Senator Jim Oberweis (or Milkin’ the System)
Sometimes money can’t buy you love - or even a seat on the highest levels, but it can at least get you into Springfield. After unsuccessful runs for Governor, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Representative; State Senator Jim Oberweis has finally made his political debut. Now situated firmly in the Capitol Building, unlike many other career legislators, he can be free to act without the concerns or regards for trivial matters like salary, retirement, or (in some cases) constitutional law. Welcome, Senator Oberweis.
Running so often in the past for so many offices, we can be sure to know and understand just where our new state Senator stands on the significant issues facing Illinoisans: in this case, the unfunded liability owed to public workers for their pensions. In fact, we can surmise that the Senator will carry these same past and present attitudes and positions into his next (additional) run for Governor in 2014.
Would-be Governor, Senator Oberweis would have public workers accept his personal belief that our pensions are in themselves benefits and not a contract.
In a recent voicemail to a concerned pensioner, Oberweis warned: “The state of Illinois cannot go bankrupt, but if we don’t do something, one day in the not so distant future those who are receiving pension benefits instead of getting a check are going to get a letter saying we know we owe you a check this month, but unfortunately we don’t have any money and we can’t make the payment. That’s what I am fighting to prevent.”
Individuals like AFSCME’s Henry Bayer, who remind legislators that the state is legally on the hook for the unfunded liability of $100 billion (in real dollars) taken from the pension funds, remain exponentially persona no grata around the dome. If the state cannot go bankrupt, well, then find the money you stole from us. Such sentiments inflame some Leaders and Senators. In any case, such words should concern them.
Other cautious legislators who raise concerns about Article XIII, Section 5, of the Illinois Constitution are hushed while in the House of Madigan. “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” Such phrasing means nothing to the likes of would-be-Governor, State Senator Oberweis, who voted affirmatively for SB35, the most draconian and unconstitutional of bills before the Senate last month.
SB 35 would cap COLA’s , freeze any cost of living adjustment until age 67 or five years after retirement, create a new Tier Three for new hires in TRS and SURS, increase retirement ages and increase employee contributions. The Nekritz sister bill is in transit from the House, and it’s probable that Oberweis will vote “aye” on that duplicate. But why would we be surprised? For would-be-Governor, Senator Oberweis, public workers have always been “on the dole,” and especially so public teachers.
When discussing fixes for the public school systems in Illinois, Oberweis often cites free-market principles as the panacea to eliminating all financial and educational problems, and he reminds his many interviewers that his record of dealing with the teamster unions at Oberweis Dairy clearly demonstrates his no-nonsense approach to making business work – a transference he sees quite logical for everyone – unions, schools, and charter-business owners. In an interview conducted for “Public Affairs” with Jeff Berkowitz in 2005, the earlier-would-be Governor expressed support for charter schools, vouchers systems, merit pay for teachers, no tenure at all - calling tenure “ridiculous.” (http://jeffberkowitz.blogspot.com/2005/07/partial-transcripts-of-oberweis-on.html).
In education, according to Senator Oberwies, everyone proves himself as manager of a classroom, and nothing comes for free. On the other hand, would-be Senator Oberweis (and his company) does not always follow that righteous theorem in business practice and has ironically accepted lucrative deals at the expense of Illinois taxpayers to fund operations for building and developing his own businesses. Let’s look at Skokie for one example.
Promising to be the “anchor” store on Dempster in Skokie, Oberweis received a double parcel of land for $400,000 that taxpayers funded with an additional $1.7 million last April. Oberweis promised additional incomes of $2 million for the city, if they funded his building project with TIF money. The city conceded. According to one follower, it will take only 26 years for the city to break even (http://skokie.patch.com/blog_posts/cheeseburgers-tax-dollars-and-the-value-of-an-anchor-store). That’s better than tenure.
But for would-be Governor, State Senator Oberweis, there have always been those who do, and those who don’t. And, quite honestly, pensioners who receive a COLA are those who do not (and should not receive one). As he stated in his voicemail, Oberweis believes, “ Unfortunately, some adjustment is going to have to be made and probably the adjustment will have to be the COLA. Nobody in private industry has those COLA’s anymore. They did thirty or forty years ago. But the companies that had them all went bankrupt.” Oberweis goes on to name many companies that have declared bankruptcy; in actually, most of them in order to avoid the pension obligations they had built up over the years –
But Oberweis has built his political past out of identifying those populations that threaten his vision of the State and country. Why would public sector workers be any different? In fact, you might remember that would-be U.S. Senator Oberweis in 2004 ran a self-besmirching campaign warning of the 10,000 illegal aliens per day and the later 2007 call for a national identification card to eliminate the unwanted and un-industrious. It would appear that past and future candidate Jim Oberweis would continue to warn us all against what is dangerous to America, its workers, and its laws.
So would we.