promise that the state made to meet their obligations to state employee pensions. No three-tier schemes. No shifting of the obligation to local school boards.

Remind them that early voting is going on right now. That there is a primary election in a few days. That you vote. And you will vote again in November.

You can email them here.

And then go here and sign the petition to Governor Quinn. Don’t cut the state’s obligation to retiree health insurance. Don’t double cost of insurance to retired teachers.

Send the petition to five people you know.

Virtual Lobby Day Tuesday. School board members can do it too.

The IEA may not be mobilizing people to go to Springfield. But teachers in this area want to go anyway. So we’re looking into getting a bus (maybe two) and heading down to the Capitol after Spring break.

Sometimes things are too important to be left to those in charge.

But today is today. Time to send an email or make the call to your local state senator and state representative.

The corporate Civic Committee’s Ty Fahner three-tier bill, SB512 is still out there. Senate President John Cullerton is pushing hard at shifting the state’s pension obligations to local school districts. There’s a bill to tax retiree benefits and another plan by the governor to cut state payments to the retiree health insurance, TRIP.

By the way. I’ve heard that the plan to shift the pension obligation to local districts has sent shivers up the spines of school board members. Some of them read this blog. They can use the IEA website too.

You can contact your legislators here.

And while you at it, use the Chicago Teachers Union website to contact your people about Senator Iris Martinez’s bill to stop school closings. Their site is here. Her Committee is meeting on it today.