Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pension Reform 2016: Jamais Vu

Pension Reform 2016: Jamais Vu?

Often described as the opposite of déjà vu, jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer's impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before. Jamais vu is sometimes associated with certain types of aphasia, amnesia, and epilepsy.

Even while youngsters learn to read, identifying letters and decoding them, they’re also learning how to comprehend.  The pedagogical belief used to identify 3rd grade as that sacred transition point shifting learning to read to reading to learn, but it’s more complicated and inter-connected than that. 

As that steady change does take place, students become – like most adults – more self-aware about what they are or aren’t comprehending.  Ask any high school classroom if the students ever found themselves reading an entire page in an assignment only to realize they had no idea what they just read?  Every hand will go up.

The task for any serious teacher in any discipline is to provide for normal lapses in the night’s reading assignment by helping alleviate that common malady – providing a guide or overview, preparing a schema, checking for previous knowledge, identifying problematic vocabulary, discussing anticipatory responses, etc. & etc.  And, of course, teaching students themselves to do the same when they’re assigned some pages at the last minute as they hurry out the classroom door. 


That’s my bumper sticker for this political year.  I think maybe Springfield needs a reading teacher for every legislator.  Maybe I’d negotiate a few less than one for each and every of the 177 members in the General Assembly.  Why…?

It’s pretty evident in the last few days that no one in the General Assembly really comprehended the 38 page judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court in unanimously striking down SB1 (also known as Public Act 98-599).  Perhaps they read it, but my bet is their eyes glazed over and they just kept turning pages, vacationing in the font changes, and wondering when the assignment would come to an end. 

It’s pretty obvious the new Governor’s had “his people” read it for him.  I’d push for at least two reading teachers for his office staff; maybe an extra three or four for him – if he read it at all.

Last week, Republican Leaders Durkin and Radogno announced a new bi-partisan pension reform bill.  Durkin, who told me last May he’d have a new pension reform plan with bi-partisan support despite the Supreme Court.  Durkin said he was willing to take a “leap of faith” in dealing with the other side.  Senate Leader Radogno added she considered the outcomes of this collaboration “puny” but “nothing to sneeze at.”

Despite the Governor’s announcement of a new bill for pension reform which modeled the earlier SB2404 of Senate Leader Cullerton, the opinion of the Illinois Supreme Court on May 8, 2015, was sharp well-defined in its message that even a choice of diminishments is strictly unconstitutional. 

Citing Kanerva v. Weems, Justice Karmeier writes, “We held in that case that the clause (Pension Protection Clause) means precisely what it says: ‘if something qualifies as a benefit of the enforceable contractual relationship resulting from membership in one of the State’s pension or retirement systems, it cannot be diminished or impaired.’” 45.

Of course, by the time an excited Governor Rauner came to the microphone, he’d not only ignored the Court’s earlier decision but also added a new “agenda” wrinkle: the elimination of collective bargaining in his pension reform bill. 

Cullerton was quick to remove himself from any part of this discussion of a bill similar in design to his own SB2404, except for the addition of the usual Rauner anti-union demand.    

What triggered Rauner’s last minute addition of a “poison pill” to what might have been another attempt at pension theft in the General Assembly?

Is he as crazy as I sometimes think?

            Barista:  “Welcome to Starbucks.  What can I get you?”

            Rauner:  “How ‘bout a steamin’ venti skinny latte and no collective bargainin’?”

Or with his tanking numbers and inability to govern or do anything – is he reaching for any ally or any action, even if he realizes it can never come to fruition? 

More reading:

Reiterated by Justicer Karmeier in the May 8th decision: “The protections afforded to such benefits by article, section 5 attach once an individual first embarks upon employment in a position covered by a public retirement system, not when the employee ultimately retires.” 46

Is the governor so fixated or under-informed that he is unable to anticipate the senseless waste of litigation and money on a battle that cannot succeed? 

Justice Karmeier:  “Once and individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual…”  46

Asking active teachers to choose between a lesser salary or a lesser COLA is a logical diminishment in every sense.

Facing what appears an insurmountable foe in Speaker Madigan, the cries of a State that has some sense of the need for services for the marginalized, and a realization that he may have bought an office but was woefully unprepared to govern – perhaps this is one of Rauner’s many upcoming acts of desperation. 

As Justice Karmeier and the six other Justices warned “future” leaders and legislators in the striking of PA 98-599: “The State did not select the least drastic means of addressing its financial difficulties is reinforced in legislative history.  As noted earlier in this opinion, the chief sponsor of the legislation stated candidly that other alternatives were available.  Public Act 98-599 was in no sense a last resort.  Rather, it was an expedient to break a political stalemate.” 68

Sounds familiar.

A reading teacher giving his new legislator an assignment to read all 38 pages might ask his Republican or Democratic learner to think about whether Judges would always sound legally erudite or sometimes like just exasperated parents?  If so, how can you tell?  Can you find sections where they do this?

“Even with the protections of that provision (Pension Protection Clause), the General Assembly has repeatedly attempted to find ways to circumvent its clear and unambiguous prohibition against the diminishment or impairment of benefits of membership in public retirement systems…As we noted earlier, through that legislation the General Assembly is attempting to do once again exactly what the people of Illinois, through Article XIII, section 5, said it has no authority to do and must not do.” 84

Good work.  Now, as an involved reader, make a prediction about what activities will need to be done next to lead the state forward. 

In Illinois under Rauner, it’s Jamais Vu all over again. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. How can our leaders be satisfied with being so ridiculously ineffectual? It boggles the mind.