Oak Park D97 Committee Shuns Local Businesses

Local pro-tax hike group goes outside Illinois to purchase cheapest and tax-free items to support said tax hike.

We know where the Committee to Support Oak Park Schools stands on education…on top of a large pile of cash. The local organization behind the successful passage of both D97 referenda that will add $74 per $1000 in property taxes (most OP homes tax between $10-15,000) to every homeowners’ property tax bill was quite adamant how we should all support our schools and art and music programs with open arms, minds, and wallets. We were thoroughly warned of plummeting property values if we didn’t vote “Yes Yes” to raise both operating expenses and issue bonds. But when it came to sourcing the very items that promoted their progressive message, did the Committee support Oak Park businesses?

According to their report filed with Illinois State Board of Elections, the response you hear echoing in the Eisenhower Canyon is a resounding NO. While the Committee spent nearly $15,000 promoting their agenda, a large portion of their “Yes Yes” swag came from out-of-state vendors:

1) $5,016 for signs from New Hampshire. Those who denounce Illinois’ flat state income tax as “regressive” might be interested to know that New Hampshire doesn’t even have a state income tax*. Furthermore, Big Daddy’s Signs doesn’t charge sales tax.

2) $1,373 for from printing services from Queens, New York. Perhaps a referral from Run DMC?

3) $1,386 for promotional items from Ohio (another purchase exempt from sales tax) and Texas (a right to work state with no state income tax).

I find it hard to believe these items could not have been sourced within Illinois. Signs Express is 3 blocks away from Irving Elementary. Logan Square’s Busy Beaver Button Company is 4 miles away from Hatch Elementary. Considering all the rhetoric the pro-referenda crowd spread how Illinois is America’s deadbeat dad of school funding, it seems a bit callous to purposely eschew the very local businesses that employ the working families that provide the tax revenues that fund our schools. How delightfully ironic that the Committee basically took the “school voucher” approach to advocate for more education funding.

When the next inevitable school funding shortfall comes up again at ReferendaFest 2021, instead of marching the kids around Scoville Park, let’s lead them towards the Harrison Arts District and local music shops. Perhaps they deserve our arts and music funding more than D97. At least we’ll be shopping local.

* New Hampshire only taxes dividend income. 

New Trier: Day of Counter-Programming

I hope you all enjoyed your indoctrina…sorry, study of civil rights and racial inequities here at New Trier High School. Now that you have been properly proselyti…sorry, enlightened of your full debt to society, we continue our series that will prepare you for life beyond these hallowed halls.

While your previous session focused on guilt, today’s seminar will hopefully elicit more useful feelings such as anger and disgust. Today’s topics offer a melange of national and local politics, government labor, and how they all act and interact in the most stupefying and hypocritical ways. For those of you bewildered how our state and local governments got into this mess and why they expect you to bail them out, we believe this session will provide some useful insights.

All sessions will be recorded for future viewing for those of you that might prefer to thrust your fist through a wall or scream into a pillow in the privacy of your own home.

Morning Sessions

  • One Insane Party: Why Chicago residents vote for the same political party over and over yet expect different results.
  • Buy Your Neighbor: How the Chicago Teachers Union pays neighborhood groups pennies on the dollar to protest on their behalf.
  • Your Union, Your Coffin: Examining the arcane process of attempting to leave your union or join a different one.
  • My Left Foot: A simulation using advanced bionics to demonstrate how the Democrats could have substituted anyone’s left foot over Hillary Clinton and won the 2016 presidential election.
  • S-E-I-U, Wouldn’t Wanna B-E-I-U: A real-world case study from Los Angeles showing how SEIU willingly bargained for lower wages for their own members in exchange for businesses hiring more dues-paying members.
  • Danny Davis, Where Art Thou? Tracing the economic stagnation of Chicago’s West Side over the past 20 years.
  • I Eat, You Pay: A beginner’s lesson on pension debt. (pre-requisite for afternoon pension-related sessions)
  • I’m Just a Bill: How Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1994 crime bill led to the mass incarceration and systemic breakdown of the urban family.
  • Final Fantasy Finance: Many public sector folks often cite Ralph Martire’s union-funded Center for Tax and Budget Accountability as the one source of truth in public sector funding and financial analysis. CTBA incessantly and unabashedly calls for higher taxes where taxpayers have no choice but to pay. In this proof-of-concept, we move CTBA economic theories out of its public sector vacuum and into the real world to see what would happen when:
    1. An employee demands a large raise in which his employer is not forced to comply.
    2. A company takes a low-selling, poor-quality product with many better and cheaper competitors and raises its price expecting to increase revenue.
  • This is Library: For all you aspiring social justice warriors, we discuss the the proper etiquette for protesting.

Lunch

Farm-to-table gruel (no refills, no substitutions)

 

Afternoon Sessions

  • He Sells Sanctuary: The examination of Rahm Emanuel’s deceitful practice of attracting illegal immigrants heavily reliant on social services to a bankrupt city that cannot afford them.
  • The 4%’ers: We reference union reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor to examine the multiple layers of public sector union management who actively lobby for higher taxes on working families to subsidize their $200,000+ salaries.
  • VoucherPlus: We give a Chicago 3rd grader the amount CPS spends to educate him and watch his family turn it into a full-blown parochial school education with enough money leftover to pay 4 months worth of rent.
  • The COLA Wars: Uncover the many ways a bottomless government pension can increase after retirement.
  • Retirement Supe: A cooking demonstration using the proper ingredients and extreme heat required for a school district superintendent to burn through his/her fair share of retirement benefits in less than 10 years. (guest sous chef: Linda Yonke)
  • Fair Scare: How unions use agency fees to mask their monopoly on representation.
  • The Flighty Quinn: In a simulation of Illinois’ financial predicament, we provide students with a $8 invoice (Illinois had a backlog of $8 billion in unpaid bills in 2011), proceed to give them an extra $32 to pay that bill (Illinois generated $32 billion from the 2011 tax hike alone), and see if they pay off that entire bill in the time allotted (Illinois needed 4 years and could only pay down half).
  • A Pension in Contradiction:  A 45 minute round table discussion as follows:
    • First 20 minutes: A group of public sector workers and retirees explain all the inherent evils and inequities of Wall Street and corporate America.
    • Next 5 minutes: Attendees pose questions such as:
      • If Wall Street is so evil, why do you invest your entire retirement savings with them?
      • Don’t corporations lay-off and outsource employees to meet the insatiable hunger for large investment returns that your pension systems require?
      • If your pension just invested in local farms and businesses that were not as profitable but socially responsible, would you be willing to take a reduced pension?
    • Last 20 minutes: Everyone stares at each other in awkward silence.
  • Dream Weaver: A deep dive into how a former teacher from a poor south suburban Chicago district named Reggie Weaver magically transformed his meager teacher salary from 30 years ago into a $281,000 teacher pension today. (hint: it’s not magic)
  • Pension Roulette: In response to the belief there is only one outcome in the pension debate – that a pensioner paid his/her fair share and is entitled to what was promised – we use an Illinois Gaming Board sanctioned roulette wheel to demonstrate the 34 other negative outcomes on a career’s worth of compensation that would have occurred if the state had indeed fully funded their pensions all these years because there would have been little money leftover for anything else.
  • Old Fogey Paradox: The phenomenon of retired public sector workers who complain about the inequities of Illinois’ flat income tax system while their retirement income is exempt from state income tax.

Epilogue: A Letter from the Student Body

Dear Ms. Yonke,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice another day in your seminar for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us feel guilty for who you think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: a piggybank, and a pawn, and a basket of white guilt, a princess, and a white collar criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

New Trier Student Body

Who controlled Will Guzzardi’s rent?

The Guzzardi family benefited from NYC’s rent control, but did they need it?

As reported by DNAinfo, it appears as though members of the so-called Progressive Caucus are trying to socio-economically engineer their Chicago neighborhoods again, this time through some ill-advised form of rent-control:

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) has introduced a bill in Springfield that would repeal a 1997 law passed under Republican Gov. Jim Edgar.

The repeal of the ’97 law would not create rent control in Chicago or other cities, but would allow the City Council to determine if wanted to put a cap on rent increases in the city or take other action to stabilize rents.

Guzzardi said…it’s time to add the possibility of rent control or stabilization to the tools available to lawmakers trying to deal with quickly rising rents in neighborhoods like Logan Square or Pilsen.

While it’s a noble, albeit foolish, idea to artificially keep rents low for those who need it, the trick is in identifying those who qualify. Is it the elderly person on a fixed income? Sure. A large immigrant family with only one working parent? Why not. How about a Vice President of a New York publishing house who owns a summer home? Abso…wait, what was that?!

Based on this profile in Chicago Mag, we learn a bit State Rep.Will Guzzardi’s path getting to Chicago:

…who grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the son of New York transplants and big names in the book publishing industry. (His father a revered editor and his mother a former publishing executive-turned-social worker).

Those “big names” would be Isabel Geffner and Peter Guzzardi. Now, it’s no secret that the Democratic Party of Illinois’ favorite carpetbagger is from North Carolina. But while living in New York City, it appears the Guzzardi family were the beneficiaries of rent control of their own.  The following is an excerpt from the LA Times back in 2004 about Will’s parents making a mid-life career change:

In 1995, Isabel Geffner and her husband, Peter Guzzardi, were entrenched in New York’s media elite. She’d been a publishing executive for 20 years; he was an editor of novels and nonfiction whose list of authors included Martin Amis, Stephen Hawking and Deepak Chopra. They lived in a rambling, high-ceilinged, rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side with their two preteen sons. From Monday to Thursday, the boys sat down to dinner with the woman who looked after them while their parents were at work. The family spent time together only on weekends…

So they decided to make a change that would improve the quality of all their lives. Guzzardi accepted a job as editorial director of Duke University Press, they sublet their apartment, sold their weekend house on Shelter Island and moved to Chapel Hill, N.C.

What’s this?! A rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side for our “big names in the book publishing industry”? Interesting how a seemingly well-off, two-income family entrenched with the “media elite” require any assistance with rent. Furthermore, how does one qualify for any sort of rental assistance when one also owns a weekend retreat near the Hamptons?!

Mind you, there are differences between rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments. But there is only a finite number of below market rate units in New York. According to the Furman Center, in 2011, only 31% of all NYC housing units qualified as rent-stabilized. That means for every Guzzardi abusing the system, there is some needy college grad, working family, or elderly person that goes without. While I doubt there is anything illegal here, it’s just another example of how the elite manipulate the system and free-markets for their own benefit.

I won’t even go into how economists time and time again confirm that a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing. I’ve found that it’s a fruitless exercise to insert logic into a Progressive’s idea when their idea is paid for with Other People’s Money. In the meantime, perhaps some of the family’s struggling with rent in Logan Square and Pilsen can live on an island on the weekends. It certainly worked for Will Guzzardi’s family.

CPS Pension Pick-Up – Was this trip really necessary?

1981_Toyota_Tacoma_For_Sale_Front_resize

Ms. Lewis, your chariot awaits…

Many important things were happening in 1981. Rick Springfield was beginning his unmitigated ascension on the pop charts that would transcend both space and time…for 3 years. The White Sox were on the verge of trading in one pair of pajamas for another. And in a smokey, dimly lit office in Chicago Public Schools headquarters, some city employee thought the pension pick-up was a good idea.

In 1981, CPS was broke and embroiled in yet another contentious contract negotiation with the Chicago Teachers Union.  Same as it ever was. It was then when someone in CPS HQ offered, “Instead of giving the teachers a raise we surely cannot afford, how about we pay 7% of their retirement for them…an amount we surely cannot afford.” And thus began the infamous “7% pension pick-up” benefit that stands to this day.

What did CPS accomplish with the pension pick-up?  Did they actually save money? Was this used as consideration in future contracts? Or did it devolve into something else? Let’s take a deeper dive and find out.

Background

CPS teachers are required to pay 9% of their gross salary towards pensions. CPS pays 7% of that 9% on behalf of the teachers – henceforth known as the “pick-up” – thereby requiring teachers only pay 2% of their gross wages towards their own retirement. CPS teachers, like all other teachers in the state, are not eligible for Social Security benefits – as they are wont to remind you, to which I calmly retort – because they do not pay into Social Security. So the pension is their retirement nest egg.

The terms of the pension pick-up are outlined in each contract under Salaries.  While the wording has changed over the years, the main takeaways are as follows:

The BOARD shall pick up for each teacher and other bargaining unit employee a sum equal to seven percent of the amount due each such employee…

This pension pick-up will not constitute a continuing element of compensation or benefit beyond fiscal year <end date of current contract>.

All terms and conditions of employment for future years, including without limitation, salaries, benefits, pension pick-up and staffing formulas, are the subject of negotiations for those years.

The pension pick-up is not a benefit in perpetuity. It is subject to negotiation each and every contract, a fact oddly absent in CTU diatribes, considering how keen they are in observing contract terms <cough, day of action, cough>. That’s important to note as CPS attempts to discontinue the benefit altogether as they are not legally bound to offer it once a contract expires. But rolling it back is not that simple, both psychologically and mathematically, as we shall see.

The Math

To understand how much the pick-up is worth, let’s go back to 1981’s 1-year contract and view the benefit as it was first offered and conceived: in lieu (instead) of a raise:

PPU1

The ‘Employer Cash Outlay’ is the out-of-pocket cost to CPS. As you can see, the cost of CPS picking up 7% of the employee (EE) pension contribution is equal to giving a 7% raise on base salary.  This is true for 1-year contracts, which were quite common back in the day: 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1989 were all 1-year contracts. This is where CTU derives their “7% pay cut” argument as CPS has threatened to end this practice in current contract negotiations.

The big takeaway from 1981 is the following concept: wage suppression. Since teachers did not receive a raise that year, their gross wages were essentially frozen for one year and, therefore, so was the salary schedule (also known as “Steps and Lanes”) that determined their wages that year and going forward. While teachers would proceed to the next “step” in that schedule, that next step’s wages remained the same as it was in 1980.

As I stated previously, the value of the pension pick-up can change based on the length of the contract. For example, here’s how the pension pick-up stacks up for a 2-year contract, which happened in 1985, 1987, and 1993:

PPU2

So if CPS froze salaries over 2 years and paid 7% of the employee pension, the cost to CPS would equate to a 4.5% yearly raise for the employee had they continued to pay their full pension contribution. Once again, in theory, wages would be suppressed over those 2 years and that the following contract’s steps would start at a lower salary. In theory…

Same rules for 3-year contracts, such as 1990 (the first 3-year contract ever for CPS…even the CTU bragged about it) and 2012:

PPU3

So as the length of the contract increases, the value of the pick-up decreases, as does the yearly raise required to cover the difference. Think of the yearly raise as a “premium”, as in the example above, if teachers instead received a 4% COLA raise every year and the pension pick-up, it would equate to a 7.3% yearly raise (4% + 3.3%). Clear as mud?

Enough theory. Let’s see how the pension pick-up played out in the field…

Remember that one time…

The only year in which CPS teachers received the pension pick-up in exchange for a raise was in 1981, the first year it was offered. Each contract after that included the pension pick-up on top of a raise (more on that later). But if wages were suppressed for only one year, could CPS still have saved money? Let’s see:

PPU 1 year over career v2

The following example is a 34 year CPS career in which wages were frozen for one year (Year 10), upon which the pension pick-up began and continued through retirement. For simplicity sake, let’s assume the same 3% raise every year and that no consideration was given to the pick-up in compensation (more on that later). In other words, the teacher received the same raise he would have received anyway, pick-up or no pick-up. As you can see, while the one-time wage freeze does indeed suppress total wages over a career, it is more than outweighed by the pension pick-up. Over the final 25 years of this career, the CPS teacher in this particular example came out $55,423 ahead than if he had paid his entire pension contribution his entire career and never received the pension pick-up.

Now, CPS might benefit since the pensionable salary at the end of a career is lower. But that pension savings is a tiny faction compared to the actual cost over a career. And this assumes wages were suppressed all along. So even in a perfect, theoretical world, CPS comes out behind in the pick-up. <I thought you said we were done with theory?>

Back to the real world…

Let’s run through an actual real-world example of a teacher – let’s call her Jenny – that begins her career in CPS in 1982. Jenny knows no world other than one in which CPS picks-up 7% of her employee pension contribution. By referencing salary schedules from each CPS contract from 1982-93, let’s track Jenny’s salary as she progresses through each salary step for the first 11 years of her career in CPS (Level 1 – BA degree):

PPU Jenny example

Some notables:

So even without including the pension pick-up, Jenny received average yearly raises of a more-than-generous 10% over the course of a decade while inflation averaged 4% annually. Perhaps double-digit raises were common across school districts in the 1980’s or among the working class in general (my bag boy wages certainly did not reflect that). But if such large raises were common practice, I doubt they included a pension pick-up as well. And if they weren’t, how were CPS teachers getting by before the pick-up?

All things considered…

With such significant raises, it makes you wonder if the pension pick-up was even considered in contract negotiations. “Consideration” is an argument often brought up by the CTU and other pick-up defenders who claim that the pick-up was earned in lieu of other intangibles such as classroom size or housekeepers for each of Karen Lewis’ three homes. But there is no way to prove that. To the contrary, I find evidence of other so-called considerations given, but by CPS, such as:

  • 1983:  CPS offered a 2.5% bonus on top of a COLA increase that was on top of a step increase. What was the point of that bonus if they were already offering a 7% bonus in the pick-up?
  • 1984: CPS wanted teachers to pay part of the premium for health benefits. CPS dropped the premium demand.
  • 1987: The year of the infamous 19 day school strike. In the end, on top of 4% yearly COLAs, CPS granted teachers more sick days and improved health coverage. In return, CPS laid off 1,700 teachers and other staffers to help pay for it all. Does that count as “consideration”?
  • 1990: One of CPS’s biggest blunders: diverting pension money towards salaries and raises. The $66M diverted from the pensions would be worth about $400M today. To add insult on injury, those raises inflated salary schedules from that point forward, thereby inflating pensions (and negating any such pick-up savings, if there were savings to begin with…and there weren’t). You could argue that CPS is still paying for that decision and that salaries have been artificially inflated since then.

The Chicago Tribune’s 1988 article Teachers Union Has Power To Run System does a pretty good job explaining a whole host of considerations, the most egregious being:

Teachers also can save up to 244 sick days, take a sick leave just before retirement and get paid the entire amount.

More than 200 teachers have retired straight out of sick leaves in the past five years. In response to complaints by board member Winnie Slusser, school officials are trying to determine the cost of this practice.

“When people retire or resign out of a sick leave, their class is covered by a sub, even if they have no intention of coming back,“ Slusser said.

The list goes on and on, but you get the point. The argument that CTU gave up something – anything – in exchange for the pension pick-up is dubious at best. Quite frankly, any outfit that would pilfer from their own retirement fund for raises today doesn’t seem to put much consideration in anything.

Conclusion

Over time, the pension pick-up devolved into an unappreciated and assumed, yet expensive, benefit. Unappreciated, that is, until it was about to be taken away.  CTU has no doubt taken it for granted over the years. Even the media hardly reported it. Take this recap in the Sun-Times of the 1993 CPS contract: “For the first time teachers began paying part of their insurance premiums…their pay was frozen for two years.” No mention that teachers still received the pension pick-up. No mention that teachers still received their automatic step increase. You would think CTU was teaching for free. You could argue the biggest faults in the pick-up are the utter lack of transparency and the illusion that salaries are held in check by a valiant school board when in actuality they are not.

But there are a few ways CPS could have made the pick-up work. A smart plan would have entailed a choice between a pension pick-up that was worth more today than the COLA raise. For example, the offer could look like this on a $50,000 base salary:

PPU bargaining

Does the teacher chose the pick-up and take an additional $2,135 in his take home pay this year or pay his full pension contribution and take the $1,500 increase is his gross salary that will factor into higher future earnings and a larger pension? Either CPS pays more today but cuts down pensionable salaries later or pays less today but keeps salary increases reasonable. This is how it should have been all along!

Or CPS could offer the pick-up as a longevity bonus. How about the 7% pick-up is activated only for 20/25/30 year anniversaries as a sort of bonus to long-term employees? I’m all for creative compensation and incentive plans. But this only works if something has perceived value. Past contracts prove otherwise.

Perhaps another lesson is when you freeze salaries that you actually freeze salaries! Because it seems that every pay freeze has been met with some sort of clawback that negates the freeze altogether. It’s only human nature to take back what you think you lost. Do you think employees cared that their employer gave them something else in exchange for a raise years ago? They only care that they didn’t get a raise and that this year’s raise has to make up for it. In the end, it’s always about the gross wages.

Lack of transparency, little or no consideration, presupposed…all prevalent characteristics of the pension pick-up. Just another bad idea from CPS in a long line of bad ideas.

But there are other members in the bad ideation syndicate. Many other school districts across the state pick up some portion of the employee pension contribution as well (Not just teachers, mind you. There are district superintendents earning $200,000 that pay nothing towards their pensions!). But the only way to truly know if salaries are kept in-check is to compare similar districts with no pick-up. Perhaps that is a case study for another time…

Until then, everyone hop on the pension pick-up. Space is limited. And it may not be around much longer…hopefully…

Illinois: Your Perpetual Host of the Hunger Games

A state income tax hike is inevitable.

There, I said it. Regardless of the outcome on the budget impasse, there is no getting around it. The state’s gun barrel is pointed squarely at the wallet in your left buttocks pocket, the state’s sadistic version of a million dollar wound where they keep the money but we get the bowl of ice cream. I’d be pleasantly surprised if we got out of this at 4.5%. The only question now is if it will be retro-active to 1/1/16. The state has plans for that extra money <insert flushing sound here> and it probably doesn’t involve you. Or your children. And speaking of the children…

About a year ago, I wrote a story demonstrating the impact of that tax hike on a middle class family as they attempted to save for their child’s future. It was a basic exercise – using the same rules and assumptions our state pension systems use – to demonstrate how a seemingly small, innocuous tax hike (well, innocuous to those levying the tax or whose salaries are derived from tax revenue) has huge ramifications for a child down the road. How extra taxes today lead to less money for college savings accounts…which leads to expensive student loans…which leads to drawn-out student loan payments that could otherwise be invested towards a retirement fund…which leads to a vulnerable retirement, a lifetime of difficult financial situations, and foregone opportunities a solid financial foundation affords oneself. In total, if that 5% tax rate were to remain in effect as I wrote, would cost that child $1,500,000 at the time of his retirement. Surely, even decades from now, $1.5 million will offer some security blanket. Or maybe it won’t be enough to cover the cost of all those low-quality cotton purple and green T-shirts for the AFSCME-SEIU company picnic in 2070. Who knows…

So I thought I’d revisit that same exercise based on the today’s tax rate of 3.75% and a predicted 4.75% for the (near) future. And while the amount of lost savings does decrease slightly, the amount of foregone savings still remains a substantial sum of money that will impact numerous decisions over the course of your child’s lifetime. And that no one really cares.

That’s an important concept to understand…no one is truly advocating for your children’s financial future. That’s not to say there are no “children advocates” in Illinois. While organizations such as Voices for Illinois Children, Illinois Action for Children, 30 Children to Mars (OK, I made that one up) advocate for more resources for disadvantaged children today, the impact of tax hikes on the college and retirement funds of tomorrow aren’t exactly part of their mission statements. I don’t fault these organizations appealing for more funds, but it doesn’t mean we should ignore some important facts. In perusing the tax forms filed by these not-for-profits, you’ll see plenty of 6-figure incomes in the speaking-and-acting-for-children industry, and one that tops $300,000. No one ever said advocacy doesn’t pay. Putting the profit back into not-for-profit, I suppose. You would think, amidst an unprecedented budget stalemate, the captains of children advocacy would offer up a cap on their own wages. You know, for the children. Because when the folks running and working for not-for-profits request higher taxes yet have earnings that eclipse the median income in the state, the taxpayers have a right to ask.

The state universities certainly don’t care about your children’s finances. Take a look at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana’s enrollment figures. Back in 1985, only 15% of UIUC’s student population came from out-of-state. In 2015, non-resident enrollment is up to 38%! Over that 30 year time frame, Illinois gained 1.2 million residents and overall enrollment at UIUC increased 25%. Yet UIUC enrolls 3,000 less Illinois residents today than in 1985. Does this sound like an institution invested in our children’s future? Now, I’m sure the board of trustees – emerging from the dense, expensive administrative fog that enshrouds each university, donning sound-deafening headphones, lest the sound of the inevitable higher education bubble bursting catches them aflutter – will argue that an ever decreasing amount of state funding has played a part in this discrepancy. Their argument to keep tuition costs low is more revenue (taxes). But if that revenue comes at the expense of your ability to save for your child’s college savings, your kid is no better off financially. Additionally, your kid’s out-of-state options become much more expensive, making them an “indentured student” of the state university system, so to speak. And all of this just so the Fighting Illini can enroll more students from…China? Yes, the true irony here is that the state’s most prestigious public university – in a move cribbed from Wal-Mart’s playbook – not only increasingly outsources its student population, but turns to pollution-choked China to ensure its quad is packed with the most profitable students possible, taxpaying residents be damned. What would Marcus Liberty do?

Even if your child does manage to safely navigate the tempestuous waters of administratively-heavy advocacy groups and universities with a few bucks left in their pockets, what awaits them on the war-torn beach is the Panzer tank equivalent of child embezzlement – pension debt. And that beach is absolutely littered with ticking time bombs hidden in the sand below our children’s feet, such as…

The Cook County Pension Fund: $6.5 billion underwater, or a mere 5 record-setting Powerball jaCCPFckpots away from solvency.  Tucked away on page 22 is a Projected Member Count chart (see right) that shows, by the year 2025, there will be 2 inactive members (retirees) for every 1 active member (current employee). Surely, a severely under-funded pension system that is extremely reliant on incoming contributions will be fine when the number of retirees withdrawing funds is DOUBLE the amount of employees contributing, right?!  Et tu, Toni?

Tick, tick tick…

The combined debt from the 5 Illinois state pension systems is $112 billion, or a mere 0.9% of the cost of Bernie Sanders’ health care plan. Here’s an excerpt from my interview with their consolidated pension report: When will each of the 5 pension systems be fully funded? 30 years. That long, huh? OK, but it’ll be fully funded then, right? No, 90%. So we’re only paying out 90% of each pension? No, 100%. OK, but it won’t cost much, right? Only 40% of payroll each year for 30 years. Hmm, not sure I’d say “only”. But it’s all 5 pensions systems, right? No, the judges and legislators will require nearly 80% and 200% of payroll, respectively. Wow, that’s pretty steep. For 30 years?! That’s what I said. But at least you’re no longer assuming unrealistic 8% annual rates of return anymore, right? Correct. That’s good. So you’re assuming a more conservative and realistic 4-6% now? No, 7-7.5%. Oh, I see that now. And here you say that mere 0.5% rate reduction was the main cause for a $7.1 billion INCREASE in the unfunded pension liability in one year? You read that right, dear. Don’t call me dear. Isn’t $7.1 billion about the equivalent of 20% of the state’s revenue for one year? Not my department. Sorry. But considering the significant impact of such a small change, do you think your assumptions are wise over the long-term? I’m a report, not an op-ed piece. Fair enough. At least you’re not using the controversial pension smoothing method in your calculations anymore, right? Smooth as silk, baby. Can I go now?!

Tick, tick tick…

…Healthcare! Get your healthcare here! Get your state retiree healthcare here! Constitutionally-protected, must-pay-at-all-costs, yet completely unfunded state retiree healthcare here! Only $56 billion! Get your healthcare here…

Tick, tick tick…

Tier 2 pensions are projected to save the state billions in pension obligations over the next few decades. Tier 2 pension rules are part of the calculation used when determining the state’s overall pension obligations. Tier 2 pensions are also projected to run afoul of the Social Security Administration’s “Safe Harbor” rules and not meet the minimum standard for retirement income, thereby costing school districts untold millions as they will be forced to pay Social Security benefits on top of pension benefits. This risk is neither mentioned nor quantified in any pension financial report.

Tick, tick tick…

Recently, the Teachers Retirement System spun an incredibly naive yarn on the utopian society created by their teacher pension dollars and the resulting economic “stimulus” it adds to the state. For the moment, put aside the inconvenient fact that this report completely ignores the opportunity cost or economic impact of spending the money allocated to pensions on…oh, I don’t know…ANYTHING ELSE. Can’t we apply the same logic to our children’s retirement funds? Wouldn’t their 401(k)’s stimulate the economy in the same way? But if tax hikes are pilfering the early sources of that retirement fund (remember my example above), how do we expect our kids’ retirements, or lack thereof, to have the same economical impact? And if the answer is to make cuts in our family budget elsewhere, doesn’t that undermine their argument as to how consumer dollars stimulate the economy to begin with?

So our kids battle it out in a veritable financial Hunger Games as the politicos pick the haves, the have-nots, and the not-really-haves-but-you-are-now-because-we-ran-out-of-haves, ensuring all children emerge from the bloodbath traumatized in some fashion. And years down the road, as the Game’s survivors creep towards old age, a new batch of ignorant politicos will undoubtedly ask them, “Why didn’t you save enough for retirement?!”

The tax hike looms overhead, and while I cannot help you in that regard, I can warn you that this hike will not stop the charlatans from continuing to approach your front door and attempt to extract more money from your children. So here’s some advice: When the salesman ringing your doorbell attempts to sell you on pension debt re-amortization, just know all he is selling is a plan to ensure your children’s children will pay a much larger bill for services rendered long before they were born, and that the only folks that benefit from that plan are the ones paying the salesman. When the college recruiter tells you that tuition has been frozen, ask him why that doesn’t include housing and fees. And when the born-again pensionists, swaddled in their vestments woven of self-satisfaction, preach to you about ethical and moral obligations of supporting a pension system that has been manipulated 6 ways to Judea, remind them of the moral implications of paying no state income taxes on their pension income.

Because none of these folks come with children’s warning labels. Perhaps the entire state of Illinois should.

The Not-So Center for Tax and Budget Accountability

Whoever loves the law and sausages should never watch either being made.

This quote crosses my mind when I think of Ralph Martire’s Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (henceforth referred to as the CTBA).  The CTBA has been peddling their sausage in Illinois for years. But once you discover the ingredients of that organization, it explains why all its offerings taste the same. And why, in this case, it’s good to know how the sausage is made.

First, a little background. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability was “formed in 2000 to be a bipartisan, nonprofit research, and advocacy think tank that works across ideological lines to promote social and economic justice for everyone, from traditionally disadvantaged populations to the middle-class.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a nobler cause for a not-for-profit, right? Actually, not that hard-pressed, as most NFP’s have similar mission statements (advice: always mention “children”).  In a nutshell, they produce financial analysis and reports ranging from opinions on how taxes should be structured in this state to the reality of budgets proposed by the Legislature as they pertain to state law.

The CTBA is run by Ralph Martire, its President and Executive Director. You might have seen him on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight debating against the Illinois Policy Institute on various issues. He frequently appears as a guest columnist in various media outlets statewide. Mr. Martire even has appeared on the State House floor, offering his fiscal opinion to Legislature on various matters. He has the ear of many elected politicians. Needless to say, Ralph Martire knows his way around Illinois government.

So what’s the problem? As I highlighted above, the CTBA portrays itself to the public as “bipartisan”. Numerous media outlets will also introduce them as bipartisan. When folks hear “bipartisan”, they typically think objective, balanced, unbiased. And if Mr. Martire is going to be omnipresent in all tax-related discussions in this state, I think it’s important to know when CTBA allegiances stand. Is the CTBA unbiased? Are they balanced? Let’s find out…

Who’s at the top?

A good indicator of a balanced organization is often reflected in their Board of Directors. Upon review, you’ll see the CTBA Board reads as a who’s who of public sector influence:

There are others, but I’m spent, and I haven’t even gotten to the CTBA’s funding yet. But you get the idea, right? These folks are members of organizations that are all long-time cogs of the failed political machine in this state. They all have a vested interest in keeping the status quo that got Illinois into this fiscal vortex. Diversity of thought, as far as CTBA leadership goes, is definitely lacking here.

Biparti-whaa?!?!

So how bipartisan are the organizations that fund the CTBA? According to OpenSecrets.org, Democrats rule the day in the public sector union support, and it ain’t even close. And if the ISBE database had a decent query function, I could show you just how one-sided the local affiliates truly are. But it appears as though the only time the IEA, IFT, AFSCME, or SEIU has ever shown significant support for a Republican candidate in recent times was when they dumped over $1,000,000 in less than one month into the ‘Dillard for Governor’ primary campaign in 2014. But that was a thinly veiled attempt to hijack the election by picking both candidates, not an exercise of bipartisanship. If anything, it was an attempt to stack the deck against independent voters who deserved a choice in their government.

So the organizations represented on the CTBA Executive Board almost exclusively support the Democratic Party. Can an organization overcome this extreme partisanship and bias of thought? Do they have motivation to break out on their own? Let’s find out…

Who’s really paying CTBA’s bills…

Most of CTBA’s funding can be accounted for using the following sources:

What was revealed was a long paper trail of public sector funding at both the state and national level:

  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and 3 of its Illinois affiliate’s (IFT) PAC funds (COPE)
  • National Education Association (NEA) and its Illinois affiliate’s (IEA) PAC fund (IPACE)
  • AFSCME Local 31 (their national apparently doesn’t give a crap)
  • SEIU National HQ and 3 state affiliates – Healthcare IL/IN, International Illinois Council (WTF is that? “International” as in worldwide or House of Pancakes?), Local Union 73

In fact, from 2008-2013, nearly two-thirds of all CTBA revenue was derived from just the “Big Four” public sector unions: NEA, AFT, SEIU, and AFSCME:

CTBA contribution summary

Also, one of the detailed transactions reveals the following:

CTBA ISBE 2

Financial contract?! With the teacher’s union? Pray tell what unbiased and “bipartisan” findings may we expect to find in a financial report derived from a contractual commitment with an extremely partisan organization, paid for by that extremely partisan organization, all while that extremely partisan organization is entirely dependent on tax revenue?! I’m wagering the IEA does not enter into “financial contracts” with think-tanks that promote prudent spending or fiscal restraint. This line item alone reveals extreme bias and pressure on the CTBA to produce contractually-bound, union-friendly results.

The only major non-union contributor is the Woods Fund of Chicago, whom I would consider the most bipartisan supporter of CTBA activities. Although, for you conspiracy theorists out there (of which I am not one), you might remember this was the organization with the Obama-Ayers-Weather Underground-terrorist connection. Regardless of your political beliefs on that topic, Woods appears to do a good job of spreading its wealth amongst many needy organizations. However, the CTBA did receive $130,000 over the years from Woods as the “fiscal agent” for A+ Illinois (see sample below). But A+ Illinois was nothing more than a cheap knock-off union storefront, much like its incestuous offspring A Better Illinois, in which the public sector unions attempt time and time and time <deep inhale> and time and time again to hide behind an altruistic name in the pursuit of tax hikes on working families or to deny taxpayers freedom of choice. So if Woods is funding union shell corporations, can we view them as bipartisan? Maybe not.

CBTA Woods

So by adding the contributions from these 5 organizations, plus smaller contributions from the Chicago Community Trust and Economic Policy Institute (another AFSCME/SEIU funded venture), I’m able to account for 75% of CTBA’s reported revenue for 2008-13. Conspicuously missing are any contributions from the AFL-CIO. Perhaps this is due to their affiliate, the AFT (I know, those union tentacles spread everywhere, don’t they? It never ends. Seriously, their PAC tentacles are clutched to just about every well-moneyed political movement in IL as well. Just like those evil corporations, no?), donating large sums over the years. Or perhaps there is some other AFL-CIO not-for-profit that I haven’t uncovered yet that contributes directly.

Clearly, without public sector funding and their just as important political clout, CTBA would be severely hampered if their efforts to compile and communicate their message. Whatever the CTBA is selling, only a handful of folks appear to be buying, and those folks are in a bathroom stall at Club Blago snorting up lines of your savings with rolled up tax dollars.

Putting the pieces together

The dependence on union funding makes the CTBA the de-facto financial think-tank of the public sector unions and reveals a undeniably heavy bias towards policies that benefit those unions. In a nutshell, these unions, entirely dependent on tax revenue for their survival, pay Mr. Martire to produce reports calling for higher taxes. The CTBA “bipartisan-ship”, if it ever existed to begin with, officially sunk long ago. How can someone claim to be bipartisan when the outfits paying their bills are completely partisan? I would give them more credit if they just were more upfront on their true stance. But I’m guessing “Union Financial Arm Says Higher Taxes Only Way Out” or “‘Higher Taxes Necessary’ States Group Paid by Taxes” headlines are lacking the subtlety the unions are accustomed to. The CTBA wants a balanced, unbiased status yet has done nothing to earn it. Their portrayal of their own views and motivations are disingenuous. Recently WTTW’s Chicago Tonight went as far as to refer to the CTBA as “left-leaning” (did Phil Ponce really read my tweet?). I counter the CTBA is not merely leaning left, but completely horizontal…in bed with the union johns that pay them.

And where is the expense analysis in all this? The CTBA sure has plenty of opinions on how to increase taxes, but very little recommendations on how to reduce expenses. Where are the proposed process improvements across various levels of government? Cost savings and efficiencies? Elimination of duplicative services? And Mr. Martire’s solution for the pension mess? Merely amortize the debt over a longer period of time so that yet another generation or two that did not consume these services have to pay for them! Yes, by all means, stretch those payments into an extremely flawed system even further into the murky future. What better way to hide the true cost of both past and future services while simultaneously covering your benefactors’ collective asses. Suze Orman would throw a fit if she heard that plan (WWSOD bracelets, green: $3). I believe this is the same business model used in the rent-to-own furniture industry. The sheer pomposity of such a CTBA FMJ Donutstatement should send a shiver down any Millennial’s spine. Once again, they eat it, we pay for it.

Forget state expenses for a moment…how about speaking up for the union members whose dues are paying CTBA salaries? Where’s the analysis for progressive union dues where new members at lower salaries pay less than their end of career salary-spiking and seniority-protected brothers and sisters? How about redistributing higher pensions towards lower pensions, just like Social Security does? Wouldn’t that align with the CTBA’s “social and economic justice for everyone” creed? <crickets chirping> Sorry, how foolish of me, that’s not Other People’s Money.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is all T with sprinkles of B and little regard for A. And the C should be dropped entirely.

But aren’t their numbers right?

This is the pre-recorded response to all criticism of CTBA analysis. But aren’t their numbers right?! Tell me where their numbers are wrong! But that is the wrong question to ask because that is not the exercise here. Their task is to back into a pre-determined revenue level that will support their patrons’ laundry list of financial requirements. To the CTBA, the average taxpayer is nothing more than a cell in a spreadsheet, the veritable ghost in the Illinois tax machine with bottomless pockets. There is no revenue problem the CTBA has encountered that cannot be solved by increasing a percentage amount in Column E in their ‘RaiseTaxes.xlsx’ file. What’s that you say? There are less people in the $75,000-$100,000 tax brackets in the proposed progressive tax plan, so IL might miss the revenue target next year? No matter, just raise that tax rate <seven…decimal…five…ENTER…problem solved!>.  There are countless ways to back into a projected revenue number. That’s all that’s happening here.

Make no mistake, CTBA knows the funding laws (such as minimal required funding for healthcare by the federal govt), contractual commitments to labor unions, and constitutional guarantees (pensions). But the labor laws were written with a heavy-hand from union lobbyists as to provide little-to-no flexibility to responsibly manage finances under those funding rules. Add political giveaways over the years such as pension system enhancements (compounded COLA, ERO…PS – If everyone is knocking each other down while running towards the exits to take your early retirement package, you might have set the price a wee bit too low, eh?) whose financial impacts were never properly vetted and, once offered, could not be scaled back. Then once everything is all “legal”, the unions send in their financial think-tanks to propose new tax rules that conveniently tie to the labor laws they and their political “partners” drafted. Conforming your numbers to statute, especially when you have a hand in crafting the laws, is easy. Growing an economy to support those numbers is not.

Of course the numbers are right, when given without context. When your solution is to raise the price of a service in which the consumers have no choice but to pay for that service, and you bear no responsibility to improve that service, it’s hard not to be right. That works on a technical level, not so much a practical one.

So don’t address the numbers. Address the context in which they are given. Therein lies the truth.

The end game

The play here is obvious: Hide under the guise of “working families” to promote a heavy union agenda with the illusion of bipartisanship. (And while we’re on the topic of working families, unless you’re on the bottom rungs of the earnings ladder or a union member, you’re not what the CTBA considers a “working family”. Busting your butt resolving network issues at your company at 4am? Small-yet-slightly successful small business owner working 18 hour days? Just graduated med school with a mountain of student debt? Working in a pharmaceutical lab? Tough crackers…none of those qualify as “working families” in the eyes of the CTBA or the public sector. It’s time to take back ownership of the “working” narrative these organizations usurped from the individual taxpayer. But that’s a topic for another time…)

Every tax proposal the CTBA comes up with is a tax hike. Sure, they’ll market it as a deduction, but only because their plans are based on higher tax rates that have since expired. Even its kissin’ cousin, the “fair tax” pitched by A Better Illinois and its puppet Senator Harmon, was a complete sham. That too was pitched as a “tax cut on 94% of taxpayers”. But if you read the fine print – the fine print the unions and their puppet politicians hawking this plan never called out in the media – it revealed that the plan was based on the expiring 5% tax rate. When you compare that tax plan to the current 3.75% tax rate, their plan amounts to a tax hike on nearly every single taxpayer in the state. That’s not what I would call fair. Or transparent. Or ethical. Notice how we have yet to see a revised progressive tax plan from any of these union progeny scaled to the current 3.75%, one which could indeed provide a tax cut on the 94%. That’s because it doesn’t fit the union narrative.

The end game is all too clear…the unions, and their paid-for politicians, want the ability to continually raise taxes on what they deem higher income tax brackets to back into their yearly budget numbers in a constant expansion of spending with minimal accountability. It’s all too obvious. The way they’ve structured it makes it easy to do. Look at page 10 of the CTBA plan again: merely 20% of the individual tax returns filed would account for 80% of the state individual income tax revenue (That scary stat alone shows you just how much of the tax burden can and will fall on most mid-to-mid/upper class folks. And congrats to those making over $50K as you’ve a proud member of the ‘33% of the IL taxpayers paying 90% of the state income taxes’ club.). So it would be relatively easy to continually raise taxes in these brackets – essentially smaller segments of the voting public – and have little impact on election results.  Well, the ultimate impact might be a decline in the population that’s already paying most of the bills followed by the inevitable “trickle down” of higher taxes on lower incomes. But that is not the unions’ concern, nor the CTBA’s. Not when they can back into your their target numbers. Not when the taxpayers can be reduced to a number or a financial experiment in the unions’ dirty petri dish. Isolating and suppressing individual rights is what is really at stake here.

Look, you don’t have to be pro-union to be for a progressive tax structure. But shouldn’t you at least practice what you preach? The outfits funding the CTBA and shoving their progressive tax plans down our throats are regressive with their own funds – from their flat dues to their flat pensions to their flat COLA’s. The unions complain that Tier 2 of the pension system is a drastic reduction of retirement benefits when compared to Tier 1, yet those same unions charge those Tier 2 members the same amount in dues as Tier 1 members! So they admit to a large compensation discrepancy for their members, yet refuse to change their own regressive dues structure to mitigate its impact. Is that equitable? Is that fair? If the CTBA and its patrons contradict the very rules they stand for when it’s their own money, why should we listen to anything they have to say about how to spend ours?! What’s good for the goose…screw the gander.

So now you have a better idea as to what motivates the CTBA: partisanship via patronage. And now you know how the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability makes its sausage.

No one said you have to buy it.

In Illinois Government, Who’s Chopping Whom?

Cuts. We all feel them. In some places, they run deeper than others.

Even my hometown of Oak Park, the land of the $37 million pool, is susceptible to cuts. According to the Better Government Association, Governor Rauner wants to cut the share of state income taxes distributed to municipalities through the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) from 8% to 4%. So Illinois’ financial crisis has hit home for all of us, quite literally. Oak Park will indeed be hit hard by this measure. According to Voices For Illinois Children, this would specifically cost Oak Park a potential $2.5M for fiscal year 2016. And in a recent letter to the editor in my local paper, the author mentioned this, along with a myriad of cuts proposed by Governor Rauner that would harm working families, calling for residents to “stop the chop.” But this particular “chop” seemed a bit excessive. What on Earth could we innocent Oak Parkers have done to deserve such treatment from the state?

Good rhetorical, albeit loaded, question. There exists one particular local expense that has ramifications at the state level yet the state has little control over…pensions. In my pension research, I am reminded of a few gimmicks the unions have used to “legally” inflate their pensions, thereby costing the state more money than it should. I wondered if my own leafy village was guilty of such behavior. Then I came across this clause in Oak Park’s District 97 budget regarding educational funding from 2002-03 that sheds some light on reaping what we have sown: 2X20 salary retirement benefits (a contractual commitment to increase retiring certified salaries 20% for each of the last two years of employment) are included with salary budgets. The cost of the salary benefit is $470,000 for 28 staff members.

This is what is known as the infamous pension spike. Locally, it’s a one-time budgetary expense. For the state, it’s a bill they continue to pay to this day. Pension spikes come in many shapes and sizes (there are legends of a teachers’ contract that provided for 70% more in base pay spread over the last three years of employment). Since 2005, it has been limited to 6% over the final years of employment. Prior to that, in many school districts such as Oak Park, the spike came in 20% compounded increments over the final 2 years of service (hence 2×20). That’s a 44% total raise in just 2 short years. And because an educator’s pension is calculated based on the four highest consecutive annual salary rates, the “2×20” pension spike basically throws half of the pension calculation – a calculation, mind you, that is already extremely retiree-friendly and heavily weighted towards end of career earnings – out the window, inflating the pension by thousands of dollars. There are many ways you can imperil a properly funded pension. Providing a late career salary increase is just one of them.

So what does this one budget line item from over a dozen years ago have to do with Rauner’s cuts? Let’s see…the impact of the 2×20 pension spike, for just one teacher back then, could increase a pension by an extra $5,000 the first year (results may vary based on salary and tenure). Add a 3% compounded COLA over a decade, and it comes out to around an extra $65,000 in pension benefits for that one teacher through today. That doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, does it? Well, according to the budget, 28 teachers were eligible for this benefit. 28 teachers…each receiving an extra $65,000 in benefits…factor in life expectancy… you easily hit $1.5M total through 2015 alone (remember, we’ll still be paying for this for years to come). And this is but one group of retiring teachers. This “2×20” clause appears in D97 budgets before and after 2002. All it takes is one more retiring group and you easily eclipse the $2.5M the governor is threatening to withhold from Oak Park. Late career pension spikes, year after year, across over 800 school districts statewide…one can only fathom the financial impact of this cost shift from local to state government over the decades.

So Oak Park, along with many other municipalities, saddled the state with millions in additional pension costs over the years. In cruel yet comical irony, Oak Park managed a sort of reverse progressivism in all of this. Since our teachers are better compensated than most, it makes for higher pensions, thereby forcing those lower income municipalities to shoulder more than their fair share of our pension debt. In a depraved sort of way, we actually come out ahead (WARNING: SILVER LINING EXTREMELY THIN). Mind you, I have no issue with stand alone, end of career bonuses to reward careers devoted to our village. I do, however, take issue with outlier bonuses manipulating an already generous pension calculation that will be paid out over multiple generations. And I do take issue with paying year after year for yet another gift some schleprock from Generation Gimme took all the credit for. If ‘Seinfeld’ taught us anything, it’s that George bought the big salad.

And to add to this 7 Layer Cake of Cruel Irony, former governor and current lawnmower man Pat Quinn actually lowered the local share of state income taxes from 10% to 6% back in 2011. For those of you lighter in the wallet, you will recall that was the same time Quinn raised Illinois’ individual and corporate income tax rates (ergo the lightweight wallet). That meant the state pocketed all the extra revenue from the tax hike and passed none of it down to the towns and villages. Yet I don’t seem to recall my local leaders clamoring for our “fair share” back then. Considering they knew the tax hike was temporary <cough>, perhaps they should have presented a better case before Baron Von Madigan and the Taxaholics to get that money before it was gone. After all, tax revenues are to Illinois politicians as martinis were to Dean Martin. Consumed quickly.

So the state and local governments continue this tired dance. Cities pawn off extra unearned pension debt to the state. The state gets stingy on income tax sharing with its cities. Both cry foul. But at the end of the day, it’s the increasingly diminished and impaired taxpayer who pays, one way or another. But the state is the desperate bookie now, calling on overdue debts. And the enforcer is on his way to Oak Park to collect, with only the Hillside Strangler and those left-hand ramps on I-290 standing in his way.

Are we really surprised that it’s come to this? Where was my local state Senator Harmon’s concern for – as he put it – the resulting “fewer firefighters and police officers, slow snow removal and more pesky potholes” when Oak Park was spiking the pension punch and sticking the state with the bill? Perhaps Senator Harmon could use some of the over $100,000 worth of teacher union PAC money he received over the years to fill those “pesky” potholes. And why were the “Voices for Illinois Children” eerily silent as spiking happened across the state? That was the children’s money, right?  Perhaps they should have teamed up with the “Stand for Children Illinois” or one of the assortment of children-proxy PAC’s roaming the cornfields of Illinois and asked to reroute those spike funds their way instead. In-between all the talking and the standing, the children might want to ask Harmon and the other politicians exactly where they stand in the political pecking order. Better yet, allow me…SEIU, IEA, IFT, AFSCME, everybody else…

So whom exactly is the victim here? And who’s chopping whom? It’s hard to tell from my vantage point. Besides, I’m too busy watching my wallet float away.