Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Am the Very Model of a Modern General Assembly

Apples & Oranges (or I Am the Very Model of a Modern General Assembly)

Idiom: Apples and Oranges is a colloquial phrase indicating the positing of a false analogy.  In essence, it means the illogical comparison of two or more items that cannot be logically or accurately compared. 

From the Chicago Tribune on February 11, 2013, the oak-paneled, cloistered Editorial Board once again offers a specious proposition suggesting that “Some lawmakers in Illinois are setting a good example…” in relinquishing their rights to a pension benefit, as described by state law” (  The Tribune then goes on to list the 22 example-setters who have paved the way – with good intentions – to help solve the pension crisis by personal example. 
You’ll find the list at the end of this blog – although at least one new representative informed me that their own name is excluded and that perhaps several others are as well.  After all, the freshman legislator proudly explained, they want to do what all the others are doing to show they too recognize the extremity of the State’s financial problems.  The newspaper was proud of their combined sacrifice, and they were too.

By the way, the Tribune does not inform that the legislators have opted for other forms of retirement – as they must under federal law – social security or a dedicated 401 program.  

Reading the Tribune – if one must – their Board makes it easy to apply this seemingly altruistic act to the general public sector workers.  If the freshmen members of the General Assembly can perform such a sacrifice in the name of the general good, why can’t the other public sector workers?  After all, pensions are the problem, right?  And the Tribune is quick to give support to that reverberating opinion: “They can collect up to 85% of their final salary, with compounded cost of living increase every year.  They can begin collecting as early as age 55.”  The Tribune goes on to use past Senate leader Emil Jones as an egregious example, also pointing out “And we repeat: The state doesn’t collect taxes on pension benefits.”  For shame!  Of course, Illinois is one of a few states (certainly not like our neighbors in WI, IN, or IA) that does not tax retirement income, but the Tribune would make an exception for evil Emil Jones. 

On the other hand, don’t take the Tribune’s campaign of the positives in relinquishing a pension for social security too faithfully.  It might just cost you and me – the taxpayers – more than the current pensions system, a system the General Assembly already robbed and now owes nearly $100 billion. 

Legislators are required to pay 11.5% of their annual salary to the GAR (General Assembly Retirement), which is around $70,000.  To be honest, that includes several other nice additions – COLA, Health Care, social security, etc.  On the other hand, the Tribune calls their work a “part time job,” which it is for many who have businesses or partnerships in law firms.  Nevertheless, the statesman or professional legislator may not be quite as supported by additional income like a Senator Jim Oberweis, etc.  Indeed, some began as librarians or teachers and are following a calling, not seeking another trophy.  Extended, the Tribune’s patriotic plea for monetary sacrifice can also be an invitation to the overtly wealthy to make law for the less fortunate. 

And if we were to follow the business model that the Tribune so favors?  After all the Trib considers a pension “one of the sweetest perks.”  What if all teachers were to decline the pension for social security, which is what the “no thanks” is really all about.  Here is what actually would happen.

A teacher would pay 6.2% of his or her salary to Social Security.  The district would pay a matching 6.2%.  The impact on the needs of students in the curricular programs would be considerable.  A 2007 study showed that moving teachers into social security would cost school districts an additional $3 billion on the first 10 years (from 2008-2018)”(

Not done yet: We haven’t even talked about Tier Two victims.  According to Bucks Consultants, it is very likely that the State of Illinois will owe even further on the federal level as the “TRS second Tier plan will no longer meet the requirements for FICA tax exemption”  (Bucks Consultants.  TRS. 30 June 2010.).  Salary caps for Tier Two employees will cease to meet minimum federal requirements in approximately 2036.

Meanwhile, the unfunded liability hovers like the 200-pound gorilla in the room.  But the Tribune doesn’t see that.  Never does.  The Tribune would apply this pension-denial movement to all of us in the public sector.  It’s what they do.  Here’s how they end their piece: “So, give credit to the 22 members who have said they won’t take a pension.  They’ve set a good example.  Now they should lead a reform effort to reform the pension system…”  Let’s see.  No more pensions.  Still owe $100 billion.  Great idea?

Social Security Takers: Representatives Kelly Burke, John Cabello, Katherine Cloonen, C.D. Davidsmeyer, Scott Drury, Brad Halbrook, Josh Harms, Jeanne Ives, Dwight Kay, Stephanie Kifowit, David McSeeney, Thomas Morrison, Martin Moylan, Pam Roth, Ron Sandack, Sue Scherer, Kathleen Willis; Senators Melinda Bush, Thomas Cullerton, Davis Luechtefeld, Andy Manar, and Julie Morrison. 

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