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Seeing what they want to see

Friday, Sep 13, 2019

* Brett Rowland, Illinois editor of The Center Square

[Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago] should follow Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s lead and call for a change to the constitution to end the pension-protection clause.

That’s a demonstrably false statement.

* December 12, 2018

Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot released the following statement in response to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to amend the the state constitution on pensions.

“I disagree with Mayor Emanuel’s attack on working families and retirees because pensions are a promise—no exceptions,” said Lightfoot. “I grew up in a steel town, and when the steel industry failed, workers and retirees lost their pensions. From that experience, I know how Chicago families, just like families in my town, plan their lives and budgets around the pension promises we’ve made. These families have already paid their fair share—we’ve got to honor that commitment as well.”

* Lightfoot’s Facebook page on March 1

Just a reminder—pensions are a promise. No exceptions.

* August 30

One proposed solution is to amend the Illinois Constitution to revamp the current pension clause, which the courts have ruled protects the 3 percent compounded annual increase in pension benefits many non-police/fire government workers receive even though inflation lately has been running around 1 percent a year.

Not only labor unions, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker opposes doing that, and Lightfoot—who in other settings has said workers should not have their benefits reduced—said today that “I’m not advocating for a constitutional amendment.” […]

But a few minutes later, Lightfoot said that even if such efforts succeed, the current COLA is “unsustainable.” Asked if she’d like the constitution to be amended, Lightfoot replied, “I’d like to put as many options as possible on the table.” […]

2:15 p.m. update: It looks like Lightfoot caught some heat since her comments went live. Her office now has issued what it calls a “clarifying” statement: “As the mayor has repeatedly made clear, she believes that our pension obligations are not optional. This administration is committed to finding ways to shore up the sustainability of our pension funds—including the COLA. We must secure the retirement of our working people by partnering with our allies from the state to identify progressive revenue streams. Mayor Lightfoot remains opposed to a constitutional amendment on pensions.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

50 Comments
  1. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    What a strange statement from Lightfoot. I’m a working person and me paying more taxes does not help me.


  2. - Downstate - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:08 pm:

    What about the Progressive Caucus’ ideas offered earlier this week for Chicago?

    1. Corporate head tax to $16 per month for large companies
    2. Instituting a 3.5 percent tax on office leases.
    3. A hike in the hotel tax from 4.5 percent to 7.5 percent
    4. A vacancy tax on commercial properties vacant for more than 18 months
    5. A local income tax on those earning above $100,000 a year.


  3. - The Edge - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:11 pm:

    Almost all of the pension systems have a tier 2 or 3 where the cola is tired to inflation. It’s just a matter of time to payoff the expensive tier 1 benefits. Plus, if each system simply received revenues (contributions and investment income) equal to what is paid annually the systems will be sustainable.


  4. - Anon E Moose - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:11 pm:

    What about moving new hires away from pensions and into 401(k)s? Why aren’t we doing this?


  5. - Perrid - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:17 pm:

    Anon E Moose, because it does nothing to solve the problem? Tier 2 is NOT generous. The COLA is half of inflation, meaning by design retirees will lose buying power each year. New hires are not causing the problem here


  6. - Just A Dude - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    Moose: Most 401ks require a matching percentage from the employer, otherwise IRS violation. Tier 2 is the least expensive solution for the state as has been discussed through many previous posts. Active tier 2 employees are expected to surpass active tier 1 employees in the mid 20’s.


  7. - Juvenal - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:27 pm:

    Actually Moose, your “common sense” soultion would make matters much worse.

    Under Tier 2/3, new hires are overpaying into the pension system, funding employer costs for Tier 1, and moving them inro a defined contribution plan instead of defined benefit would increase our pension debt. by hundreds of billions.

    Also, a defined contribution plan would require Illinois to start paying into social security for those employees, which would cost more that what we are paying for benefits now, not less.


  8. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:28 pm:

    It’s 2019 and we’re arguing over whether to find pension commitments made decades ago.

    In 2029 I hope folks appreciate the fact that in addition to having to deal with financial obligations kicked down the road by long dead voters and their chosen representatives that we’ll also have to deal with the climate change problem that folks have spent the last 30+ years refusing to adequately address.


  9. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:30 pm:

    ===What about moving new hires away from pensions and into 401(k)s? Why aren’t we doing this? ===

    So after you strip public employees of that economic benefit are you similarly planning on increasing their salaries in order to make up for it?

    Some areas of public sector already see significant turn over because of low wages, bad benefits, and working conditions that aren’t worth putting up with.

    If you want to move new employees to a defined contribution rather than a defined benefit, you better be planning on increasing their salaries substantially unless you want to be dealing with a government run by those that don’t have better options.


  10. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:33 pm:

    Just a Dude, really? Can you explain those IRS rules in detail?


  11. - Roman - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    Steans, Lightfoot, etc., could offer this compromise: We will support a referendum to strip the pension protection language from the Illinois Constitution as soon as the Contracts Clause is amended out of the U.S. Constitution.

    The former is absolutely meaningless without the latter.


  12. - Clowns4ya - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:35 pm:

    Lightfoot: Let me change what I previously said, I didn’t mean for my true feelings to actually come out of my mouth. My staff members fixed my verbal barf with a proper statement for future re-election purposes.


  13. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:36 pm:

    Roman, or we could simply remove the constitutional protection for all new new so this can never happen again.


  14. - Just A Dude - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    Candy Dogwood: Based on the 2 comments above, I sense you are a young tier 2! Just kidding. I pretty much agree.


  15. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    Public servants are supposed to give up their secure pensions for 401(k)’s while corporations get a 14% tax cut and the Trump tax cuts favor the richest, who’ve been making the biggest income gains? And on top of that, the federal deficit grew to over $1 trillion, the national debt grew to over $22 trillion but there’s not been a complaint about it from the pension-cutting wannabe’s?

    Enjoy the fever dream. The pension protection clause ain’t going anywhere.


  16. - RNUG - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    == What about moving new hires away from pensions and into 401(k)s? Why aren’t we doing this? ==

    The short answer, as others have explained, is it will cost more than the current Tier 2 system.

    I will also point out that the non-coordinated Tier 1 (no Social Security) was, at the time, cheaper for the State than a plan coordinated with SS. When the original AAI and later the 3% compounded AAI was added, that changed the cost some.

    Right now, changing to anything else will, given standard assumptions about contribution match, cost the State more for the next 10 - 15 years before there might be any cost savings.


  17. - Roman - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:53 pm:

    @Cronish

    Yes, and that would be the practical effect of amending the state constitution because of the federal Contracts Clause — it would only apply to employees hired after the amendment is approved. Which would be just fine, except it would have almost no practical effect. The pension debt would still have to be paid off. And thanks to Tier 2, providing retirement benefits to current and future hires already costs the state the same (and arguably less) than enrolling them in Social Security.


  18. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    ===could simply remove the constitutional protection for all new new so this can never happen again.===

    Find 71 and 36

    Thanks.


  19. - Simple SImon - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 12:56 pm:

    =Can you explain those IRS rules===

    Cronish, based on your comments today and in past posts, you seem to know little about the legalities of retirement plans and how they work. Perhaps before requesting that others post more information for you, you might try Google or look into the many past posts on CapFax where your ideas already have been refuted in detail. And your plan to amend the constitution to allow the state to renege on pension obligations is simply bad policy all around.


  20. - Michelle Flaherty - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:06 pm:

    – What about moving new hires away from pensions and into 401(k)s? Why aren’t we doing this? –

    The biggest chunk of the state pension debt is TRS. Teachers don’t get Social Security. That means school districts don’t pay an employer payroll tax to the feds. If you change to a 401K, that is an immediate new expense, most likely for LOCAL TAXPAYERS. It will not be cheap and the feds don’t let you skip Social Security taxes.
    The current employer payroll tax is 6.2 percent.


  21. - Cornish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    Simple, I have never proposed to “renege” on current government workers, we can’t. I have said we should eleminate the pension protection for all future workers though.

    I sorry that I never heard that 401ks must have a match.


  22. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:08 pm:

    ===have said we should eliminate===

    Find that 71 and 36… for starters.

    If that’s what we should do, that should be… simple.


  23. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:12 pm:

    Michelle, that’s why I think it would be great to get rid of defined benefit pensions. Social Security has to be paid. Keep the state politicians out it.


  24. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:13 pm:

    Roman, again, I understand that, but we all know Illinois and it’s politicians will over promise in the future and Tier ll could Bec me more expensive than Tier l.


  25. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:18 pm:

    ===it’s politicians will over promise in the future and Tier ll===

    Here we go again…

    What’s in the dorm microwave today, pizza rolls?


  26. - thunderspirit - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:21 pm:

    I, for one, am shocked — SHOCKED — to find that Brett Rowland and The Center Square are making a demonstrably false statement.


  27. - RNUG - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:25 pm:

    == should eleminate the pension protection for all future workers though. ==

    Given the State’s track record of broken promises on almost everything else, why would anyone take a State job without a guarantee of a future pension?


  28. - TominChicago - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:29 pm:

    Roman, you are absolutely correct on the Contracts clause and I believe tgat stripping pension benefits via a state constituon amendment would also violate the 14th amendment’s due process clause.

    Cornish current employees’ contributions to the pension fund are now being used to pay retirees’ pensions. Without that money, the funds would soon be insolvent.


  29. - Juvenal - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:32 pm:

    @Cornish -

    Read my response to Moose above.

    Done? No, seriously, go back and read it so I don’t have to repeat it.

    Okay.

    Whether you:
    1) eliminate pensions for new hires and force them into defined contributions; or

    2) rewrite the pension clause to make it absolutley clear the state has no intention to keep its promise to future hires,

    the result is the same. Fewer new hires going in at Tier 2/3 costs taxpayers more on the front end and explodes pension debt on the back end.

    The smart thing to do would be to roll back privatization, take all those services you outsourced to private companies, and make them public sector jobs again paying into the pension system at Tier 3.

    Or, impose a “pension replacement fee” on the payroll of every outsourced contract equal to the Tier 2 employee contribution.

    So, for example, at CPS where they have outsourced food service, require those food service vendors to contribute to the retirment fund.


  30. - Thomas Paine - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    This thread is a perfect example of people seeing only what they want to see, and refusing to hear what they don’t want to hear.


  31. - Ano - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    =Given the state’s record of broken promises on almost everything……why would anyone take a State job without a guarantee of a future pension?==

    If you have job skills and education, why would anyone, in any field, private or public, take a job with zero options by the employer for retirement income? At the bare minimum there is SSI, but for people like teachers, no such thing. But young people are much more saavy these days about these sorts of things and are bypassing Education, as we see in decreased enrollments in colleges and teacher shortages. So, I guess we reap what we sow.


  32. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:40 pm:

    ===perfect example of people seeing only what they want to see, and refusing to hear what they don’t want to hear.===

    I’d add this to the “blind”

    Unlike the past administration, look to doing the doable as your plan, then rally around that.

    It’s not cliche to think that doing the doable is an important step, it’s the foundation to change anything, especially policy.

    So… you don’t have 71 and 36… then probably skip all the “change the constitution”

    Forget anything earned on pensions, changing that isn’t doable either.

    Seeing what isn’t possible is as important as thinking you see a solution.


  33. - Waguespacked - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 1:47 pm:

    Lori is great at providing quotes, like her biggest ally Scott Waguespack. Both are short on political judgement and boast blank records of getting things done, the perfect combination for lakefront progressives.


  34. - Cornish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    TominChicago, I understand and nothing I said would change that.


  35. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:05 pm:

    === I understand and nothing I said would change that.===

    So you’re arguing like a child.

    Got it. Thanks.


  36. - Politix - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    This is exactly why a lot of teachers I know will vote against the Fair Tax Amendment - fear it will set precedent for a pension amendment.


  37. - Coel - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:20 pm:

    Completely agree, Waguespack is a terrible Aldermen. Not the worst, but generally ineffective and useless.


  38. - Just A Dude - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:25 pm:

    Politix: That tells me the right wing and IPI spin is working. Sad and dangerous for those very teachers.


  39. - Linus - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:34 pm:

    ==That’s a demonstrably false statement.==

    Long ago, I learned to assume that anything I read from an IPI related source is false, unless corroborated by a good source elsewhere. Note: This is not snark.


  40. - PublicServant - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:42 pm:

    ===That’s a demonstrably false statement.===

    As is their name.


  41. - Simple Simon - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 2:50 pm:

    ==I have never proposed to “renege” on current government workers….we should eleminate the pension protection for all future workers though===

    So you just want to make it legal to renege on future promises? So much better. You just make those employees powerless to the whims of future mendacious politicians who’d prefer to cut taxes or promise more free stuff than pay bills.

    BTW, did you notice the UI average ACT scores yesterday? The lowest were social work and education, reflecting the difficulties in filling those valuable professions. Kids are smart…they can see those careers being poorly paid and poorly respected. Your plans to renege on their pensions in the future simply exacerbate those problems.


  42. - Keyrock - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:20 pm:

    Politix - Then those teachers need to be educated.


  43. - Politix - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:32 pm:

    ****Politix - Then those teachers need to be educated.*****

    What don’t they understand? Unless a pension amendment is impossible, I think they understand.


  44. - PublicServant - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:38 pm:

    @Politix - I’ll never buy an orange because I hate apples…


  45. - ajjacksson - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:42 pm:

    Cronish’s fears will be realized. But it won’t be a big bad Union forcing them to sweeten Tier 2; it’ll be Uncle Sam.

    Tier 2 is inadequate— so much so, that sometime about 2040-2045, the feds are going to tell Illinois that Tier 2 payments are not good enough. They will force Illinois to either put these people on Social Security, or else enhance their retirement packages.

    In addition, there will be a plethora of school districts crying foul to the state legislature. They will not want to keep teachers at the top of the pay scale for another 10 years in their system—that is, they won’t want to wait for teachers to retire until they’re 67. That will cost the local districts so much money that someone, probably the GA, will be forced to make changes.
    I’ve been a teacher for well over 30 years and I’ve paid every penny they asked me to pay into retirement system. It’s extremely disturbing that a lot of people with a lot more money than me want my retirement payments cut. As Honeybear is quick to point out, the personal cost for thousands and thousands of people would be astronomical.


  46. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:54 pm:

    ===that sometime about 2040-2045, the feds are going to tell Illinois that Tier 2 payments are not good enough. They will force Illinois to either put these people on Social Security, or else enhance their retirement packages.===

    What are the lottery numbers for tonight and tomorrow?


  47. - Keyrock - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    Politix - A pension amendment, even if placed in the ballot and passed, won’t adversely affect the pensions of current teachers. See the discussions above, the Illinois Supreme Court decisions, RNUG’s past teachings, etc.


  48. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 4:16 pm:

    Keyrock, I think most here understand that, but the point of an amendment is to stop the current situation from happening in the future. The constitutional protection is not sustainable when we can’t control for population loss, incomes of the people being taxed, recession, investment returns, life expectancy, etc.


  49. - Cronish - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 4:18 pm:

    It’s not wonder very few states have such a provision in their constitutions. The whole idea is absurd.


  50. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 13, 19 @ 4:19 pm:

    ===but the point of an amendment is to stop the current situation from happening in the future. The constitutional protection is not sustainable when we can’t control for population loss, incomes of the people being taxed, recession, investment returns, life expectancy, etc.===

    Do the doable.

    There’s not 71 and 36… or 71 OR 36…

    Time for more pizza rolls, your idea is as cold as the last batch from the microwave.


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