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Empty rhetoric masquerading as a “solution”

Thursday, Aug 30, 2012

* I first remember seeing this particular pension “solution” on the WLS Radio website back on August 9th

Tom Cross, the Republican Leader of the Illinois House, has a solution to the pension crisis.

Tom Cross says the governor ought to put the leaders in a room, lock the door and tell them to call him when they’ve got a solution.

* Cross has said this “lock ‘em in a room” line numerous times over the past few weeks. For instance, from August 15th

“…put us in a room, lock the key, and when we’re done, you let us out.”

* The idea, which is not really an idea as much as empty hyperbole, has since been adopted by some of Cross’ candidates as their own pension reform “solution.” Here’s Rep. Sid Mathias, who is in a very tough reelection race

“I think the parties have to be put in a room and not let out until they come up with a solution,” said Sente’s opponent, Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican.

* It was even used yesterday by Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard after S&P announced its Illinois credit downgrade

“I think this requires immediate action by the governor and Speaker Madigan,” said the former candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, who is considered likely to throw his hat in the ring again. He wants to lock representatives of the governor, legislative leaders and pension experts in a room, “give them sleeping bags and pillows and make sure no one leaves” until there’s a template for reducing the state’s unfunded pension liabilities.

* Obviously, this isn’t anything approaching a “solution.” It’s just talk. And it would be illegal as well. Kidnapping maybe? Unlawful restraint? I dunno what the exact crime would be, but it would almost definitely be a crime.

Yet, it’s a good sound bite, so it gets repeated endlessly and even taken seriously by journalists who ought to know better.

Maybe we’d all love to lock the leaders in a room and throw away the key, but that’s not how government works, nor how life works, for that matter.

* It’s been frustrating to watch as the media refuses to challenged this empty rhetoric. But in doing a Google search for this post, I realized that the idea was first suggested by the Southern Illinoisan’s editorial board on August 5th

But if Quinn is serious about passing a reform plan Aug. 17, he should lock himself in a room with the Four Tops and no one emerges until a deal is struck.

The editorial was headlined “Fix pensions in proper, open manner.” Um, OK. What’s so “open” about locking the leaders and the governor in a room?

Enough, already. This is childish stuff and not a worthwhile addition to the debate.

* And, by the way, this is not to say that the other side is blameless here. For example

Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pointed the finger at Republicans for the lack of action.

“We tried to pass a bill (in a special legislative session) a couple weeks ago, but the Republicans blocked it,” he said in a phone interview, referring to a bill that would have cut benefits in two of the state’s five pension funds. “We’re committed to comprehensive pension reform.”

They didn’t vote on a pension reform “solution,” they voted to cover their political behinds.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:33 am:

    Are GA members children and Quinn Big Daddy?

    Call a meeting yourself. Or introduce a bill.

  2. - Demoralized - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:41 am:

    It might be fun though to lock them all in a room with a closed circuit t.v. broadcast of the ongoings for all of us to see . . . especially if Quinn was locked in there with them. It might at least be entertaining.

  3. - More Courage - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:47 am:

    Speaking of empty rhetoric - when you hold the Governor’s mansion and both chambers of the G.A. - to say the Republicans “blocked pension reform”? Really? Put an effective date on the bill that allows for a simple majority and pass it with 60 votes.

    Don’t you think that if the Repulicans had an ability to “block” bills they would have used this on something - redistricting, income tax increase, etc?

    Under Madigan’s rules he can pass anything he wants - if he really wants it to pass.

  4. - zatoichi - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:48 am:

    When will these people add the white smoke from burned ballots up a chimney?

  5. - just sayin' - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:54 am:

    Well said Rich.

    I would only add that Tom Cross no doubt figures while everyone else is locked in a room he’ll get a better tee time. What a joke.

  6. - langhorne - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 10:55 am:

    i dont hold out hope for a “complete” or “comprehensive” solution. i would settle for worthwhile progress that has a chance of being upheld in court.

    to do so requires political will, which is lacking. quinn is unable to summon adequate political will bec he is irrelevant. any chance of reform requires a close look at the calendar. that means lame ducks, falling on their swords after the election. cross’ hyperbole notwithstanding, whatever passes will come top down, which requires the leaders to lead and to compromise.

    madigan’s cost shift to locals would get him an A in a grad school public policy class, but is an unacceptable $800 million tax shift downstate(its a tax increase if your district is broke, a loss of revenue if you can “absorb” it)

  7. - Sunshine - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:00 am:

    It isn’t movement because neither party wants to put themselves on the hot seat, but it must be made to sound like movement or action is being proposed, even though we all know it won’t take place.

    Almost sounds like politics before an election…ya think?

  8. - Aaron - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:01 am:

    How is Cross gonna become speaker if he’s locked up working no pension reform?

  9. - Just Observing - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:07 am:

    === Are GA members children and Quinn Big Daddy? Call a meeting yourself. Or introduce a bill. ===

    Wordslinger… my thoughts exactly.

  10. - Loop Lady - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:09 am:

    Actually, it’s a not a bad idea. Be sure to include Union leadership and a few rank and file to keep things honest and get ‘er done.
    Schedule the lock in in early November, pass the bill in Veto Session.

    Please leave me alone, I’m enjoying my illusions.

  11. - Belle - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:21 am:

    Not holding my breath for a bill much less a solution.
    I agree with Wordslinger and Just Observing.

  12. - dupage dan - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:28 am:

    Lock ‘em up and make ‘em work on PQ’s grass roots pension campaign - they can finger paint the posters.

    This is what passes for effective government in Illinois. After the election when many of these jamokes are re-elected we can be confident that those who voted for incumbents are getting exactly what they want.

    The longer they delay the closer this state worker gets to retirement and that huge pension I’ve been waiting for.

  13. - MrJM - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:30 am:

    How many examples do we need to see before we learn that locking up men to fight it out never truly resolves a problem? e.g. (1987), and (1988)

    – MrJM

  14. - walkinfool - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:31 am:

    Such nonsense. I haven’t heard any candidate for the legislature say that if the leaders go into a room and come out with a bill, he will commit to vote as he is told.

    The people who actually support this course of action, must all support leaders having absolute authority. The current leaders, including the Speaker, just don’t have that kind of power, under any scenario.

  15. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:36 am:

    Locking governors on rooms is something Illinois is uniquely experienced at doing.

    Sounds great! Just don’t LET THEM OUT again.

    Cross’s proposal is a good idea, when you haven’t any ideas.

    He’s a party leader?
    How freaking pathetic.

    “Shackle us together and force us to do our jobs.”

  16. - Obamas Puppy - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    Childish rhetoric. No one wants to address the real problen which is the debt except for Rep. Fortner who has a proposal that actually could work.

  17. - DoubleD - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:13 pm:

    Didn’t Will Rodger say the problem with all of these government funded trips to far away lands is that the politicians always seem to find their way back…and for us the road is littered with people who can’t even find a way to talk with one another. Agreed that sadly, we get what we elect.

  18. - Sideliner - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    I’d settle for “put us in a room, lock the key”. At that point a solution in the outside world becomes more likely.

  19. - Cook County Commoner - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:21 pm:

    If the bond raters don’t get to fidgety, the Illinois solution will be to reprise pushing suburban/downstate teacher pensions onto the local schools but with a twist. The school districts and state will arm in arm and gleefully announce that the extra funding will come from capital appreciation bonds sold by the school districts and not from property taxpayers. These instruments will push interest payments out about 20 years but then hit with a wallop much higher than a typical 30 year bond. Those that are sitting on realty when the payments come due will see their property taxes skyrocket.
    This could buy a window of calm for a few years and provide sufficient time for those that are smart enough to see it coming to dump their homes and get out.
    One question is who would buy this paper and how large the interest payment would be when it commences. Another is whether the GA is successful in sugarcoating this thing and fooling the voters. Not so hard probably.

  20. - circular firing squad - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:36 pm:

    Lets lock the COPies in a room til they enough foreign tee shirts and decide how many COs they will lose and then we develope a plan

  21. - reformer - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:40 pm:

    More Courage

    You excuse Republicans from any responsibility to participate in some pension bill and place all of it on Democrats. Republicans get the same pay, so why should they be exempt from responsibility?

  22. - More Courage - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:54 pm:

    Reformer - did not say they should be excused - just that saying they are responsible for “blocking” the bill is empty rhetoric. If it passes without them then hold them accountable for not being part of the solution. But don’t blame them for doing something they don’t have the power to do.

  23. - Shore - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 12:59 pm:

    One of the more upsetting terms coming from Springfield republicans of late has been the term “just want to get stuff done”. Rutherford has said it, Dillard has said it. Voters don’t want “just to get stuff done” they want quality solutions not mediocre or bad ones just so some politician can say we did something. I am sure conservatives will be even more enraged by that, but you’re supposed have a vision and a position and work to achieve it, not just try to throw something at a wall. It’s even lazier than the idea of “locking people in a room”-which leaders shouldn’t need the way a carcetti needs to be locked in a room to make his fundraising calls.

  24. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:02 pm:

    ===But don’t blame them for doing something they don’t have the power to do. ===

    So, you think that Democrats, who generally strongly favor union rights, can do this on their own without a bipartisan solution?

    If you don’t want to take part in the process, don’t run for office.

  25. - Palos Park Bob - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:02 pm:

    Actually, there are alot of us GOP GA candidates out there who are proposing REAL solutions to the pension problems. Of course, Cross doesn’t even know who many of his candidates in Dem leaning districts are, so what he’s doing doesn’t represent us.

    What have we been proposing?

    We need to protect the benefits for those who’ve truly retired and minimize them for public “retirees” who start their second career the day after retirement in another government job or as a “consultant” doing their previous job at triple the cost to the taxpayers. We can’t reduce the pensions of those in these situations, but we can limit, or completely cut,the 3% raises and health benefits we currently pay. If a “retired” employee has a job that offers health care, we shouldn’t make state subsidized health care available to them.

    We need to change the calculation method for pension benefits from the last four years before retirement to career employee and employer contributions, as well as ending “spiking” abuse.

    We need to put internal limts on double and triple pension fund dipping, and limit pensions to the greater that they would have earned had they been in the highest paying fund for all their service. I know this may be a legal issue, but it’s worth exploring legal avenues to make this happen.

    It’s clearly unfair to totally shift pension costs to local schools, but those districts giving “spikes” at the end of careers and paying outrageous salary levels should shoulder the full burden of their excessive largesse, not Illinois taxpayers. They should only be held liable for those pension costs under their control, like salaries exceeding $80K per year, end of career “spiking”, paying the employees’ share of pension fund contributions, and the early retirement costs they create by approving early retirements. These changes should be made effective at the next district contract so that cost sharing provisions should be made bewtween the district and the staff. NO real estate tax or fee increases should be allowed in this cost shift.

    This is all pretty radical, but fair, stuff.

    Of course, many of us fiscal conservatives think all new grants, program increases not mandated by law, and non-safety related capital work should be suspended, with the savings used to decrease current pension liabilities and pay off state debt. This budgetary approach would continue until our pensions are at least 80% funded and our bonding debt paid off.

    With ideas like these, is it any wonder that we can’t get Cross’ housegop organization to return our guerilla GOP GA candidate phone calls?LOL

  26. - orlkon - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:05 pm:

    Locking them in a room is good, but you need to tell them that only the survivor will be let out. At least get a proposal that can be voted on.

  27. - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:23 pm:

    They will not bend to what’s good for the majority of citizens; they will not loosen their iron grasp on selfish interests; they see themselves as embattled warriors; they hold the populace in contempt by their actions/inaction. When do We The People stand 10,000 strong outside the State House and register OUR contempt for ALL of them?? Rich, organize that will you. Do a real service for all of us who feel voiceless and utterly frustrated. ALL of them

  28. - Cook County Commoner - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:28 pm:

    To Palos Park Bob, I agree that doing something about second career retirees is worth a try. Start with my Congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky. Try and stop her from collecting her Illinois state legislative pension which she is adding to her US Congressional salary. If she agrees to that, maybe there is hope.

  29. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:38 pm:

    Can we lock Tom Cross in a closet by himself until he actually comes up with a plan of his own?

  30. - Sue - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:40 pm:

    Getting sick at all the whining- a solution is available that doesn’t impair contracts thus it would be constitutional- the problem is whether the Dems have the political fortitude to do anything- If the legislature imposed salary caps on all participants it would be the backdoor way of getting around limiting salaries subject to pension credits which for current folks would most likely be an impairment- Dealing with new employees is easy - dealing with health care benefits for existing retirees is easy but even there Quinn hasn’t even announced what he is going to do with his new authority- The hard part is how do you drive down the pension costs of existing active employees who will be retiring in 20 to thirty years- the answer short of bankruptcy is to limit how much money the employees are going to get paid which forms the base of the pension calculation-no one seems interested in a real solution so instead they nibble at the edges which even if something is passed it saves almost nothing- Quinn’s answer is to spread the costs on to the local taxing bodies which doesn’t address costs only who will get hammered

  31. - The Elderly Man You Used to Love - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    I think Rich is taking the “lock us in a room” plea too literally. It cetainly would behoove Quinn to at least meet with the leaders more frequently, and demand that the Republicans make a concession. The hang-up here seems to be the cost-shift to school districts. Quinn should demand that the Repubs meet him halfway and have school districts split the cost with the State. And yes, the media is being irresponsible. The people who are advocating the “lock us in a room” strategy are not admitting what concessions they would make if locked in a room.

  32. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:56 pm:

    Asking an Illinois Republican to fix a state problem is like asking the cow bell guy to change the lyrics to “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.

    Illinois Republicans think everything can be fixed with more cow bell.

  33. - The Elderly Man You Used to Love - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:57 pm:

    If all else fails, maybe another task force is in order…

  34. - Joe Melugins - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 2:34 pm:

    Meeting and making decisions behind closed doors would seem to violate the open meetings act. Our government should be practicing transparency, not backroom, locked door politics.

    Furthermore, since the Illinois Constitution calls the public pensions a contractual relationship, to change the contract, the legislators should really be sitting down with teachers, state university employees, state employees and also unions that represent those folks, if they belong to a union.

    Any changes in the pensions not negotiated with the other parties in this contractual relationship will end up in court, and probably be ruled unconstitutional. So why not do it right and negotiate with the other parties in the contract.

  35. - Robert the Bruce (formerly just Robert) - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 2:35 pm:

    ==It cetainly would behoove Quinn to at least meet with the leaders more frequently, and demand that the Republicans make a concession.==
    Totally agree. Quinn seems more committed to pension reform than any one of the 4 legislative leaders. Why not ask them to do weekly meetings with him, report on the results of those talks, get media on his side pushing leaders to come up with a solution together?

  36. - cover - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 2:45 pm:

    Aaron @ 11:01 am:
    - “How is Cross gonna become speaker if he’s locked up working no pension reform?” -

    Was that “no” a typo or a Freudian slip?

  37. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 3:09 pm:

    - The Elderly Man You Used to Love - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    “It cetainly would behoove Quinn to at least meet with the leaders more frequently, and demand that the Republicans make a concession.”

    And that concession would be another 67% tax hike? Didn’t need their help the last time.

  38. - dupage dan - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 3:32 pm:

    @ Rich Miller, 1:02pm

    =So, you think that Democrats, who generally strongly favor union rights, can do this on their own without a bipartisan solution?=

    The GOP did it alone in Wisconsin - they had the majority and took on the unions. That took some cajones.

    Look what happened to them. They have been demonized for doing what HAD to be done. Of course, the ildems don’t want to (or can’t) go it alone. They would be skewered alive.

    The ilGOP think they have the perfect solution, a path to a majority and the guv mansion. Pathetic. They had their time and engaged in their own pattern of pandering. We fools are left with the flotsam and jetsam.

  39. - wishbone - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 3:49 pm:

    “We need to protect the benefits for those who’ve truly retired…”

    A nice sentiment, but totally unrealistic given the 83 billion dollar hole we are in. There is no solution possible that will guarantee 100% of current pensioners claims on the system. Taking the $83 billion out of the rest of state spending even over an extended period is just not going to happen, and it is holding out false hope to pretend that it will. We need to start telling the people the truth. The cuts will need to come from everywhere.

  40. - RNUG - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 4:09 pm:


    Breaking story:

    Judge: Illinois must set money aside in state worker pay dispute

  41. - Union - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 5:18 pm:

    I like the lock up idea. They should do “Big Brother” - Springfield version

  42. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 5:53 pm:

    The SGOP did actually vote with SDEMS for the start of a pension reform plan, though now they say they wouldn’t if they had to do it again.
    Anyway, that roll call (hb1447)is pretty much the way things need to happen, if they’re going to happen.

  43. - gg - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 8:06 pm:


    You are 100 percent correct.
    Capping salaries would eliminate the “problem” immediately.

    Notice … everyone ignored you.

    I wonder why?

  44. - Skirmisher - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 8:31 pm:

    Rich- I respectively disagree that the Dems need a bipartisan solution. They have absolute power, so the burden is entirely theirs. The fact that they have milked the unions for $millions is entirely irrelevant. They own the Illinois government, and making it work is 110% their problem. I despise the Illinois GOP, but they are right to sit this out.

  45. - Anonymice - Thursday, Aug 30, 12 @ 8:53 pm:

    Actually, I like the idea, except for the part about letting them out. Leave them in.

    ==A nice sentiment, but totally unrealistic given the 83 billion dollar hole we are in.==

    Unless the feds change the law to let states declare bankruptcy, it is totally realistic. And why do people keep talking about reneging on the State’s contractual obligations to the retirees and current workers, without also sharing the pain by saying “let’s pay 50 cents on the dollar on our bonds and pay only half of our overdue bills from vendors”? Each is equally immoral and illegal. Do all or do none.

  46. - Anonymous - Friday, Aug 31, 12 @ 6:50 am:

    I have been following as well as listening to all of then rhetoric surrounding the pension discussions and proposed solutions. In trying to connect the dots so to speak and put together the truthful facts about the complex multiple pension system in Illinois.

    I ask thefollowing questions;

    Is state workers pensions a funding mandate.

  47. - wishbone - Friday, Aug 31, 12 @ 10:41 am:

    “And why do people keep talking about reneging on the State’s contractual obligations to the retirees and current workers, without also sharing the pain by saying “let’s pay 50 cents on the dollar on our bonds and pay only half of our overdue bills from vendors”? Each is equally immoral and illegal. Do all or do none.”

    I totally agree, but you are significantly overestimating the problem with your 50% reduction. Reducing ALL expenditures by say 3 or 4 percent from current levels would get you to solvency over many years. A retiree with a pension of $40,000 would lose $1200 per year. Current vendors owed a million would receive $970,000. Not such a terrible hit. All future expenditures would be frozen at the 3% reduced level so vendors and retirees would be protected from future cuts. I would give actual (not automatic) cost of living increases to retirees to insure their reduced pensions were not further eroded by inflation. You would not even have to do the 3 or 4 percent cut in one year. A one percent cut per year over 3 or 4 years would obviously get you there.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Rep. Bob Dold

* Letter: Sen. Durbin is right on refugee is......
* Nebraska ethanol producers name former Dur......

* Opinion: Sen. Kirk must stand with crimina......

* Snow Money
* Chicago Teachers Union. “If we strike, we do so to protect our children,” says Karen Jennings Lewis.
* Resign.
* Don't Let The Turkeys Get You Down
* “The Driver’s Side” – News From The Motorist’s Perspective
* IDOT Debuts Winter Weather Driving Tips Video
* Pot Dangerous? Mother's Testimony Says Yes [video]
* Happy Thanksgiving
* It seems like it’s everywhere, that video of the final moments of Laquan’s life
* Laquan McDonald.

* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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