A Bitter Pill: Illinois Supreme Court Decision and Chicago Corporate Media
Bitter Pill is an idiom that arises from usage nearly a century ago or in some lexicons even earlier. Imagine a time when medicine was less than palatable or manageable, and you have a start. Later on, during the malaria infestations of the Panama Canal (1880 – 1920) project, “bitter” became the operative adjective. “Bark of the cinchona tree was effective in fighting malaria, but the quinine it contained was extremely bitter. Since medications weren't coated, cinchona pellets caused any disagreeable thing to be termed a bitter pill to swallow” (http://www.weirdfacts.com/Origin-of-Phrases-B/bitter-pill-to-swallow.html - ixzz38im70gX7) . Thus, we have the term “bitter pill” for any unpleasant fact that perforce must be accepted.
And, let’s be honest, the recent blitz-ink of the editorial members of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times on July 25th indicate their chiefs’ directions to criticize the recent Illinois Supreme Court findings in Kanerva v. Weems that “we have concluded that the provision was aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of funding to pay for them.”
In the Tribune, Jon McCarron blamed an expansive group of people for the probable failure of SB1 given the recent ISC decision for benefits: “eligibility for all of the benefits is limited to, conditioned upon, and flows directly from membership in one of the State’s various public pension systems. Giving the language of article XIII, section 5, its plain and ordinary meaning, all of these benefits, including subsidized health care must be considered to be benefits of membership in a pension or retirement system of the State and, therefore, within that provision’s protections.”
In McCarron’s opine, the fault lies in Madigan, the Commercial Club, and - in a brief moment – the media. Of course as SB1 competed with SB2404, the Tribune was quick in their editorial board to oppose any lesser package of pension theft than SB1; but now this member/writer of opinion pieces of the board seems confused by not only who is to blame, but what to do next. “So, where do we go from here?”
So, McCarron suggests in his title that we all need to return to the “Drawing Board.” But we all need to remember that the Tribune and other corporate media has never really looked at anything resembling a real answer to two items in order to reduce the pension obligations the State of Illinois owes now and will always owe to those from which it diverted (stole) required money for retirement.
Using a literary puppet like I use Ernesto or Klonsky uses Tony at the Red Line Tap, McCarron suggests his good friend Cullerton proposes that the COLA would be scaled back for current workers unless they agree to no longer receiving raises while they work in the public sector.
Are you serious?
Even local graduates – superb graduates – in education would flee the state for real professions in other intelligent climes.
If not that, McCarron suggests “savants might seek instead a constitutional amendment that removes the pension protection clause.” McCarron does imply there would be difficulty due to numbers needed (3/5th vote by both legislative chambers and a 60% approval of those voting). Ignoring thornier issues, McCarron does not ponder problems of ex post facto, bills of attainder, or grandfathering of the current retirees - not to mention the status of those who are stopped where they currently reside in earnings. Oops, not to mention those who would file suit for a currently un-provided Social Security.
An IEA friend wrote to me that he found little to cringe about in McCarron’s piece. Really? I imagine if you read the title of the piece, things seem better; but the ideas offered in the second column assure me that McCarron and the Tribune are still trying to find an ultimate/negative solution to the pensions, not a actual way out.
The way out is to accept that Illinois has two issues: a revenue problem and a huge debt from years of not servicing their pension obligations. (See answers below?)
The same issue of the Tribune has a younger editorial member, Kristen McQueary, manufacturing a more energetic if not hysterical titular piece: “The terrible-no-good-very-bad ruling.” It would seem McQueary has even less acceptance of the court’s pill than McCarron.
McQueary’s galvanic argument is certainly more heated than McCarron’s, but it plays upon false concepts that even McCarron denounces in his own piece. McQueary believe that the “law (SB1) did not impair the pension system – it strengthened it.’ This of course flies in the face of the McCarron argument that it was a “go-for-broke plan…”
Moreover, it is the Court’s language reinforcement of the “diminishment and impair” clause that really provokes her ire.
Point in fact. The language of the Court is what pensioners have been arguing for nearly half a century, and what Green and Kinney placed into the Constitution of the State of Illinois in 1970 because they feared exactly what has happened would happen.
Anyone perusing bloggers and picking even snippets of Eric Madair’s warnings to the General Assembly would be aware of this. What does the Editorial Board at the Tribune do? The State of Illinois has reneged/diverted/Ignored, stolen (you choose) the money needed to meet the normal costs of pensions for nearly 70 years. Governors like James Thompson have boasted that they were able to accomplish myriad services for people without having to raid taxes, but did so by taking from the pension obligations.
Now, given a deficit of nearly $100 billion, the State is trying to find some way to shift the burden on the backs of those who worked for the state, and McQueary and McBarron would have ALL OF US believe that normal costs are the problem.
In actuality, normal costs have been dropping each year (and that includes the COLA costs).
The Tribune and the Sun-Times have no answers – only attitude. They dislike pensions, and the workers who have them. Because corporate America has no longer any promise of a future in retirement, and because money is to be made in 401 k’s by investment schemers, because they envy the loss of their own earlier financial possibilities; they want pensions abolished – and they will blame the pensioners, not the true causes.
Politicians, like most professional opportunists will utilize this position for their own gain.
What we do not see, will never see, from the Tribune or the Sun Times, is actual policy to correct the problems in revenue and the enormous debt that the State of Illinois has created for itself. That would take forethought and that would require authentic research and thoughtful journalism.
Note: the $100 billion owed to the pension system will not be alleviated by any law or quick fix: like a bad debt, it must be paid.
McQueary believes that union leaders “signed off on allowing the state to skip pension payments into their members’ funds.” Really? Why were there several suits to force the State of Illinois to pay their fair share? Look it up.
McQueary also boasts that the money was used for “paying schools, nursing homes, public safety and other services unions claim to support…” Really? Wouldn’t those be costs we would all share beyond our normal payment into funds for public workers? Why steal it from one group to pay…
(1) That debt of $100 billion is NOT going away. Instead of chaining yourself to a ridiculous scheme to make payments in a ballooning manner (1995), the State needs to amortize the debt to plan for future needs – not be at the beck and call of annual crises.
(2) The State has limited revenue because it operates in an antiquated fashion, using a flat tax and loopholes to achieve limited funds and corporate favoritism. This needs to change.
McCarron and McQueary may tell you and me that unions “thrive on scaring their members…,” but it’s the Tribune and Sun-Times who want us all to act without thinking. Hopefully, the Illinois Supreme Court will act while thinking. That’s what really scares them.