Thursday, May 2, 2013

Don't Be Nervous Says the Tribune: Convincing Words to Legislators

Convincing Words to Legislators  (Don’t Be Nervous says the Tribune)

Some years ago, colleagues and I used to assign short, creative essays to our students studying vocabulary words, which were grouped by category.  In some cases, we asked students to assume a “deranged but educated” persona and convince an unwary reader of the worthiness of an absurd position.  Letting under-12-year-olds use steroids for mini-football camps.  The benefits of having a nuclear waste dump in your town or village.  And so on.

We never realized we were grooming them for writing positions of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune.  And yet, today’s editorial “’Tough Vote’ on Pensions? Hardly” brings to mind those old assignments – and some of our struggling writers.

The editorial accuses the unions and the IEA website of hyperbole (actually the Trib accusing another of hyperbole is extreme irony, or is it hypocrisy).  And after, it pokes some mean-spirited fun: “Teachers: Grab your hazmat suits! And hurry, lest you disintegrate into molten ash!” 

More noteworthy, the writer worries about the hesitant lawmakers who “have reacted with nervous chatter about their forthcoming “tough vote.”  Illinois legislators are, after all, the intended if unwary audience for this piece.

“As is, Illinois won’t be able to pay the pensions its lawmakers promised.  Legislators need to rescue the system for the benefit of today’s and tomorrow’s retirees.  Sounds like a good thing.” 

But to an intelligent legislator it should sound like a mistruth. 

Illinois can easily afford to pay the normal costs for retirees.  It is the cost of debt for years of taking holidays and skipping appropriate payments that has led to the $100 billion shortfall that eats up more and more of the general revenue each year.  It is the adherence to the ramp that frustrates the problem.  And, even if the Tribune ridicules legislators who consider the vote a “tough” one, it may be because the politicians know that as well.  And even when Mr. Madigan blusters that at least four Illinois Supreme Court justices will agree with his proposal, legislators are wise to doubt it.  If they know the history, the justices will.  Maybe Madigan is just trying to make a “tough” vote easier?

Feel anxious, legislator?  You should.

The Trib’s best attempt at absurdity and convincing you comes quickly after: “Rather than focus on what’s being reduced, take a look at what’s being preserved.”

·      First, if you are over age 45, the new proposal will not force you to work any longer than before.  Who wouldn’t vote for that?

·      As for cost-of-living adjustments, older pensioners will see them “level-off.”  And no more compounded COLA’s but retirees will get an increase each year.  Level-off means less, especially when it comes to keeping up with inflation.  Furthermore, eliminating a compound COLA for a simple COLA, and justifying it with the promise of an “increase” each year is at best hollow in reasoning and morality.  And a legislator who has any familiarity with the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution they swore to uphold should be nervous.

·      Current teachers will have to pay up an additional 2 percent on top of 9.4 percent now paid to the state for retirement, etc.  Besides, the editor argues, nearly half of the districts pay some of that or all for the teachers.  Of course, this means that over half do not.  It also means that their district’s collective bargaining includes lesser pay for assistance with contributions.  But the Trib believes that having anything at all is a benefit, and it never believes in promises (aka contracts).

·      Teachers currently under age 44 would be required to work additional years before retiring.  The amount of extra time would be adjusted to age, more years for younger workers.  This is not an impairment or diminishment, argues the Trib, just a change in working conditions.  “…young workers have a decade or more to begin preparing for the change.” 

·      Finally, the Trib presents nervous lawmakers something to assuage their guilt/worry/hesitation: a contractual obligation that the unions have wanted for years, one that requires pension payments become a priority.  Feel better now?  Of course, the Trib argues as a beacon of the Civic Committee that such a clause is too much and too dangerous, but don’t believe the unions were present during the development of this destructive blueprint.  They were not, even if the Trib cleverly suggests they were: The unions fought hard to include this provision in what is now Madigan’s plan.” 

Still not convinced, Representative?  Still worried?

The Trib tells its teacher audience that we should be happy.  We could soon be saddled with 401k’s, or get less with Social Security. Or get nothing at all.

“The Trib says, “Do the right thing for the state – for teachers, for state workers (sic)other government employees, yes, taxpayers too – and pass pension reform.”

After all, this short list of what’s being preserved, not reduced, is comforting?  You think you’re nervous?  You should feel the vibrations of hundreds of thousands of people who are really nervous.  

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