Kadner: A travesty of a mockery of a sham
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org May 10, 2013 10:52PM
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2011 file photo, Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers on the House floor at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Madigan says pension boosts for public employees in Illinois should require more support in the General Assembly before becoming law and is proposing a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths vote of the House and Senate for any legislation that increases retirement benefits. A simple majority is required now. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Updated: June 13, 2013 6:14PM
Mike Madigan really wants to raise suburban property tax bills.
“This is going to happen,” the speaker of the Illinois House said last week, referring to the shift in funding pensions for suburban teachers from the state to local school districts. “There will be a new plan.”
The Legislature has been busy crafting a pension reform plan in Springfield. While the Senate and House each passed their version of reform, neither included the dreaded shift in funding to suburban and downstate school districts.
Legislators from those areas, beset by angry residents, had made it clear they would not go along with any pension reform plan that included shifting a larger burden of the pension costs to their constituents.
Last year, I cautioned readers that Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Gov. Pat Quinn all supported the idea of sticking suburban homeowners with the tab for the state’s decades of neglect.
For 30 years, the state of Illinois has underfunded its five pension systems, but the Teachers’ Retirement System has suffered the most.
Billions of dollars for the pension funds were lost, misplaced or spent somewhere they shouldn’t have been. Nobody seems to care what happened to all that money.
Few seem to remember that the state had the legal obligation of funding the pension systems, and elected officials simply failed to do their jobs.
You paid tax money to fund the pensions. But your elected leaders chose to spend the money on something else.
The politicians, watchdog groups and newspaper pundits all seem to say it’s way too late to demand accountability.
The only thing to do now is reform the pension systems, shaft the government employees and stick taxpayers with higher bills.
It isn’t enough that Illinois workers were hit two years ago with the largest income tax increase in the state’s history.
The $7 billion a year raised by that “temporary” tax increase can’t even pay all of the state’s current bills, let alone the $100 billion or so owed the pension systems down the road.
Adding injury to trauma, the state also has failed to adequately fund its public education system. The Illinois Constitution assigns the state the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education,” but it supplies less than 30 cents of every dollar spent on the public schools.
If you heard that a parent had been legally designated the primary responsibility for financing a child’s education and he was contributing only 30 percent of the cost, you would say the fellow ought to be hauled off to prison for violating a court order.
But this is Illinois. Laws don’t matter. Children don’t matter.
And taxpayers exist only so the politicians can suck the marrow from their bones.
Madigan says pension funding for downstate and suburban teachers must be moved to school districts because the current system is unfair to Chicago.
Chicago finances its teachers’ pension system, the argument goes, and Chicago taxpayers also contribute to the system for teachers outside the city.
What Madigan and the other Chicago politicians don’t say is that Illinois’ education funding system always has been rigged to shift more money to the city.
For nearly two decades, education experts, business leaders and financial watchdog organizations said the state had to raise the income tax to adequately fund public education.
But the Legislature raised the income tax and cut education funding.
And if the Legislature does shift the pension burden onto the backs of school districts, the districts will be faced with two choices: Cut school programs or raise property tax levies.
The governor’s response is to suggest that he would only sign a gambling expansion bill if the revenue went to education funding. The same ploy was used regarding money from the state lottery, and that resulted in yet another scandal.
This is a travesty of a mockery of a sham, to quote Woody Allen.
I have written about all of this many times, but each time the dust settles our inept, lazy and incompetent public officials revert to form.
As someone who believes that government is necessary, as a person who knows that taxes are the price of living in a civilized world, it is impossible to watch such mendacity without retching.
If suburban residents don’t let their legislators know they will not stand for a shift in pension funding, it’s going to happen.
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.
Stealing money from children is not an acceptable way for the state to pay its debts.