During the tenure of Governor Quinn the Illinois legislature and the Civic Committee of  The Commercial Club of Chicago led by Ty Fahner and his big business cohorts have organized an aggressive campaign that leads to what only big money can afford … massive advertising media campaigns of fear mongering and misinformation regarding government employee pensions.  Apparently in their minds the only solution to the fact that the Illinois legislature has purposely failed to make their annual contributions knowing full well what the future would bring to the people who are/will be dependent on this income (social security is not an option available to government retirees) and to all citizens of Illinois is to only look at cutting the benefits of a class of Illinois citizens that have done nothing wrong and everything asked of them by the state to ensure their pension would be there for them when it was time.  The contract between the teachers (State employees) and the State of Illinois was so much at the center of a common set of core values that constitutional language was ratified to acknowledge and protect the rights of state employees now and in the future.  My concern is such that I took this opportunity today to send Governor Quinn a letter through the State of Illinois website.  I am still hopeful that the facts of what other states are doing , the prevailing logic of  the entities listed below and what is clearly the greatest good for the vast majority of Illinoisans will overcome te juggernaut of big business and irresponsible government. To date I have not had a response from the the Governor …

The Future is Now! and In the words of Howard Beale , Network (1976)

Dear Governor Quinn,

As I write this I believe it is very unlikely it will ever reach your eyes … but instead be directed to an aide where the response will be very canned.  In the days of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) I would not have believed this … I remember your presence in the media fighting for the middle class citizens … proclaiming your efforts to stop the abuses of corporate utilities thrust upon those that had little power to stop the financial aggression.  I believe you applied a very personal touch to those days and the people you worked hard to protect.  It looked as though there was something very right about the David vs. Goliath of those days … and I was heartened to believe that there was someone out there willing to use their energy and position to serve the good of all no matter the strength of the aggressor.  Alas that image and understanding has been undermined since the attack on teacher pensions has started completely under your governorship.  What I presumed and thought would arise as governor from your actions in CUB would be even a greater warrior due to stronger position of influence combined with the tenacity displayed as the head of CUB, but unfortunately that is not to be… instead of the warrior you have transformed into a minion who is completely compliant to the whims and desires of like of Ty Fahner of the Civic Committee… rest assured you are not alone.  There are plenty legislative colleagues of yours that have gulped the Kool-Aid and are ready and willing to trash constitutionally protected guarantees and in the process to throw citizens who have done nothing other than follow the rules under “the school bus”.  What you do to some you can do to all under the right circumstances and incentives and that should be enough to scare anyone in Illinois …  if it is the teachers today who will it be tomorrow?

I have always had an unbridled faith in our country, our laws, the sense of fairness, compassion, and high moral ground that were the core values of our country and our state.  I find it incredulous that legislators can be blatantly irresponsible, unethical, and without conscious with their deliberate delinquency of payments (knowing the future outcome) and then come to the conclusion that the ONLY solution is to take away from the very group they pillaged from to begin with.  If this was the kind of behavior I supported, as an educator, with my students I would be fodder for parental complaints and administrative concern to the severest extent.  The practice of economic and partisan ethics is becoming far too familiar within government …. I don’t believe it was ever the intent for such close partnerships between government and big business … it is like having the fox guard the henhouse.  

All I ever hear about is the reform of pensions aka reduction of benefits and forced decisions between bad choices and a very bad choices (hence no real choice) regarding benefits.  I have never heard in the statehouse or in the mainstream media anything regarding revenue streams and/or enhancements. Might it be because the logical conversation focuses on a revenue shortfall and the solutions represent a significant decrease in the taxes of the vast majority of Illinoisans while at the same time requires large corporations to pay in their fair share into the state coffers for the benefit of the whole?   How many of the Civic Committee members stand to benefit from the reallocation of investments dollars forced upon teachers when TRS is dissipated and the undefined benefit of the 401K is the rule rather the exception?  When is a profit margin a reflection of capitalism alive and well and for the civic good vs. one that serves the few, is debilitating to the majority and forces decisions between bad and very bad!  When will we be able to tell the difference between a good government/business partnership and the abusive economic kidnapping and hostage holding that is eroding the core of ethical representative government for all?

There are plenty of opportunities to tap into revenue streams that are typically used by other states for the benefit of their citizenry.  Glen Brown has very simply and directly described them in his blog (http://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2012/06/duress-and-few-reminders-about-most.html):

There are practical alternatives that will enable the state to uphold its contract with public employees, and they are also constitutional. Have we already forgotten what these practical alternatives are and what the General Assembly can do instead of misappropriation? Here is a recap:

  • According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, policymakers must “keep in mind that state and local pensions accumulate and pay out assets over decades. They have an extended investment horizon.”  Therefore, the focus should be on structural tax reform and not pension reform; 
  • There needs to be a modernization of state and local budgets and their revenue systems. “The structural problems that have built up over time in these systems need to be addressed” (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities);  
  • “At the core of the budget crisis facing [Illinois] is [its] regressive state tax structure… that is, low-and-middle-income families pay a greater share of their income in taxes than the wealthy…  [A regressive tax] disproportionately impacts low-income people because, unlike the wealthy, [low-income people] are forced to spend a majority of their income purchasing basic needs that are subject to sales taxes” (United for a Fair Economy);
  • “Since the rich are able to save a much larger share of their incomes than middle-income families – and since the poor [can] rarely save at all – the taxes are inherently regressive” (The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, ITEP). Illinois income tax uses a single-rate structure that results in low-income wage earners paying more taxes than the wealthy. Note Illinois is among 10 states in the nation with the highest taxes paid by its poorest citizens at 13 percent (ITEP);
  • Tax services. Illinois is one of five states with sales taxes on fewer than 20 services (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities);
  • Establish a financial transaction tax or “Robin Hood Tax”: a .50 cent tax on every $100 of transacting. “We used to have a financial transaction tax in this country from 1914 to 1966” (Bill Moyers); 
  • “Broaden the sales tax base to include selected consumer services for an estimated new revenue of $550 million a year” (Illinois Education Association, IEA); 
  • Increase taxation on the wealthy: Illinois is in the top 10 of regressive state tax systems where the wealthiest taxpayers do not pay as much of their incomes in taxes as the poorest and middle-income wage earners (The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy)
  • Close tax loopholes for corporations, especially oil companies and their offshore drilling “for an estimated new revenue of $75 million a year” (IEA); 
  • Eliminate the tax loophole for “Tax Increment Financing Districts” and save “$1.2 billion a year” (Greg Leroy from a national policy resource center for corporate and government accountability in Washington, DC, GoodJobsFirst.org);
  • Eliminate “Edge Tax Credits” for large corporations and save “$347 million a year”; eliminate “Accelerated Depreciation” or “write offs” of all assets and save “$333 million a year” (Leroy);
  • Eliminate “Single Sales Factor” that “allows large corporations to cut their taxes 80-90% and save “$96-217 million a year”; eliminate “Vendor Discounts” that allow companies “to keep an uncapped part of their state taxes as a ‘processing’ fee” and save “$126 million a year” (Leroy);
  • Reinstitute “fund sweeps”: surplus revenue should be added to the General Revenue Fund “for estimated new revenue of $300 million a year” (IEA);
  • Add “exceeded revenue” from the Road Fund (motor vehicle and driver’s license fees) to the General Revenue Fund “for an estimated new revenue of $250 million a year”; reduce aggregate transfers/eliminate “some statutory transfers” from the General Revenue Fund “for an estimated new revenue of $200 million a year” (IEA);
  • Eliminate or cap the “retailers’ discount” that businesses keep: 1.75% of sales taxes paid for by the rest of us “for an estimated new revenue of $100 million a year” (IEA);
  • Implement a more timely system of payments (cash management practices are greatly affected by budgetary practices in relation to deferred liabilities which place additional pressures particularly in the first and second quarters of the year to pay those expenses; timing of tax payments also affects the state’s cash flow and should be adjusted accordingly);
  • Examine and improve the efficiency of the state’s government;
  • Finally, with a constitutional amendment, “given an appropriately designed graduated-rate structure, Illinois could cut the overall state income tax burden for 94 percent of all taxpayers—on average providing a tax cut to every taxpayer with less than $150,000 in base income annually, raise at least $2.4 billion more in revenue, and keep the effective individual income tax rate for millionaires well below five percent…  Illinois taxpayers with the bottom 94 percent of base income collectively would receive an annual tax cut of $1.06 billion… [T]he combined effect of this policy would be a stimulus to the economy from tax cuts and additional state spending (assuming that the additional revenue is used to fund current public services that would otherwise not be funded) that would create at least 36,000 private sector jobs in communities across Illinois…” (The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability).

The aggressive behavior of Civic Committee and who they represent has a momentum that will gain in power and will continue to influence the erosion of individual rights, constitutional guarantees, and core values of family and security… I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore without a fight! (Howard Beale – Network – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao3FuGEGcU8) I implore you to reflect back on the good fight during your CUB days and ask yourself the question is the vast majority of Illinoisans means and welfare more important that your alignment to the Civic Committee and the greed they represent?  I strongly urge you to bring the agencies (listed in Glen Brown’s bullet points above) together that can give an unbiased look at the state’s budget and elevate the conversation to strategies and actions that serve the greatest number of Illinoisans and respectfully and passionately protects all individuals’ rights and guarantees (present and future) while at the same time allow for more than respectful earnings by Illinois businesses.

Mark Pennington