Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rauner Tries Police Powers Argument for Pension Theft

Rauner Tries Police Powers For His Own Self-Created Crisis

You might remember the “affirmative defense” provided by Lisa Madigan in the attempt to take away the pensions earned by those of us who worked in the public sector in Illinois was determined not only as specious but totally objectionable by the Illinois Supreme Court in a unanimous refutation of the State’s Attorney’s argument.

If you do…

If you recall the May 8th, 2015 decision filed by the Illinois Supreme Court, you may find it preposterous that this same argument should be resurrected by Minority Leader Senator Christine Radagno to help flailing Governor Bruce Rauner avoid making payments to the pension systems after his own deliberate strangling of the budget in Illinois. 

Check out SB 2789 at the Illinois General Assembly Page.  It’s the Unbalanced Budget Response Act. 

The Unbalanced Budget Response Act uses the same phrasing and fallacious wording that we found in Lisa Madigan’s earlier hollow attempt to impair or diminish pensions earnings because “a crisis” existed in Illinois’ financial situation due to the burden (self-inflicted according to the ILSC) of the pension debt.

From SB2789: 

(a) "Emergency" means the existence of any situation that any agency finds reasonably constitutes a threat to the public interest, safety, or welfare.

In essence, the “police powers” argument engineered by Lisa Madigan several years ago has been resurrected by Rauner and his cohorts for a crisis even more self-created in a refusal to deliver a budget to the people of Illinois by the governor’s office as proscribed under the Illinois Constitution. 

Meanwhile, a communication from the office of Senator Kimberly Lightford (Assistant Majority Leader 4th District) warns all of us the next possible target of a Governor who has no sense of political leadership and negotiation for those many unfortunate  in need.

March 14, 2016
Dear Friends,

Last week, during a committee meeting at the Capitol, officials from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and Senate Republicans defended their plan to skip pension payments to make the governor’s budget appear balanced.
In order to bridge any gap in state spending, the legislation backed by Gov. Rauner and sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno would give the governor unprecedented power to raid local government accounts and skip pension payments –despite decades of evidence detailing the perils of doing so.
Senate Democrats do not support skipping any payments.
It’s been nearly 100 years since we’ve known about this problem, and it seems some people still haven’t learned from past mistakes. Avoiding paying our pension liabilities forces an unfair burden on workers and does nothing to get Illinois back on track. In times of crisis, leaders find solutions to problems. They don’t run from them.
As early as 1979, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s warned Illinois that its AAA bond rating would be in jeopardy if it did not tackle its increasing unfunded pension liabilities.
The GOP push to skip pension payments comes even as the state’s pension debt tops $100 billion. Studies have shown that more than 40 percent of that debt is due to past lawmakers and governors skipping or shorting pension payments.
“This, to me, would be a big mistake,” Senate President John Cullerton said during committee debate on the Republican proposal.
Sen. Cullerton’s legal team found reports dating back to 1917 cautioning against the massive debt accumulating for future taxpayers because not enough was being invested in the pension funds. Just like skipping credit card payments, shirking responsibility and skipping pension payments now only makes the situation worse down the road.
Senate Democratic leadership has advised Rauner’s budget officials and Republican colleagues not to pursue skipping pension payments.
The legislation is SB 2789.


Assistant Majority Leader
 4th District – Illinois

Monday, March 14, 2016

Trump & Thresholds of Violence

Trump & Thresholds of Violence

In the October 19th issue of The New Yorker last year, author Malcolm Gladwell proposed an earlier hypothesis by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter to partially explain the increased incidents of gun violence in our country, especially with a focus on the disturbing spate of school shootings throughout our nation.

It is an unintentionally prescient piece of writing and worth your time. 
“Thresholds of Violence: How school shootings catch on.”

While Granovetter’s work occurred nearly forty years ago, watching a Donald Trump rally is a fascinating social experiment supporting the scientist’s original theoretical construct of “thresholds” to explain violent behavior – specifically in a riot.

In his essay, Gladwell underscores the elegance of Granovetter’s theory (and not surprisingly, its current application in one presidential candidate’s capricious thrust for power).  

“Most previous explanations had focused on explaining how someone’s beliefs might be altered in the moment. An early theory was that a crowd cast a kind of intoxicating spell over its participants. Then the argument shifted to the idea that rioters might be rational actors: maybe at the moment a riot was beginning people changed their beliefs. They saw what was at stake and recalculated their estimations of the costs and benefits of taking part.

This would indicate that the lady sprouting the Nazi salute at the Donald’s recent gathering was compelled to do so by the fervor of the crowd or even the charisma of the self-proclaimed business leader. 

“But Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them.

“In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

The man who sucker punches a protestor at a Trump rally is responding to the rest, not the individual being escorted forcefully out of the arena.  His act of battery is born by another swing – or even a lesser demonstration of violence which ignites his: a verbal threat, spitting, a racist epithet. 

 Granovetter was most taken by the situations in which people did things for social reasons that went against everything they believed as individuals. “Most did not think it ‘right’ to commit illegal acts or even particularly want to do so,” he wrote, about the findings of a study of delinquent boys. “But group interaction was such that none could admit this without loss of status; in our terms, their threshold for stealing cars is low because daring masculine acts bring status, and reluctance to join, once others have, carries the high cost of being labeled a sissy.” You can’t just look at an individual’s norms and motives. You need to look at the group.

Trump has appealed to the darkest angels in each of us and, when herded together in an auditorium or stadium collectively, unleashed the terrible likelihood of capricious violence through rabid xenophobia.  

Before application to more examples of school shootings, Gladwell discussing Granovetter’s theory hits perilously home in regards to our current political spectacle.

"Finally, Granovetter’s model suggests that riots are sometimes more than spontaneous outbursts. If they evolve, it means they have depth and length and a history. Granovetter thought that the threshold hypothesis could be used to describe everything from elections to strikes, and even matters as prosaic as how people decide it’s time to leave a party."

For Mark Granovetter’s original work, please read Threshold Models of Collective Behavior.

It’s Super Tuesday.  Be sure to vote.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Memory Redux: Fighting Pension Amnesia

They’re back…

Less than a year after an austere judicial response by a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court to the General Assembly in Illinois and its political leadership that the attempt to curtail the benefits of public employees earned and protected under the Constitution is forbidden – they’re back at it again.

The Governor is promising an extra $billion to use for programs strangled by his refusal to govern if only Senate Leader Cullerton would hurry up with “his” Pension Reform package – in essence a plan for those currently working in the public sector to select between two types of diminishment and impairment. 

Representative Elaine Nekritz, Rep. Batinick, and Rep. Fortner are playing with opt-outs or lump sum payments in lieu of pensions.

The Editorial Board at Tribune disingenuously drones that Illinois’ fiscal debt is more a result of sweet deals made with unions than a regretful history of legislative irresponsibilities.  And conveniently disremembers the May 8th ILSC decision on SB1.

Meanwhile, the Tribune’s Voice of the People accepts what appears increased complaints from forgetful individuals who blame union workers and embrace a rewritten history quite fashionable in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s mansion(s).

I was pleased to receive an email correspondence from the leadership of the West Lake Shore Unit of the IRTA this afternoon.  Please see below:

“Dear Fellow IRTA Members,

This is a piece written by Al Popowits, Legislative Committee WLSU.  His information about the history of the pension dilemma in Illinois is worth reading.

Marjorie Sucansky
President West Lake Shore Unit

‘Dear Board Members,
          Recently a conservative writer blamed Madigan and the Democrats for the state’s fiscal mess. I thought it useful to give a historical perspective of the problem in order to highlight the culpability of both political parties.
                                                                                      Al Popowits
A recent contributor to Viewpoints stated that Michael Madigan was the main culprit responsible for Illinois' financial mess. In doing so the writer ignored the contributions of previous Republican and Democratic governors. 
Illinois pension woes date back nearly a century. However, today’s crises took root under Governor Jim Thompson. In 1989 and 1990s  the four term Republican signed off on sprawling pension packages that granted generous cost of living allowances to retirees. 
In 1994 Republican Governor Jim Edgar conceived of a fifty year program-“the Edgar Ramp” to stabilize the state’s retirement systems. The governor’s goal was to have the five systems 90% funded by 2045. For the first fifteen years state payment levels were set artificially low, and then ramped up significantly in later years. The hope was that future leaders would somehow find the billions of dollars to make up for the deficits. In 2016-’17 the ramp required a state contribution of $7.6B-one out of every four dollars in the state’s general fund. Some have described the Edgar Ramp as a “balloon payment on steroids”.
 When in 2002 it became obvious that the Democrats would retake state government, then Republican Governor Ryan signed off on a lucrative exit package for thousands of state employees who got their start under Republican administrations. His plan gave them the option of speeding up their retirement by buying age and service credits.  Eleven thousand employees took the offer at a cost of $2.3B. 
In 2003 Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich signed off on a $10B borrowing plan to give the state’s five pension funds new cash. The state owes $15B in principle and interest through 2033. However, the plan was an actuarial success in that the retirement systems investment returns varied from 8.43% to 9.25% whereas the original borrowing rate was on 5.047%. The successful plan raised the systems’ funded ratios from 49% to 61%. Unfortunately, the legislature used the good news to declare pension holidays in 2006 and 2007. One sponsor of the bill later acknowledged that he and his colleagues did not understand the cumulative impact of differing financial obligations into the future. 
 In December of 2013 Speaker Madigan crafted pension cutback legislation. He assured the legislature that it would pass constitutional muster. The legislation was signed by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The legislation supposedly would save $160B over 40 years by substantially reducing the pension benefits of retirees and current employees. In May of 2014(sic) the State Supreme Court unanimously declared the legislation unconstitutional. 
Last July Governor Rauner proposed a plan that he said would save billions of dollars by reducing pension benefits and weakening labor unions. Little has changed. 
There are well-known solutions to Illinois’ financial difficulties. However, they have been eschewed by both political parties because they require painful choices. 

The great statesman Winston Churchill once remarked that Americans would always do the right thing…after they’ve tried everything else.   It appears that Illinois legislators are not yet finished trying everything else.’” 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rauner: Going Postal In Illinois

Rauner: Going Postal in Illinois

My good friend at work the other day announced that she had discovered a $100 ticket for not having the appropriate license renewal sticker on her automobile license plates while she was in a store at a local shopping center.  In fact, she reported, “The entire lot was loaded with fluttering tickets on windshields under the wiper blades.” 

“At first I thought it was some flyer or sales pitch,” she lamented, “but then I realized it was a ticket for an expired license plate.  How was I to know?”

How indeed?  But ignorance of the law, even a new one announced without fanfare in September of 2015 by Secretary of State Jesse White, is no excuse.

 Evidently postage costs have become an issue in our State of Illinois as we trundle on to another month-after-month of budget impasse.

“Secretary of State Jesse White’s office said Monday it would no longer send out vehicle registration renewal reminder notices because of the state’s budget impasse.  White is scrambling to cut usually ordinary costs of his office in order to maintain services for as long as possible under Governor Rauner’s refusal to work toward a budget with0ut the General Assembly’s adoption of his political agenda. 

“White’s office said the move will save about $450,000 a month in postage costs. By suspending the renewal notices, the office said it will be able to stretch out the remaining postage account ‘for a few months longer,’ which will enable the office to continue mailing the license renewal stickers themselves along with titles and license plates to vehicle owners.”

I noticed an expired sticker on my neighbor’s automobile the other day, and I warned him as we stood together talking in his driveway. 

“You need to go to,” I suggested helpfully, “and get yourself registered so they can give you an email when you’re due for a license sticker change.”

“You need to go to $@#!,” he replied crustily, “because I pay for those &^%#@%$# to let me know when I need to do something.  Not the other waysround.”

Then again, maybe this is another dazzling scheme by our CEO governor to achieve funds by penalizing people for not knowing when they were expired or even what was going on.

On the other hand, I noted to myself, whenever I write to the governor regarding another disagreement I have had with his decision-making, I get back a nice stamped form letter from his office headed by Lance Trover, his communications officer.  I’ve quite a few of them. 

I send one there; they send one back.

It would seem the Governor’s Office of Communications postal account is not as limited as the Office of the Secretary of State.

And, It is always the same old form letter:

”The Governor wishes to thank you for your opinions…”   OR  “The Governor’s Agenda is an important element in making…”   OR   “The Governor welcomes your input and…”

I wonder sometimes if I sent 5000 of my own form letters to Lance if I’d receive the same return?  But, I can’t afford that any more than Jesse White.

Now I read that we will no longer be informed that our cars need emissions testing.  No more mailings there either.

As a people, we have been striving to amend and enforce the benefits of the original Clean Air Act of the 1970’s and the legislative offspring of subsequent decades.
What began as an elimination of lead pollutants, evolved into the advent of the catalytic convertors, the use of oxygen sensors, the attempts to limit dangerous nitrogen oxides. 

When we were kids, I remember the snow along the streets turning black after a few days.  Not so anymore.  Efforts by our government have reduced emissions of lead and other pollutants greatly, but the additional miles we drive have, according to the EPA, has not made overall pollutant measurements take a nose-dive.  It disturbingly  remains about the same.  Lead aggregate emissions, on the other hand, have dropped nearly 95%. 

And do not forget that this careful monitoring has included the scrutiny of emissions once considered harmless (carbon dioxide) and now thought to be seriously contributing to our global warming. 

By the way, our Governor Rauner supports fiscally and vocally those groups that refuse to believe in global warming.

So, here’s where we are now.  No more mailings for emissions testing in Illinois.  Instead, the state will try to filter those needing testing when we apply for our license plate renewals.

Wait, did you just read that?

That’s enough.  I’m gonna sit right down and write a letter…