Big Business still playing old pension-cut tune – AFSCME Council 31

This spring, the corporate fatcats at the Commercial Club of Chicago stirred up enough hysteria to pass legislation slashing pension benefits for future state, local and university employees. But they aren’t happy with the harm they’ve done to undermine retirement security for the public servants of tomorrow–so they’re beating the drums to reduce pensions going forward for current public employees, too.

“The club says pension cuts brought in for new hires earlier this year need to be extended to existing employees,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Why? Because, the Sun-Times went on, “the huge hole in Illinois’ finances is scaring off new businesses.”

One problem. Even the fatcats admit this isn’t true. The Commercial Club’s chief mouthpiece, a corporate lawyer named R. Eden Martin, was pointedly asked in a recent Bloomberg News interview, “You represent a commercial club. Are any of your members threatening to move out of state?”

“I would say no one has threatened to move out of state,” Martin replied.

No, of course businesses aren’t moving out of Illinois. Centrally located, our state is a hub for rail, highways, waterways and air transit. We’re home to 13 million people, including one of the great world cities and many fine universities. Our state has tremendous human and natural resources. And none of those vital components of a good place to do business are going anywhere–so neither are smart businesses.

What Martin’s really saying is that if the state reforms its tax structure–to raise adequate revenue for jobs, vital services, responsibly paying the state’s bills, and making taxes fairer–that is, if state leaders finally do what everyone in touch with reality recognizes is desperately needed, then rich corporate lawyers and their CEO pals might finally be paying their fair share. And heaven forbid that.

Right now, they’re paying the lowest flat income tax rate in the nation–a paltry 3 percent of their enormous incomes. When the average retired state employee’s pension is just $20,000 a year, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for the titans of the Commercial Club. They include:

* W. James Farrell, retired CEO of Illinois Tool Works whose annual pension is $1.4 million. He also gets hundreds of thousands of dollars more from serving on the boards of various other corporations.

* John W. Madigan, retired CEO of the Tribune Company whose annual pension is more than $220,000, and who cashed in the tune of more than $370,000 for attending a few board meetings of a company called Gilead Sciences in 2008 alone.

* Andrew J. McKenna, a major Republican Party official and donor who scrapes by on more than $1.2 million a year he gets–you can’t say “earns”–by serving on the board of McDonald’s and AON.

* Richard L. Thomas, a retired bank executive whose annual pension is more than $600,000, and

* Our friend R. Eden Martin himself, who in 2008 guzzled more than $330,000 in compensation from two companies where he sits on the board–and that’s on top of the retirement benefits he takes from the law firm, Sidley Austin, where he once worked. (Oddly enough for such a self-proclaimed champion of accountability and transparency, the firm’s pension benefit information is not publicly available.)

If only the pundits and politicians who echo these fatcats’ phony hysteria would consider whether it is truly believable that the modest benefits earned by caregivers, caseworkers and child abuse investigators–or park rangers, police evidence technicians and environmental scientists, to name just a few more essential public employees–are the cause of our state’s fiscal crisis.

In truth, the budget meltdown is the result of decades of abjectly irresponsible elected officials–now and in the past–who failed to (1) pay their share into the retirement systems and (2) raise adequate revenue to do so.

Is it credible that corporate CEOs who luxuriate in million-dollar pensions should get to denigrate the modest retirement benefits and affordable health care earned by retired public servants? Of course not. But as long as the politicians and media mouthpieces keep repeating Big Business talking points and their counterfactual claptrap, we have to redouble our efforts to fight back.

via Big Business still playing old pension-cut tune – AFSCME Council 31.

City Room™ – Politics – Watchdog Urges Quinn to Veto State Budget

An Illinois budget watchdog group is calling on the governor to veto the new state spending plan.

Lawmakers are sending Governor Pat Quinn a budget that would put the state another $6 billion behind on its bills. They've also given Quinn emergency powers to cut spending unilaterally.

Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan Civic Federation, based in Chicago, calls the bill “irresponsible.”

MSALL: This year we faced a $12.8 billion deficit. Next year, if things stand as they are, and there's not some sort of miracle economic recovery – which no one that we're aware of is forecasting – the state's deficit is gonna zoom well past $13 billion.

Msall says, down the road, it could be harder for Illinois to borrow its way out of financial trouble because its bond rating will likely drop.

He says Quinn should call lawmakers back to Springfield to re-work the budget.

But Quinn says he's planning to sign it, and make the cuts himself.

via City Room™ – Politics – Watchdog Urges Quinn to Veto State Budget.

Some cuts blocked, others approved – AFSCME Council 31

Some cuts blocked, others approvedAFSCME lobbying efforts helped to defeat budget amendments to lower the mileage reimbursement rate for state workers and raise health insurance costs for state and university retirees. But the General Assembly has now approved a budget package that includes massive cuts to a wide array of vital services.AFSCME lobbying efforts were key in convincing a House committee to vote down an amendment introduced by Rep. Karen May to drastically increase state and university retiree health care costs. Her fellow legislators rejected May’s contention that retirees should have to “feel the pain.” AFSCME was also successful in beating back an amendment from Rep. Naomi Jakobbson that would have reduced the mileage reimbursement rate for state workers.But the House of Representatives went on to adopt a budget plan that relies heavily on borrowing, underfunds virtually every responsibility of state government, and relies heavily on borrowing—further jeopardizing our state’s fiscal stability. The Senate concurred, allowing legislators to meet their end-of-May deadline and head home without ever really grappling with the state’s severe fiscal crisis.

via Some cuts blocked, others approved – AFSCME Council 31.

Illinois Issues blog: Senate skips pension borrowing vote

The Senate wrapped up some major issues before leaving Springfield today but avoided one of the largest components of the budget framework approved by the House this week.

And it seems that if a bill to borrow more than $4 billion to make the required employee pension payment is going to pass, Gov. Pat Quinn will have to do some hard lobbying of senators.

Read more of this >>

The Democrats Stumble At The Budget Finish Line | Progress Illinois

The spring session has officially come to an end in Springfield.  Both chambers passed some minor revenue generators, as well as a framework for the state budget that gives Gov. Quinn wide leeway to cut spending.  However, one large item remains unresolved.

The sticking point is a measure (SB 3514) that would allow the state to borrow $4 billion to cover the upcoming contribution to the pension system.  After narrowly passing the House earlier this week, the bill met resistance among the Democratic caucus in the Senate. “I don’t think we can afford to punt it down the road and keeping avoiding the problem even longer,” said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of a handful of Democratic holdouts.  So, instead of calling the bill in committee yesterday morning, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) held it with the intention of whipping up more support. But the body ultimately adjourned without even bringing the legislation to the floor. That means lawmakers will probably be called back to the capitol building for a special session sometime this summer. Read more of this >>

Daily Links: 1-30-10

Zalewski Wants Prisoner Early Releases Stopped

Centralia Correctional Center Vocational Training at Kaskaskia College In Danger

Prison chief warns workers against speaking out

A January 13th memo from Directory Randle states

“Employees are reminded that they are not to release information except to the extent required in the performance of their job duties.”

The memo went out to 12,000 employees with the early release program controversy still going. While this is departmental policy, and has been since I started in corrections years ago, the timing of it couldn’t have been worse.

Read the full article at pantagraph.com

AFSCME Calls for Special Task Force

From the Council 31 web site:

IN A LETTER sent Jan. 7 to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, AFSCME Council 31 called for the immediate creation of “a special joint task force, including legislators from both parties and both chambers, to answer urgent questions about the administration of the corrections department.”AFSCME members include some 11,000 frontline employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Read the rest of the article here

The Latest on Thomson

It’s been a busy week for me between work, other work, a funeral, and general housekeeping. A lot has happened since the last update. The big item, of course, it the proposed sale of Thomson CC to the federal government to house Gitmo retainees. In case you haven’t heard, last week-end the news broke that there was a proposal to sell Thomson CC to the federal government and turn it into a federal prison. Predictably, support and criticism of this proposal has been split along party lines. Read more of this >>

State gears to free prisoners

The Chicago Tribune has an article on the early release program some might find interesting.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-prison-release-30-oct30,0,6342072.story