General Assembly Reconvenes (or Pensions and Occam’s Razor)
Occam’s Razor – noun : Numquam ponenda est pluralitis sine necessitate – (Plurality must never be posited without necessity). Occam’s Razor is the theoretical principle of parsimony in problem solving; in other words, seek the simplest answer from or among many alternatives.
Although many alternative actions to a nationally infamous Illinois pension shortfall have been suggested and urged over the last few years, many members of the General Assembly have maintained a singular focus of cutting contractually promised benefits to public sector workers.
Alternative suggestions and fixes have included the following: increasing tax revenues with minor transaction taxes, closing business tax loopholes, stopping the gifting of corporations with tax revenue relief based upon their threats and warnings, changing the 1995 billing schedule that “ramps up” the cost of pension payments to remedy the unfunded liability, amortizing the state’s unfunded debt issues, using the recent 2% income tax increase to fund pension shortfalls, reducing the need to achieve 100% funding to 90% funding, passing an amendment to secure a revenue increase by way of a graduated tax system, rescheduling bill payments to prevent shortfalls, etc.
First term Senators to the General Assembly this spring have described the talk of pensions as noisy, but absent any discussion regarding changes in revenue streams. One new Senator who recently dropped out of the national race for Jackson’s federal seat told me that he was “proud” of his position to endorse the kind of bill that would come from the House (HB3411). He explained that it was the fastest and best way to get money to pay back the unfunded liability. When asked about the constitutional legality, he was impatient and reminded me that “we make laws and those laws are in place after we make them. When we took the money from you, you also benefitted from the roads and the other stuff you got. So you benefitted too. Now it’s time for you to pay for what you got.”
One can hardly argue with logic like that. In fact, under that reasoning, if I were to steal your wallet and throw a huge party to which you used my lawn as you passed by – you too would be responsible and have to pay for the gala again. And this is logic and rhetoric that they teach at Northwestern University? But I digress… in disbelief. Maybe Senators Jones and Davis can explain how constitution often trumps laws and the rights and wrongs of such illogic to their fellow Senator.
Meanwhile, Representatives Nekritz and Cross have urged the passing of legislation in the Senate that has succeeded for them in the House, using the same kind of fear, irrationality, half truths, and urgency which marked the run-up to the Iraq War. One can see their histrionics in their latest pieces in the Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-oped-0408-pension-20130404,0,1444056.story.
Together, Cross and Nekritz have designed a path to divert additional billions of dollars from those who were promised contractually their pensions despite the “proverbial elephant in the room” that Nekritz identifies as pension costs – not the necessary payment to unfunded liabilities after decades of skipping payments promised. While she and Cross decry the increases of the pension costs of “approximately 22 percent of the general funds budget, up from 7 percent ten years ago,” she does not explain that holding to an ill-designed pay-back schedule (which they did not follow to begin with) has created this scenario – nor does she explain that re-amortizing this debt would change the trajectory of payments past and future. This is how Representative Nekritz keeps the emotion rolling. She’s good at it.
As the entire body reconvenes on Tuesday, April 9th, Cross and Nekritz urge their fellow lawmakers that “We cannot let the opportunity for change pass us by…(to pass) a comprehensive pension reform bill.” This is not the same Elaine Nekritz that sought constitutional solutions two years ago. This is not the same Representative Cross who promised constituents and retirees that he would protect them from any harm in pension reform.
Instead, this is their invitation to all legislators to ignore past precedent, to ignore contract law, to cut away at the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of families, to punish the future educators and public workers in Illinois, and to break their oaths of office to the State of Illinois. Let’s see how many accept the call. And let’s remember who they are.
Call now and warn your legislator you will be watching and you will remember. Call 888-412-6570. Call NOW.