Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Contretemps (Stuck in the Middle?)

Contretemps (…stuck in the middle, again)

Noun(French) an awkward or difficult place or situation, a mishap or predicament.

Hopefully, the to-be-convened summit planned by We Are One for Feb. 11th will yield fruit, if legislators will attend - as some of the "pension reform leadership" have yet to acknowledge interest or even awareness.  In fact, Representative Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, a sponsor of the pension reform bill HB6258 recently responded that she had not heard of the summit (http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1578914071/State-unions-propose-pension-summit ).  

Between last week and the next month’s scheduled summit, retiree Glen Brown reiterated a long-espoused position that Illinois faces a revenue problem, complicated by its pension debt in a petition on Signon.Org.  To date, Glen has received nearly 4000 signatures and another thousand calls to hold firm against the General Assembly’s maneuverings to place the weight of the revenue correction on the public sector workers – past and present.  Various members of the public sector leadership(s) in Illinois have signed on, and one (IRTA) has placed the petition on its website (http://signon.org/sign/illinois-revenue-and?source=c.em.cp&r_by=1130041 ). 

Others have decided that while they support the undertakings of activists and thinkers like Glen, they cannot concur specifically to the call as expressed in the petition’s wording.  Note:  Those same leaders have also, in some cases, signed that very petition.   On the other hand, if not exactly on message, others warn that such examples of rolling the dice or obstinacy is ultimately a self-defeating extremism.  Such contretemps fails to recognize the like enemy we all face beginning January 30th.  In fine, we all need be mindful that identifying our separate positions as extremist will not help, and that Glen's response to the perceived issues surrounding his petition are quite revealing and reverberating.  The actual extremism is found in the latest bills - Nekritz's HB 6258 and Cullerton's secondary option in case the first is found unconstitutional.

Whether or not the coalition of public sector unions can endorse a petition or not, to ask We Are One to hold firm is to remind our leadership that contractual guarantees were made and broken by the same people who would come to the summit; to remind them that thus far the move to correct the unfunded liability is being placed on the very people from whom promised payments were stolen over nearly half a century.  They would deny our COLA’s, increase our contributions beyond any other state, cap our benefits, increase our retirement ages, offer the falsity of cash balance plans in the place of defined benefits, choose to lose our health benefits, punish us for having worked in the public sector, and (if possible) push the cost for pensions to the local districts.  Extremism in this case is an understatement. 

Indeed, IEA leadership’s warning that to do nothing and simply await a court decision is also unthinkable.  Recall that the statement “Let the courts decide” was the cynical prediction made by Speaker Madigan – who has been eerily silent – nearly two years ago.  That is not the message of the petition; case in point, Glen's petition to correct the revenue problem must be the primary focus if anything permanent and lasting is to be accomplished.  The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability reminds us all that even given the benefit cuts in their entirety, the cuts will never keep pace with the 1995 ramp-up to pay back the unfunded liability of years of non-payment by the state.  Nothing in HB 6258 does anything to address the systemic, structural revenue failure in Illinois.  Nothing in any proposed legislation put forward have yet to address the ridiculous pension ramp, which "squeezes" the budget annually at ever-increasing rates.  In fact, the General Assembly would return again to find more ways to cut more benefits, as that seems their extremist nature. 

What We Are One and what the petition desires are not so very different: to call attention to serious long-term answers to the revenue crisis in Illinois, and to demand that the General Assembly address the problem without breaking the contractual agreements made to all in the public sector who have given what was asked - in work and in payment.  In the last week, proposals by Representative Naomi Jakobsson and Representative  Linda Chapa La Via for a graduated income tax (HJRCA0002) may perhaps demonstrate a first legislative recognition that revenue is both the problem and the answer.  Last spring, I listened to the Representative Bill Cunningham, Representative Kelly Burke, and Representative Mary Flowers endorse their own beliefs that a graduated income tax was necessary in the near future to help Illinois move forward financially.  Lately I see that Representative Kelly Cassidy has also signed on the need for a graduated income tax. 

Perhaps there are other voices and minds besides the extremists – in the General Assembly.  Let’s keep talking to them.

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