Tag: pension

Three Democratic candidates for Governor of Illinois who I won’t vote for in Democratic primary

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am currently serving a two-year term as an election judge in Vermilion County, Illinois, with the last currently-scheduled election of my term being the Spring 2018 primaries. This blog post is purely my opinion about a race that will be on the Democratic primary ballot in an election in which I may be called to serve as a poll worker, and is not, in any way, connected to my election judge duties.


I’m not going to publicly endorse a candidate in the 2018 bicentennial election for Governor of Illinois, although I will be a voter in the 2018 bicentennial Illinois Democratic primary, and there are three candidates who I will not be voting for in the primary, unless, of course, they end up being the only three candidates on the primary ballot.

J.B. Pritzker is probably the only Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial primary in Illinois who could probably outspend Republican Governor Bruce Rauner in the general election, but there’s a very possible chance that Pritzker won’t make it to the general election. One main reason why Pritzker could have trouble winning the Democratic nomination is that, in 2012, Pritzker publicly refused to support then-President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign well into the Republican primary campaign season that year. Even worse, Pritzker outright said that he wasn’t 100% supportive of the Democratic Party, and signaled that he was open to supporting far-right Republicans.

Christopher G. Kennedy is a member of the Kennedy political family, and he’s also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor here in Illinois. However, CGK had the gall to appear at a campaign event in downstate Illinois and proceed to support a major education funding proposal that would give Chicago-area politicians more control over downstate school districts:

Kennedy said he is opposed to funding kindergarten through high school public schools through property taxes.

“We need to get rid of that system. It’s a terrible system,” he said. “Every other state in the United States has figured that out. They pay for their schools at the state level and not through local property taxes and they have much better outcomes.”

Removing local control from K-12 education funding in Illinois would put all non-federal funding of public schools in the hands of a state government dominated by Chicago-area politicians. Needless to say, downstaters are not going to like CGK’s idea to put decisions regarding funding their community’s public schools in the hands of a Chicagoland-dominated state legislature.

Another candidate running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is Daniel Biss, a mathematician-turned-state senator serving the Evanston area in Cook County. Biss’s claim to political fame was supporting Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the unconstitutional state law that was designed to cut state public employee pension benefits in Illinois. While Illinois has a major pension funding crisis, SB1 was such a blatant violation of the Illinois Constitution’s provision prohibiting cutting earned pension benefits, even right-wing Republican state supreme court justices like Rita Garman ruled that SB1 was unconstitutional.

The other two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination that I’m aware of are Ameya Pawar, a Chicago City Council member, and Bob Daiber, a farmer and regional school superintendent from Madison County. I’m not going to tell anyone which of those two I’m going to vote for, but I’ve already made up my mind.

No surrender

No surrender

I haven’t written much about Illinois state politics in recent months, largely because there’s not much going on due to the ongoing state government shutdown.

However, the website of The New York Times has published this report on how a handful of wealthy individuals, some of which aren’t Illinois residents, are holding the state of Illinois hostage by way of big-money politics:

In the months since, Mr. (Kenneth C.) Griffin and a small group of rich supporters — not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas — have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

[…]

Many of those giving, like Mr. Griffin, come from the world of finance, an industry that has yielded more of the new political wealth than any other. The Florida-based leveraged-buyout pioneer John Childs, the private equity investor Sam Zell and Paul Singer, a prominent New York hedge fund manager, all helped elect Mr. Rauner, as did Richard Uihlein, a conservative businessman from the Chicago suburbs.

In short, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money on his gubernatorial campaign last year, also spent millions upon millions of dollars of money from a handful of wealthy individuals, and now Rauner is holding Illinois hostage by demanding a Scott Walker-style far-right economic agenda that would hurt Illinois’s economy in return for a functional state government.

To the Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly and the people of Illinois, I have two words for ya’ll: No surrender! Illinois cannot afford busting unions, driving down wages, making it harder for working Illinoisans who are injured on the job to get workers’ compensation benefits, cuts to pension benefits, and every other item of right-wing economic policy that would hurt Illinois’s economy by taking away disposable income from Illinois consumers. Illinois cannot afford surrendering to Bruce Rauner and his big-money cronies from the finance industry.

Bruce Rauner pushing more unconstitutional pension theft bills in Illinois

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is publicly pushing for more pension theft legislation here in Illinois, despite the fact that the legislation appears to blatantly violate the Illinois Constitution:

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday announced a massive pension overhaul bill that he said would save billions of dollars while incorporating reform ideas from various leaders.

The lengthy bill — all 500 pages of it — would cut retirement benefits for police officers, firefighters and public teachers. It would also give local governments a way to file for bankruptcy “as a last resort” after a review or the declaration of a fiscal emergency.

Cutting pension benefits that have already been guaranteed to our state’s public employees is explicitly unconstitutional, according to Article XIII, Section 5 of the our state’s constitutional, which states the following:

Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this year that a pension theft bill signed into law by then-Democratic Governor Pat Quinn in 2013 violates the Illinois Constitution because it cut pension benefits that are supposed to be guaranteed to those who are currently publicly employees once they retire. Bruce Rauner, State Senate President John Cullerton, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are supporting more pension theft legislation that is likely to get struck down by the courts for cutting constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefits to our state’s public employees. While our state has a major pension debt problem, it should be dealt with without cutting benefits to current public employees and retirees.

Illinois Supreme Court UNANIMOUSLY throws out pension theft scheme

This is a couple of days old, but I have great news to share:

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled unconstitutional a landmark state pension law that aimed to scale back government worker benefits to erase a massive $105 billion retirement system debt, sending lawmakers and the new governor back to the negotiating table to try to solve the pressing financial issue.

The ruling also reverberated at (Chicago) City Hall, imperiling a similar law (Chicago) Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through to shore up two of the four city worker retirement funds and making it more difficult for him to find fixes for police, fire and teacher pension funds that are short billions of dollars.

At issue was a December 2013 state law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn that stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously struck down the pension theft scheme despite Democratic Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan basically arguing that politicians don’t have to abide by the Illinois Constitution, which contains provisions protecting the pension benefits that our state’s public employees pay into one of several public employee pension systems, if there’s a significant pension shortfall. The Illinois Supreme Court, which has four Democrats and three Republicans, ruled unanimously that the provisions of Illinois Constitution pertaining to public employee pensions do, in fact, apply to politicians who try to screw over retirees.

Make no mistake about it, the fight against the Quinn-Rahm-Ranuer pension theft scheme is far from over.

Bruce Rauner wants to amend the Illinois Constitution in order to steal pension benefits

With the possibility that the Illinois Supreme Court may strike down at least part of former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn’s pension theft legislation looming, incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is already pushing for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that, if ratified, would steal pension benefits from our state’s public employees. While a formal amendment has not been proposed yet, the amendment would, if ratified, force at least current public employees to choose between reduced pension benefits or a 401k-type plan.

Make no mistake about it, the Rauner pension theft amendment would be disastrous for Illinoisans.

First off, the amendment would effectively force our state’s public employees to make a lesser-of-two-evils decision: either take lower pension payments once they retire, or take payments from 401k-type plan once they retire. Lower pension payments would mean less money for retirees to spend on goods and services, resulting in many of them becoming impoverished and dependent on social safety net programs in order to survive. On the other hand, 401k-type plans provide no lifetime guarantee of payments, meaning that it’s possible for a beneficiary of a 401k-type plan to outlive their benefits.

If the Rauner pension theft amendment were to be ratified by voters, it would likely result in the loss of thousands of Illinois private-sector jobs. That’s because many Illinois businesses, even businesses located hundreds of miles from Springfield and/or Chicago, are dependent on retired public employees spending money on goods and services in order to survive. While our state’s pension system is badly underfunded, pension theft would leave our state even worse off than it currently is.

60% of all members of both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by supermajorities of Democrats, would need to approve of the Rauner pension theft amendment in order for it to appear on the Illinois ballot. If that happens, Illinois voters will be able to vote yes or no on the Rauner pension theft amendment in a ratification referendum. Either 60% of those voting on the referendum or 50%+1 of all votes in the election in which the referendum is held for the “yes” option would ratify the amendment. If the Rauner pension theft amendment appears on an Illinois ballot at any time in the future, I strongly encourage a “no” vote on the amendment.

The Progressive Response to the Illinois State Budget Address

In his budget address today, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a draconian budget that, among other things, includes deep cuts to Medicaid, higher education, and other important government services that many Illinoisans rely on and help make our economy strong. While our state’s current fiscal situation is unsustainable, Rauner’s budget proposal would actually make Illinois even worse off than it is now.

In his budget, Rauner proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, which thousands of Illinoisans who are not well off rely on in order to make health care more affordable for them. While any actual waste in the Medicaid program (Medicaid payouts to deceased people, etc.) should be eliminated, taking away health care benefits from people who rely on them would bankrupt thousands of Illinois families. Additionally, Rauner proposed taking money from higher education and giving it to K-12 schools in our state. While our state’s K-12 system needs more funding, to cut funding from our state’s public universities and community colleges in order to do so is the wrong way to do so. Additionally, Rauner proposed freezing property taxes and cutting state funding to local governments around the state. This would force many municipalities to cut police departments, street maintenance crews, and other important services, if not outright eliminate local government altogether.

In his budget speech, Rauner proposed gutting pensions, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, as well as making it harder for Illinoisans to sue those who have wronged them in a significant way and make the Illinois tax code even more tilted toward the wealthiest people in our state than it currently is. To put that another way, Rauner wants to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it, as well as make it easier for businesses and other people and groups to screw Illinoisans over and get away with it.

Additionally, Rauner used his budget speech to advocate for items that do not belong in a state budget or budget speech, such as a proposed state constitutional amendment to enact term limits for many of our state’s elected officials. If it’s not a fiscal item, it doesn’t belong in a state budget or budget speech, and bringing up non-fiscal items in a budget speech is purely political grandstanding.

In his speech, Rauner compared himself to Abraham Lincoln and claimed that his budget would make Illinois a more prosperous state. First off, Rauner is no Lincoln. Lincoln believed that “labor is the superior of capital”. Rauner believes that capital is the superior of labor. It’s clear to me that Rauner has a completely different political philosophy than that of Lincoln. Also, while the bottom line of Rauner’s budget proposal may look good, what is inside Rauner’s budget is what really matters, and Rauner’s budget would make millions of Illinoisans far worse off than they currently are and lead to even worse fiscal crises in the future.

The Progressive Response to the State of the State of Illinois Address

Earlier today, Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of our state that we instinctively know as Illinois, outlined his plan to drive down wages, infringe on the rights of Illinois workers, and destroy an already weak Illinois economy.

Prior to giving his State of the State address, Rauner went around the state using PowerPoint slides to publicly bash our state’s public employees, whine about public employees being, in his view, overpaid, spread lies about worker’s rights and public employee pay, and blame public employees for our state’s fiscal problems. Additionally, it was reported yesterday that Rauner strongly hinted that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for our state’s public employees. Given that Rauner has given his top administration officials pay raises and appointed a $100,000/year chief of staff to his wife despite the fact that his wife has no official duties whatsoever, for Rauner to give his cronies pay raises while wanting to drive down public employee salaries is blatantly hypocritical.

In his State of the State address, Rauner called for gutting our state’s workers’ compensation system, lowering property taxes while our state and local governments have billions of dollars in unpaid bills, allowing local governments and/or voters to bust unions at the local level, prohibiting project labor agreements, eliminating prevailing wage laws, and privatizing public education to benefit his political cronies. Rauner did have a few good ideas that he talked about in his address to the people of Illinois, such as banning trial lawyer donations to judicial campaigns, merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer, and increasing funding for early childhood education.

While there is no disputing the fact that our state is in a fiscal mess for a large number of reasons, the primary reason why our state is in such a fiscal mess is because the wealthiest Illinoisans, such as Rauner himself, don’t pay enough state income taxes thanks to an ridiculous provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the General Assembly from passing legislation to tax the incomes of wealthier Illinoisans at a higher rate than the incomes of poorer Illinoisans. The flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution prohibits our state from raising the revenues that would be needed to pay off our state’s unpaid bills and put our state on solid financial footing. I would strongly support a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution to allow the General Assembly to levy a progressive state income tax in order to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Illinoisans, cut income taxes for the poorest Illinoisans, and put our state’s finances back on track. Additionally, I would strongly support eliminating all tax breaks for businesses, such as the ridiculous tax break that Sears and CME Group received a few years ago, as this would also bring in more revenue to the state that can be used to pay off unpaid bills.

Regarding public employee pensions, another reason why our state is in a fiscal mess, I would strongly support a pension reform proposal that would phase out the current public employee pension systems in our state, but still allow public employees who have paid into the current pension systems to still receive the benefits they’ve earned once they retire, and require all new state and local elected officials, appointed officials, and hired public employees who receive a full-time salary but had not previously paid anything into the current public employee pension systems in our state to pay into a newly-created public employee pension system that is designed to be fully-funded and provide our state’s future elected officials, political appointees, and public employees with a steady retirement income once they retire. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose any pension reform proposal that cuts benefits for those who have currently paid into the pension systems, creates a 401(k) system for public employees, and/or turns an existing pension system into a 401(k) system.

Regarding cutting spending, I would support an audit of the entire state government and every single county, township, city, town, village, and other type of local government entity in our state in order to find actual wasteful spending and propose common-sense solutions to cut actual wasteful spending and help save the state money in both the short term and the long term. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose cuts to public education, social services, and other government services that reduce the quality of service by our state and local government agencies.

Regarding strengthening our state’s economy, I strongly support raising the state minimum wage here in Illinois to $15/hour and indexing automatic, annual minimum wage increases to productivity. Additionally, I strongly support creating a North Dakota-style economic development bank here in Illinois to issue and/our guarantee loans to factories, farms, small businesses, and other types of businesses that have to be repaid in full with interest. These two proposals would lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, establish a minimum wage that values work, and help entrepreneurs start up new businesses and create jobs without pocketing government benefits to simply pad profits. Busting unions and driving down wages is something I strongly oppose because those policies would do absolutely nothing to strengthen our state’s economy or empower Illinoisans.

Regarding campaign finance, ethics, and government reform, while a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped Rauner and his cronies buy the last gubernatorial election would be required to allow Illinois to enact meaningful campaign finance reform, I strongly support eliminating the conflicts of interest that are currently allowed by our state’s campaign finance system, such as a couple of conflicts of interest that Rauner mentioned, prohibiting unions from donating to candidates for public office that they’d have to collectively bargain with if said candidates are elected and prohibiting trial lawyers from donating to judicial candidates, and one that Rauner did not mention because he’s effectively opposed to it, prohibiting business owners and managers from donating to candidates for public office that could use the public office in question to directly benefit said business owners and managers if elected. Additionally, I would support setting the maximum campaign contribution for a statewide office here in Illinois at $250 and enacting even lower limits for state legislative and local offices. Additionally, I strongly support implementing a pair of public campaign finance systems, one for judicial elections and one for other non-federal elections. The judicial public campaign finance system would prohibit judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from other people and/or funding their own campaigns, require that all judicial candidates receive a set amount of campaign funds from the state, and require that judicial candidates receive the same amount of campaign funds from the state that their opponents receive. The public campaign finance system for other offices would allow candidates for those offices to receive $4 of state funding for every $1 they receive in contributions and/or self-fund their campaigns with. Additionally, I would support enacting what I like to call the Bruce Rauner Rule, which would outright prohibit candidates for statewide office here in Illinois from donating or loaning more than $100,000 of their own wealth to their campaign, and set even lower self-funding limits for other offices. On term limits, I would support limiting the offices of governor and lieutenant governor to one elected term, limiting the other state executive offices to two elected terms, limiting state senators to five elected terms, and limiting state representatives to eight elected terms, and anything stricter than that would receive my opposition. Some other government reform ideas I support include allowing Illinois voters to recall all non-federal elected officials, converting the Illinois General Assembly into an unicameral legislature with at least 177 members via a state constitutional amendment, and amending the Illinois Constitution to establish a truly non-partisan redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts.

Regarding reforming the criminal justice system, I strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating recreational marijuana, which would reduce the incarceration rate in our state and provide our state with much-needed tax revenue. Additionally, I’m open to various ideas to reform the criminal justice system in order to make our prison system more about rehabilitating convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them and make our criminal justice system more fair. For example, one idea that I strongly support would be requiring independent investigations of deaths that occur in the hands of state and local police here in Illinois.

Regarding education, I strongly oppose implementing school voucher programs here in Illinois, expanding charter schools, or any other school privatization scheme. I strongly support repealing Common Core State Standards and replacing them well-rounded, developmentally appropriate K-12 academic standards developed by the state and are held accountable by measures other than assessments and standardized tests. Additionally, I strongly support getting rid of the emphasis on career preparation in K-12 education, since I believe that career preparation should be the responsibility of higher education institutions, not the K-12 system. Also, I strongly support increasing funding for public schools in our state and making our state’s K-12 school funding system fairer to poorer school districts.

Illinoisans are worth more than speeches, political buzzwords, and PowerPoint presentations about driving down wages, busting unions, and making our state’s economy even weaker than it currently is, and Illinoisans are certainly worth more than Bruce Rauner’s far-right policies to drive down wages, bust unions, and destroy our state’s economy. It’s time for Illinoisans to push for progressive policies to protect workers’ rights, strengthen our state’s economy, put more money into the pockets of poor and working-class Illinoisans, provide a world-class education system for our state’s K-12 and college students, and provide for a more perfect Illinois.