--Excellent commentary on what has been going on in Illinois with the pension systems.--
Commentary at Chicago Now
By Michael Ciric
After decades of under-funding and inaction by the Michael Madigan controlled Legislature, the Illinois Speaker of the House has finally decided that the right time had come to propose Reform of the Illinois Public Pension System. And while that is absolutely imperative, years of inaction coupled with a legislative body that was all too willing to open up special windows of opportunity for interlopers to feed off it are the main reason the Pension Funds are in the financial mess they are in.
So Mr. Madigan while I am certainly glad you finally got off your Derry-Arie, do you realize that your gesture may just be too little, too late? And don't you think that the Taxpayers of Illinois and members of the pension system who played by the rules be given an explanation as to why you and your cohorts did nothing to stop politically connected people from gaining access to game those pension funds in the first place?
Well folks don't bother holding your breathes for Michael Madigan to give you, or anyone else, a straight and honest answer to those questions. But I will. The Illinois Pension System is in dire straits because Machine Politics demand payback for the undying loyalty bestowed upon its leadership. Nowhere does "one hand washes the other" apply more than in the overtly corrupt State of Illinois. And whether it is the sham ideology known as the Illinois Democratic Party or the Illinois Republican Party, the truth of the matter is that both have joined ranks long ago to deny the people of Illinois a fair and representative form of government.
If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times already - political ideology in the State of Illinois means absolutely nothing. And this is because the pay to play culture has been such a part of her political history that it has been allowed to flourish by generation after generation of the same influential political families. Let's face it, when it comes to political corruption, political malfeasance and/or nepotism - this is as common as Hot Dogs or Pizza in Chicago.
But you know something? That culture of political corruption exacts a heavy toll upon the residents of Illinois. And let's be very clear here - it is rampant and rife! From North to South and East to West as nearly every village, town, city, township or county in the state has been practicing pretty much the same formula of patronage and nepotism as their Big City Cousins who have elevated corruption to an art-form. And their aim is simple - they want to cash-in off the unwitting taxpayers who aren't direct beneficiaries of their graft. And when you have better than 8,500 separate taxing bodies in the State of Illinois taking something from each and every taxpayer to feed their own appetite for a piece of the money pie - well, is it any wonder then that the Public Pension Funds are hemorrhaging?
Just imagine, 8,500 separate government bodies and its employees are generally enrolled in more than pension fund! I don't know about you, but that's a hell of a lot of people tapping into the pension system and remains mostly unknown to the average taxpayer until it is too late.
Think I am kidding?
Well let's just look at two notable pension scoundrels, New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann and former Bellwood Village Manager Roy McCampbell. Tim Baldermann, for instance, is a guy who is already collecting tax-free disability monies wholly derived from a pension account from when he was employed, and supposedly hurt on the job in Chicago Heights. His claim of permanent disability, though, has not prevented him from remaining in government and in multiple positions (and thus eligible for multiple pensions). Of course he see's nothing wrong with this, but as a permanently disabled person myself - if I try and take a job then I must forfeit my disability after a one-year trial under return to work provisions by Social Security. So what the hell makes Baldermann so special? Well it comes down to the Illinois Legislature opening-up perverse windows of opportunity for those in the public sector.
And what about an even bigger pension fund scoundrel? Roy McCampbell is a guy who has definitely figured out how to game the shit out of the system! The former Village Manager of Bellwood saw absolutely nothing wrong with his $472,000 salary by holding down 10 different village positions before finally being indicted on multiple counts of Theft and Official Misconduct for granting himself numerous unauthorized pay raises and bilking the town of Bellwood for hundreds of thousands of dollars!
And while Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (a future multiple pension earner) hasn't moved all that fast on the McCampbell indictment it seems he was able to serve as Harwood Heights Economic Development Consultant along with Wayne Pesek until they were released by Mayor Arlene Jezierny after questions were raised. Matter of fact a reader of this blog has contacted me and given me a heads up to possible financial irregularities in Harwood Heights (a rinky dink enclave surrounded by Chicago and Norridge) involving some recent development there. In all fairness, though, I am still researching that and will post something at another time.
Anyway, getting back to Tim Baldermann and Roy McCampbell; I view these two guys as the epitome of a fu$ked-up and rigged pension system. And I have to tell you, they are far from being alone as political jackals. The State of Illinois are loaded with them and they are all gaming the pension system and putting it in jeopardy for those state and government workers who have played by the rules.
But hey I am willing to give Michael Madigan and his cast of Madigoons a chance to make things right. Although I won't hold my breathe as stated before. Still if Mister Madigan really wants to reform the Illinois Pension System then there are things that can, and must be done.
First and foremost - it is high time that the State of Illinois maintain a single master account for every employee eligible for a State Pension. Whether politicians, educators, state union workers, etc.. One Person - One Account! And the reasoning behind that is just a matter of common sense. A single Master Pension Account would allow auditors to keep track of lifetime earnings of each individual as well as ensuring that "late in career pay boosts," "employment outside government; a.k.a. union management, and other ineligible monies are not unfairly added into one's final pension computations. It is high-time the state flushes out those who abuse the pension system. And I have to tell you, Illinois is infested with them.
Second - after creation of said Master Account, the Illinois Legislature must mandate a deep forensic audit and repeal all those loopholes that have been created for those ineligible for pension payments. No more teaching a class (without credentials no less) to pad one's pension account. And I don't give a damn what those guys say about playing by the rules - it's wrong and immoral!
Third - the Illinois Pension System must adopt common sense controls similar to the private sector. No more iron-clad cost of living increases when the economy is stagnant. Look, people on Social Security went two years without a COLA, so demanding such in the Public Sector is inexcusable.
Fourth - New government employees must contribute more - period. Whether that means a higher medical premium for family coverage or raising the retirement age as well offering employees similar 401k accounting methods based on market funds, then so be it. Especially for part-time politicians and management level positions.
Fifth - No duplication of benefits - period.
Last but not least, my thinking on the Constitutional issue of not being able to change what has been given is open for interpretation. Look, the Illinois Legislature makes law and from time to time they have the power to repeal unjust or unfair ones. So I don't think that is valid argument given how those in the private sector have had their benefits altered after the fact on many occasions - including this writer's.
Quite frankly anything less than what I propose is unacceptable and any inaction would indicate more of the same smoke and mirrors.
But, given Michael Madigan's 3o+ year history in the legislature, well - we will see how serious he is about Pension Reform in the coming days.
As usual this post is just the opinion of an everyday Average Joe, but mind you I don't think there should be such a disparity between the Public and Private Sectors and the argument that people won't engage the Public Sector without higher incentives might be true. But let's be real too, there has been plenty of irregularities. Double, Triple, Quadruple and Quintuple-Dipping isn't an incentive - it is outright theft.
But I don't have a problem with people getting what they have fairly earned and that promise must, in large part, be kept. There are many in state government that have played by the rules and they shouldn't be punished because of the unethical actions of political jackals gaming the Illinois Pension Fund System.
And that is exactly why this needs to be addressed.