Pension Tension: A Tarantino Standoff
If you’ve ever found yourself watching the finely crafted violent, retro-adolescent films of Quentin Tarantino, you’ll recall the consistent use of the “standoff” leitmotif. Inglorious Basterds, Django, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Sin City, etc. come to mind. Unlike most stalemates, ones where a winner might possibly emerge, there are at least three (not two) parties with the drop on each other. As a result, the one who acts first is likely to be at the greatest disadvantage. Indeed, in this director’s visions, no one escapes unscathed – if alive.
So it is in Springfield’s own version this week.
SB2404 languishes in the Speaker Madigan’s House after having passed in the Senate, held in check even though according to Capitol Fax there is reported mounting pressure to bring the bill before the floor for a vote. Senate Leader John Cullerton and the coalition of unions called We Are One (including IFT, IEA, AFSCME) are strongly promoting this bill. IRTA has promised to challenge the bill in court if it does pass and receive the Governor’s signature into law. IRTA feels that any change or forced choice that lessens the pensions of current retirees or actives is not constitutional.
SB1 is ensconced in the Senate after having passed the House, held in check by Senate Leader Cullerton, although he faces insistent and elevating admonishment from the Chicago Tribune and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago for not bringing it to the floor for a vote. Other business interests are advocating the passage of the bill in short order. Although unsaid in the Tribune, passage of the bill will bring all (We Are One, IEA, IFT, AFSCME and IRTA) together to challenge the constitutionality of the severe benefit cuts.
Cost Shift: Presidents and chancellors of 14 public universities in Illinois have accepted Speaker Madigan’s plans to shift costs of pensions to the universities and community colleges. The agreement includes increased contributions, hybridized defined benefits for employees, changes in the cost-of-living calculations, and a gradual transition of costs for pensions to the universities. After a second panel gathering and with the university momentum, Madigan is likely to call a cost shift for all school districts in Illinois in the next two days in Springfield. While the unions may dislike or even disagree with this concept to move costs of pension commitments to local taxpayers rather than the state (even gradually), the concept may not rise to a level of constitutional argument.
Nevertheless, a cost-shift to local districts will be devastating to citizens, parents, workers, and taxpayers. Obviously, they need a union too to protect them from the likes of these creatures in Springfield who have underfunded the pensions to a tune of $100 billion dollars and now design to make the workers themselves pay for it and the taxpayers pay for the future of the costs.
In the Southtown Star, editorial writer Phil Kadner stated: “With Madigan, Cullerton, Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel all pushing for the shift, it’s likely to occur no matter the volume of dissent downstate and in the suburbs.
“The goal is to spread the cost shift over so many years, 10 to 15, that school districts won’t initially object and taxpayers won’t care. The cost initially will be a small fraction of your local school district’s budget. But over time those costs will compound and eventually amount to billions of dollars.
“It’s very similar to the scheme the Legislature used to drive the pensions systems to near collapse. By the time the financial crisis hits the school districts, the lawmakers today no longer will be in office. No one will remember who is to blame.
“If a finger of blame gets pointed at all, it will be in the direction of your school board. In fact, the Legislature has had great success with that tactic already in regard to increasing property tax bills, caused in large part by the state’s refusal to fund education.
“Let your representative in Springfield know that you will not turn a blind eye to further skullduggery” (http://southtownstar.suntimes.com/news/kadner/20001098-452/kadner-a-travesty-of-a-mockery-of-a-sham.html?print=true).
Hybrid Bill: And of course there is always the very, very slim possibility that a compromise between the two bills – SB2404 and SB1 – could emerge, but such a bill will also face legal challenges from all the unions.
A past president of the IEA has warned everyone that to go to court is dangerous, a roll of the dice. That may be true, but it appears that someone is going to throw the ivory this spring regardless – unless of course the hostages are held until after May 31st. Representative Lou Lang admonished the Chicago Tribune a week ago for not considering “Constitutionality” in its editorial diatribes. Not that the Tribune was listening to what the Representative suggested. The Tribune editorial board likes to boast that SB1’s draconian cuts to pension benefits will not only provide the huge savings their business masters demand but it will also save the pensions all together. The Tribune does not want to deal with any roll of the dice either. It doesn’t want to reflect thoughtfully about the state’s waiving of sovereign immunity or the state’s responsibility as a taxing authority to raise the funds necessary to maintain the sanctity of contracts (http://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2012/08/that-was-then-this-is-now.html).
I'm not seeing any winners here.