Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Representative Lang: A Former Friend's Explanation of His Positive Vote on Madigan's SB1

"I may be wrong, but I think it's constitutional…"
Representative Lou Lang: The Explanation of a Former Friend's Positive Vote on SB1 – sort of...

On a Progressive Radio Talk Show entitled Back on the Beat (see also Doogie’s Place), Dick Kay invited Representative Lou Lang to discuss the upcoming gubernatorial election and the state of politics in Illinois.  A podcast of the program is available on Mr. Kay’s website Doogie’s Place.

At 1:22:17 into the program, one caller asked about Lang's affirmative vote for SB1 as the Representative took questions from the public.  The Representative’s answers are quite revealing.

 Caller Question for Rep. Lou Lang:

Thank you.  I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. I do have a question for you, which is this.  Well, first a comment.  I have been very, very proud of you and your work within the House of Representatives.  I was very excited, even ecstatic, one afternoon when I picked up the Tribune and saw an article that was written by you that was a response to the opinion pieces written by the Editorial Board of the Tribune - Mr. Dold and the gang.  In it you said it is often better to think constitutionally before one throws out ideas about what might be changed in Springfield. 

Which leaves me kind of questioning, "What happened to you?"  You voted for SB1, Why did you move suddenly toward something which has all the appearances of being  totally unconstitutional and is pension theft of the public workers? What prompted you...what was the watershed moment that led you to suddenly change and go with SB1?

Dick Kay's Back on the Beat Sat. Afternoons
Response by Rep. Lou Lang:

It's a fair question, John, and I appreciate the opportunity to answer it.  I am one in Springfield who stood against all the previous pension bills.  I was opposed to Senator Cullerton's proposal; I was opposed to Speaker Madigan's original proposal.  And I was a member of Speaker Madigan's Leadership Team -  that's not always easy to do.  But I stood in front of all the previous bills and I did feel they were unconstitutional.

I feel the changes made in this bill were worthy of consideration, and I feel that this bill will be held constitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court.  I may be wrong, but I think this is constitutional, but let me say this.  Whether it is constitutional or not, this was a very tough vote for me and many of my colleagues.  I agonized over this; in fact, in the 27 years I've been in the House of Representatives, this is the most difficult vote I ever had to take. 

I didn't want to look teachers and state employees in the eye and say I was making changes in their pension benefits they wouldn't appreciate or like.  But the performance of the pension benefits into the future and to assure that they would still be there ten and fifteen and twenty years from now, for those who are on a pension.  And the state finances required me I felt to bite my lip and vote for the bill.  I must say that' the argument that teachers particularly made that all they have done over the years is do their bit, pay what they were told to pay without question, and that the General Assembly let them down… and I can't argue that point. I think we did let you down in many years.  But we got to a point where a bill had to pass and I had to vote for it.

Caller Follow Up Question for Rep. Lou Lang:

Well, all right, I thank you for that.  And I notice that you use the term consideration at one point during your discussion here this afternoon.  I am retired, and I've been caring for elderly parents who have been very ill.  And I'd like to know what consideration you're giving me for the COLA you're taking away?

Response by Rep. Lou Lang:

Well, you're trying to make a constitutional argument with me now, and I don't ...I'm not prepared to debate that issue.  I simply want to say that as a lawyer myself, and as a person who's studied the Constitution and poured over it, and poured over the previous bills and this bill, I felt those were unconstitutional, but I feel this bill will be upheld by the Supreme Court. 

If not, then we'll have to go back to the drawing board, and I have to tell you very honestly that while I feel that we needed to do this, I won't be unhappy if the Supreme Court bounces it back to us and you guys all get back what you think you deserve.   I spent a career being on the side of people in organized labor.  I spent a career defending you. 

My labor voting record in the Illinois House for 29 years is over 98%.  I think I let you down on this one but I felt I did what I had to do. 

Caller Response:

I appreciate your comments,  Thank you, sir.


  1. “I think I let you down on this one, but I felt I did what I had to do” Lou Lang:

    Indeed! Despite the fact that the State of Illinois entered into “an enforceable contractual relationship” (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution) in 1970 of which pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired”; despite the fact that the State of Illinois has underfunded the five public pension systems for decades and has used this money as if it were its own private savings account to pay its other arrears and particular interests!

    Approximately $15 billion was stolen from the Teachers Retirement of Illinois ($30 billion overall). This amount does not include the possible investment income that would have been earned.

    Apparently, Lou Lang has chosen to ignore what Eric Madiar, Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate, concluded more than two years ago:

    “Pension benefits are under siege for two reasons: opportunity and political motives… [and legislators such as Lang like to frame the] larger discussion of whether [breaking a constitutional contract] provides [Illinois] with a means to achieve a particular objective: the unilateral reduction of public pension benefits to avoid painful tax increases, service cuts, or both…”

    “One thing we cannot do [Lou Lang]… is [to] ignore the Constitution of Illinois.... No principle of law permits us to suspend constitutional requirements for economic reasons, no matter how compelling those reasons may seem…” (Docket Nos. 97624, 97656 cons.-Agenda 10-March 2004. ANN B. JORGENSEN et al., Appellees, v. ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, Governor, et al., Appellants. Opinion Filed May 20, 2004. JUSTICE RARICK delivered the opinion of the court.

  2. Lou Lang, playing good cop to Madigan's bad cop, makes me wonder what really got him to change his vote.
    "I seen my duty and I done it, but I wish you the best for the unjustice I done ya."
    If a screenwriter wrote this dialogue for a secondary character in a B movie, I'd fire him. There is no logic or honesty evident in his politicotalk. Every teacher he ever had in school is ashamed of his doublespeak and his deceitful behavior.

  3. Let me help someone steal your wallet. When I admit to you that what I had done was wrong, you're supposed to forgive me. And, by the way, I hope you get your wallet back.

    Lang defends the same legislative backhandedness that defines decades of the General Assembly's pension theft with his 'yea' vote on SB1 and then hopes what was stolen from retirees gets returned? Wake up, Mr. Lang.

    I'm not buying your veiled mea culpa, Lou, nor should anyone else.

  4. I heard that interview as I was about road rage! I am so tired of this lame argument, "We have to do something"...ok, pensions cost about $1 Billion per year and you're getting you panites all twisted up about this, but Corporate tax loopholes, subsidies, just basic big bidness welfare costs over $ TWO BILLION PER YEAR, and nobody blinks an eye.

  5. Go back to the drawing board? Re-adjust the ramp, and issue bonds at todays lower interest rate to pay down the pension obligations that are at a higher rate.
    You are welcome, Lou Lang.