May 28, 2011
There seems to be no criteria used by Health and Human Services (HHS) in granting or denying waivers to excuse insurers from provisions mandated by ObamaCare. Many applicants have been refused but why? And just who gets them?
The list of ObamaCare waivers keeps growing longer and longer, with the “chosen” benefiting from government waiver breaks from costly ObamaCare regulations. Most readers of my blog posting are astute enough to know that ObamaCare waivers are being granted, but are they really up-to-date with the magnitude and the nature of those granted so far?
The latest waivers were granted by the HHS on May 17, at which time “Medigap” policy provider American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) was exempted from oversight in publicly releasing and explaining health care payment rate increases as required under the ObamaCare rate review rules.
Not to be forgotten is that AARP was a supporter of ObamaCare as passage of ObamaCare as a way to help eliminate competition for AARP’s supplemental insurance program (Medigap).
To bring readers up to date, since April more than 204 companies have been granted waivers. Of the 204 waivers, 38 of them were for fancy restaurants, luxury hotels, nightclubs and spas in Nancy Pelosi’s California House District. The fact that Nancy Pelosi’s district received nearly 20% of the waivers might look bad, but to Nancy Pelosi why would favoritism even be suggested?
This brings the total number of waivers granted by HHS to 1,371 organizations, companies, towns and even states. Well-known companies with ObamaCare waivers include MacDonald’s, Red Lobster, Olive Gardens, Dish Network, Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Humana. States include Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio Tennessee, and Nevada.
Unions are also well represented on the waiver list, including President Obama’s favorite, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union); the United Federation of Teachers (NY); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Why the stampede for ObamaCare waiver exemptions? Wasn’t ObamaCare suppose to cut health care costs?
To the contrary, it is because the ObamaCare rules which must begin this year and be completed by 2013 are so onerous and expensive that employers are appealing to the government to put them in abeyance because the costs are too high for them to absorb.
As waivers exemptions are only granted for one year, is it just coincidental that another request for waivers will come due just before the November Presidential election in 2012? You don’t think HHS would make any quid pro quo requirements before issuing a continuance of the waivers?
What about small stores and businesses who don’t have the time and money needed to apply or lack the clout to be considered for waivers?
Small businesses in Illinois are already experiencing hard times. In many Illinois communities shuttered store fronts are the norm as the economy continues to remain south. Many small businesses — the engines of job growth — will find prohibitive the added cost of providing health care to their employees which will necessitate layoffs to keep doors open for business.
The #1 question remains, if ObamaCare was promoted as affordable health care for all Americans, why are some Americans allowed a waiver while others are not! Why are some organization required to implement the health care act while others are not?
Where is the level playing field, or was it ever meant to be, with a government that increasingly feels justified in picking winners and losers based on political calculations that will sweeten the pot for would be voters in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.
So far there has been much talk and little action. Where is the leadership that was demanded of Republicans when they won back the U.S. House in the 2010 November elections
May 28, 2011
Why is our President gallivanting around Europe? He should be here at home working to rebuild this nation’s floundering economy.
With almost 14 million Americans unemployed, oil prices at an all-time high, and the national debt over $14.3 trillion, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. European countries are not going to provide the answers or the pathway toward this nation’s recovery given their own economic health.
After making many promises prior to your election with rhetoric of hope and change, Mr. President, you have not given the American people either change that is better or hope that future generations will inherit a nation that offers the possibility of continued prosperity and where freedom will prevail.
The Illinois Policy Institute, CEO John Tillman, presented a cocktail hour discussion with pollster Scott Rasmussen on Tuesday, evening, May 24, before a full house at its Chicago headquarters, 190 S. LaSalle Street.
Earlier in the day Scott Rasmussen had addressed a similar gathering in Springfield, sponsored by the Springfield Office of the Illinois Policy Institute, 802 South 2nd Street, 2nd Floor. Kristina Rasmussen is Executive Vice President of the Illinois Policy Institute.
Tillman also reminded those assembled that China, now #2, has climbed to this status because it has released free market principles that this nation and the American people have always been the beneficiary of. To depress free market principles in this nation would only hinder its future growth along with its status as a respected world power and leader.
In introducing Scott Rasmussen, John Tillman quoted a comment Michael Barone made about Mr. Rasmussen as “one of America’s most innovative pollsters.”
Tillman went on to tell how Scott Rasmussen is the founder and President of Rasmusssen Reports, one of the nation’s premier sources for public opinion information. Check out the following link to learn more about the interesting life of Scott Ramussen and of his many accomplishments. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/about_us/scott_rasmussen_biography
Not included in the above link is one of Scott Rasmussen’s volunteer activities. He serves as president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a not-for-profit religious corporation with historic ties to the United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan tradition. The 140 year-old organization provides opportunities for growth and renewal in a seaside setting.
In publicity announcing the May 24th “An Evening with Scott Rasmussen” event, it was noted that “the renowned founder of Rasmussen Reports will share what big ideas are trending nationally and provide takeaways for Illinois residents, officials, and business leaders.”
Scott Rasmussen lived up to what attendees were promised.
Emphasized by Mr. Rasmussen was the need to put polling data in its proper context. Rasmussen then when on to explain how when gas prices go up consumer confidence goes down immediately, but when gas prices fall it takes months for consumer confidence to go back up. This is so because the American people have become cynical. Even when prices fall a bit they still question whether the decrease is really going to last.
In explaining how political leadership often lags behind, Rasmussen attributed it to the unwillingness of leaders to face bigger issues until they can no longer be avoided, i.e. In the ongoing debate over raising the debt ceiling from $14.3 to $15.1 trillion, the debate should zero in on how to deal with the nation’s $123 trillion debt, a figure eight times larger than arguing over whether to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
Regarding how political change sometimes happens because attitudes of people change over time which then prompts legislators to articulate later on, Scott Rasmussen gave two examples:
1. The American Revolution didn’t start in 1775 at Lexington and Concord with “the shot heard around the world,” but decades earlier with the planting of seeds of dissatisfaction in response to perceived unfair happenings imposed upon the common man by those in power.
2. Wyoming was far ahead of other states in enacting woman suffrage in 1869, not for political reasons, but because men desired to attract more women to Wyoming through giving them the right to vote.
In explaining why voters distrust both major parties, Scott Rasmussen had this to say. Over many years voters have selected candidates who promise to cut spending and taxes, even though 1954 was the only year when taxes did decrease. What happened instead was that taxes and spending increased regardless of whether a Republican or a Democratic administration was in the majority or held the White House.
Rasmussen noted how voters dealt with the party in power when they voted out the controlling party in three back-to-back elections. Bill Clinton entered office with a Democratic majority which he then lost; George W. Bush lost his Republican majority to Democrats; and Barack Obama lost control of Congress in the 2010 mid-term elections with the return of the House to Republicans.
With the fundamental rejection of both parties and the prevailing cynicism, voters further perceive that rules are changed for the politically connected; 50% believe their own legislators exchange votes for cash; only 53% believe that capitalism is better than socialism; and only 15% believe the value of their home will go up in the coming year.
A positive sign noted by Rasmussen was that given a choice the American people will choose competition over regulation, as was reflected in polls about health care. Most Americans believe that free market forces will do more to reduce the cost of health care, but that health care must address end of life issues, not ignore poor people, deal with chronic care conditions, and provide emergency care.
On the issue of public pensions, which remains a hot issue here in Illinois and across this nation, people don’t want to pay higher taxes to support pension benefits for those in the pubic sector, many of whom fare better in retirement than do the taxpayers. At the same time taxpayers want school teachers fairly treated, but do desire a sense of fairness all around.
In conclusion Scott Rasmussen assured all that 81% of the American people still believe, as set forth by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
As an aside from Nancy Thorner, and one which Scott Rasmussen would surely echo: Thomas Jefferson was later quoted as asking, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” The founders of our nation knew that without the fear of God, arrogant and powerful men would turn to tyranny.
In keeping with what the American people desire today, Raumussen compared the age in which Abraham Lincoln lived not unlike the mood of today where many Americans are similarly yearning for a new birth of freedom.
Scott Raumussen then went on quote the closing line of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, as principles set forth 150 years ago but still in need of reflection by the people of today: “. . . and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
A question and answer period followed Scott Raumussen’s presentation.
A handout was given to all attendees entitled: May 2001: The Pulse of Illinois. The handout contains the results of a poll commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute. Five hundred likely Illinois voters were surveyed on May 17, 2011 by Pulse Opinion Research. The Margin of Sampling Error: +/.4.5 percentage pints with a 95% level of confidence. The full cross tabs of this poll are available at www.illinoispolicy.org/may2011poll.
When checking the above link, the first polling question reveals that 76% of Illinoisans believe their state is on the wrong track, 11% are not sure, and only 13% believe Illinois is on the right track.
All total, there are fourteen poll questions asked and reported on by Pulse Opinion Research.
As a subscriber for many years to the Lake Forester, I would be amiss not to applaud the recent changes in format and typeset that were inaugurated by Sun-Times Media, owner of Pioneer Press.
Upon receiving my copy of the Lake Forester on May 5, its cover page layout suggested that all was not the same inside. “Lake Forester” was now stated in bold, black letters, instead of its former washed-out blue appearance. Also noted directly above the new and bold Lake Forester heading was this nice touch: SERVING LAKE FOREST AND LAKE BLUFF SINCE 1896.
When opening my Lake Forester for further reading, I was both amazed and delighted. A new typeset and bold headings now introduced articles and the various sections of the Lake Forester, which created a more professional-looking publication. Additionally, the print inside looked crisper and clearer; the Lake Forester was easier and more fun to read. Navigation is also easier in the new Lake Forester with an improved index of where to find featured articles.
The Web site of the Lake Forester at http://lakeforest.suntimes.com has likewise been updated. Now it is possible to see day-by-day local news happenings as a prelude to the actual Thursday publication of the Lake Forester.
Letters to the Editor writers also have something to crow about. No longer are their letters lumped together under one link. Now each Letter to the Editor has its own separate link. This is a real plus when sharing letters published in the Lake Forester with others.
In receiving my copy on Thursday, May 12, a feature was included that had been introduced by editor David Sweet that I look forward to in future publications: “Lake Forester Street Talk.”
If you haven’t yet checked out the new-and-improved Lake Forester, please do so. It is definitely worth your while.
May 25, 2011
The Lake County Republican Federation, Alexander D. Stuart, President, held its 49th Annual Spring Gala on Friday, May 20, at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, with a 5:30 p.m. Reception in the Grand Marquee Tent, followed by Dinner at 7:00 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom. Featured Keynote Speaker was Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee Chairman.
Chelsea Stanley, Executive Director of the Lake County Republican Federation, estimated attendance in the range of 500 to 520.
President Alexander Stuart called the 49th Annual Spring Gala to order. Jim Newton, County Board Commissioner, District 3, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Sally Coffelt, a Lake County Circuit Court Clerk, displayed her vocal talent with the singing of God Bless America.”
Immediately following God Bless America was the Invocation by Daniel B. Shanes, Circuit Court Judge, 19th Judicial Circuit.
A deviation from the printed program was necessary in order to accommodate the tight schedule of Keynote Speaker Reince Priebus. After introductions were made by Alexander Stewart, Mr. Priebus spoke while dinner was being served so he could head off to his next event.
About Reince Priebus: As was indicated by Alexander Steward, Reince Priebus raised more money in the first quarter of this year than during the previous election cycle.
Reince Priebus was elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee on January 14th. As stated in the Federation program: “Reince has pledged to unite the Republican Party behind a solid business plan to restore faith in Republican donors and communicate to the American public to reach our common goal — electing Republicans.”
Prior to his national appointment, Rience Priebus was chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin where he created the framework that brought about an historic election cycle that included winning the Governor’s office and taking back both the state Assembly and the state Senate.
Priebus’s first comment of the night was to express gratefulness for being involved in a party that prays. Continuing, Priebus didn’t mince words when noting that Barack Obama must be a one term president, because he is changing America as we know it today and destroying its future possibilities.
Mr. Priebus informed those present that similar events held across this nation will play a crucial role in electing a Republican president in 2012.
President Obama was called a gifted politician, with a reminder that good speeches do not create jobs, nor do winning debates translate into a positive future.
Obama promises many things when addressing the public, but the results that follow do not match his rhetoric. Obama insists that spending must be reduced, but at the same time this nation is borrowing $4-1/2 billion every day to pay its bills; 43 cents is borrowed of every dollar spent, non-defense discretionary spending has increased 80%; our national debt, if the current trajectory is allowed to continue, will equal twice that of our total economy by 2040; and Medicare will go broke in 9 years.
Being of Greek ancestry, Reince Priebus indicated that half of his family still lives in Greece, which prompted Priebus to compare how living in America almost feels like living in Greece because of this nation’s similar and current course toward bankruptcy.
Although facts seem to place blame for the current economic debacle on political and legislative transgressions, also to be reckoned with, according to Mr. Priebus, is the gradual loss of freedom, opportunity, and self-determination that most Americans take for granted as their birth right.
As explained by Mr. Priebus, the role of the federal government is to create opportunity. In past generations there was an unspoken compact that children would fare better than their parents, but this compact has been broken for future generations. Why? Because Obama just doesn’t get it. He is only too willing to sacrifice the future of American for his short term gains.
President Obama promised that unemployment would go down to 8% and that the deficit would be cut in half by the end of his first term. Instead, 2.6 million jobs have been lost since Obama took office and more debt was accumulated on Obama’s watch than the combined debt of all president that preceded him. This year’s proposed budget would create the biggest deficit in the history of America.
Reince Priebus believes that Obama can be defeated one voice and one voter at a time. It will not be enough to simply talk about Republican principles. Of greater importance will be how Republicans act and interact with one another. The following points were stressed:
There must be less takers and more makers. There must be more people driving the wagon than riding the wagon. Candidates, upon being elected, must govern how they campaigned when running for office.
In speaking about his position as Chairman, Reince Priebus said the job was not suited for one with a big ego as the chairmanship position is all about promoting someone else. Priebus said he ran for chairmanship for the same reason all of us were here tonight, because of our concerns over our country’s future.
Reince Priebus called 2012 the most important election of our lifetime. He equated it to the battle for freedom fought by our Founding Fathers In keeping with the same spirit, Priebus related how the Republican Party was likewise established in 1854.
In conclusion, Priebus stressed that it was love of country that brought us all together to attend the 49th Annual Federation event at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort. Also the belief that only by defeating Barack Obama will our nation be saved and the Republican Party. This will take a massive army of boots on the ground.
In the absence of Robert Cook, Chairman, Lake County Republican Central Committee, because of a family emergency, Larry Falbe, Vice-Preseident, Lake County Republican Federation, acknowledged the elected officials and candidates present.
U.S. Congressmen Joe Walsh, 10th District, and Bob Dold, 8th District, were given the opportunity to speak about their experiences as newly elected congressmen from Illinois.
Following their presentations, Larry Falbe presented Antonietta Simonian, former Executive Director of the Lake County Republican Federation, with the Bob Milton Award.
The 49th Annual Spring Gala of the Lake County Republican Federation concluded with closing remarks and then adjournment by President Alexander D. Stuart.
May 25, 2011
Published in the Lake Forester: Pioneer Press publication, May 23
Pensions of teachers and public employees were hot topics this spring in the Illinois General Assembly, and in state capitals all over the country, because of unsustainable, unfunded pension systems which are bankrupting states.
The Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C., think tank, released a report on April 25 on the financial status of state public pension plans, including the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and other Illinois systems. The report notes that Illinois is in last place among states in putting away enough money for benefits promised to its employees in retirement. The state’s pension bill for next year, plus debt service on borrowing to pay recent pension bills, totals $6.2 billion, based on an $85 billion pension short fall.
Out of 13 million residents in Illinois, 700,000 of them, about 5 percent, are enrolled in the State’s pension programs, meaning that the remaining 95 percent of us must pay higher taxes to pay retirement benefits to those whose pensions are far more generous than our own.
Given that Illinois has an $85 billion pension shortfall, pension reform must be of major concern to Illinois legislators, but will reform happen before the May 31 adjournment of the General Assembly? Or will another session pass leaving the state with the nation’s most under-funded state pension system?
On April 12 of last year, Governor Quinn signed pension reform legislation into law. That law took effect on Jan. 1 this year. While it is a constructive step, it is a baby step. These reforms only apply to new hires, teachers and state employees, so their impact won’t be felt for 30 years, or more.
Even though Quinn claims this pension reform will save Illinois $220 billion over the coming decades, and even $400 million in fiscal year 2011, which begins on July 1,these saving do little to reduce the state’s $85 billion pension shortfall. Even the governor’s claim, that there will be $400 million in savings 2011 are dubious. Could it be he’s counting contributions from new hires as savings?
A major piece of reform legislation, House Bill 149, sponsored by Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and being pushed by the Republican leadership with the help of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, is needed now more than ever. This legislation would create a Three-tier Retirement system for All Active Members.
The Chicago Tribune, on May 5, was quick to endorse the beauty of the reform plan which would allow current workers to receive benefit payouts already earned or choose from these three options: 1) Increase their contribution; 2) Keep current contribution levels intact and work more years for a less open-ended package; or 3) Choose a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan with the state offering a 6 percent matching contribution.
As to be expected, union action was immediate. The “We Are One Illinois” coalition launched a campaign to portray public employees as hard-working victims of politicians who want to cover their mistakes by slashing pensions.
Of chief concern to taxpayers are the pensions paid to educators, because they account for $44 billion of the state’s $85 billion unfunded pension liability.
Although by law active Teachers’ Retirement System members are required each year to contribute 9.4 percent of their creditable earnings. Of that 9.4 percent, only 7.5 percent is used to fund the educator’s basic pension. The remaining 1.9 percent breaks down as follows: 1) 0.5 percent goes toward Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) after retirement, 2) 1.0 percent goes toward survivor benefits, through which a surviving spouse gets payments equal to half the educator’s benefit, 3) 0.4 percent goes toward the Early Retirement Option (ERO). None of these contributions cover more than a fraction of the pension benefits. All state taxpayers are the losers.
Most members don’t understand the complexity of the TRS, but they all understand that their pensions are based on 75 percent of the average of the highest four years in their last ten years of teaching. Unions have been successful, all across the state, of getting contracts that put the burden of TRS contributions completely or mostly on the local school districts, apart from salary levels. Two-thirds of all educators in Illinois contribute less than 1 percent of their pay to TRS. On top of this fully paid pension benefit, they also demand, and get, “competitive” salaries. Local taxpayers are the losers.
Members of the TRS, who retired in calendar year 2010, averaged a $47,000 base pension for 25 years of work. They will receive a yearly 3 percent COLA, and their pensions, which continue for life, are not subject to state or federal income taxes. In the private sector, if a person started a career after graduating from college at 22, 44 years of work are required to receive full Social Security age at 66, and Social Security is taxed as income. That pension will only amount to about 35 percent of the retiree’s final pay.
This gouging of taxpayers happened gradually as unions gained influence and power over many years of bargaining with elected members of Boards of Education. The union sees its role as an advocate for teachers. Period. The locals typically assume an adversarial position in relation to their boards. They assume no responsibility for advancing financially sound requests, thus the burden is on the boards.
What has been allowed to happen in Lake Forest District 115 (high school district shared with the Village of Lake Bluff) is alarming, given the insatiable wage and benefit appetite of unions representing teachers, and of superintendents, combined with school board passivity in coping with reality.
Countless Freedom of Information requests allowed me to access teacher and superintendent salaries.
Teachers in Lake Forest District 115 fare well. Out of 169 full time and part-time administrators and teachers employed by District 115, 89 of them earn more than $100,000 per year and another twenty-one earn salaries of $90,000 to $100,000 with no obligations to contribute to their pensions.
As shocked as I was to see those figures, it was the lavish, sweet, dare I say lucrative retirement package superintendent Dr. Harry Griffith will receive, that was the icing on the cake for me. His over-the-top retirement package may well exceed the retirement packages of any other superintendent in the state of Illinois—and perhaps the entire nation—when he retires at the end of the 2012 school year.
His package includes:
1. In June of 2012, Dr. Griffith will collect over $200,000 a year from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System with guaranteed increases of 3% per year, plus an annuity that the school district purchased, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to augment his retirement income.
2. Full cost of hospital, surgical, major medical, and dental insurance for Griffith and his family until October 31, 2015.
3. A continuation of Griffith’s term life insurance with a $1 million death benefit until his 65th birthday.
4. A car leased by the district for Griffith’s use will be given to him on the day he retires. Whatever happened to the gold watch?!
Lake Forest District 115 pension obligations are excessive in any economy, and downright unrealistic today. But the same situation exists throughout Illinois. No wonder there’s a massive, unfunded pension liability now sinking Illinois.
New teachers hired after January 1st of this year will retire under different rules. Age 67 must be reached, with 10 accumulated years of service, in order to qualify for full benefits. Retirement after 10 years of service at age 62 is possible, but retirement benefits would be reduced 6 percent for every year the teacher is under age 67.
While this letter was being written, Speaker Michael Madigan held the key to whether the Tom Cross reform legislation would clear the House with its meaningful measures to tame the public pension beast that is devouring billions of dollars of this state’s economy.
Will Speaker Michael Madigan and Democratic legislators allow unions to thwart efforts to curb current employees’ future pension earnings?
Teachers and pubic employees’ demands make them their own worst enemies. They retire too early, and they don’t contribute enough into their retirement funds. It took a long time for Illinois to create its massive unfunded pension liability mess, but without reforms, it will get much worse, and the rate at which it deteriorates will accelerate. Failure to enact well-thought out reforms will result in circumstances that no one wants, and that will especially anger union members: Illinois is not too big to fail. If the state sinks further into its cesspool of debt, teachers and public employees will face massive lay-offs and the complete failure of their pension funds.
The Cross legislation may not be the best remedy, but he and his co-sponsors have had the courage to face the reality of the situation. The legislature should debate the bill on its merits: identify and endorse its strengths; identify and fix its weaknesses. We are counting on them to find solutions that will last into the next century. By doing so Springfield can assure future generations that they can thrive and prosper in a state that ranks near the top in this nation, in economic outlook, GDP growth, personal income growth, and employment growth.
May 25, 2011
Shame is in order for the deceitful public union-sponsored pension ads now airing which accuse politicians in Springfield of wanting to take away life savings and cut pension of their members.
My ire was particularly intense upon hearing a teacher-union sponsored pension ad which claims member teachers contribute 10 percent of their earnings, without ever missing a payment, into their retirement fund.
Teacher unions across the state have been successful in getting contracts for teachers that put the burden of teacher retirement system contributions completely or mostly on the local school districts. Two-thirds of all educators in Illinois contribute less than 1 percent of their pay to the TRS. Local taxpayers pick up the rest.
Illinois teachers and other public employee unions must stop spreading lies with ads to gain the sympathy of the public. No one is planning to cut life savings or cut the pension benefits public employees have earned, but there is a need to reduce retirement benefits employees earn in the future.
Shame, too, on Illinois politicians for failing to fund state pension plans decade after decade, choosing to instead spend money on priorities that provided instant gratification in wooing voters! As with Social Security, Illinois pension plans are Ponzi schemes.
It is undeniable that Illinois is at a fiscal tipping point. Generous pension benefits that the state cannot afford are at the root of this problem. It is no longer possible to kick the can down the road.
Illinois has an $86 billion pension debt that is equal to $20,000 in debt per Illinois household. By 2045, without reform, state pension payments will eat up close to 50 percent of the state’s revenue.
In order to halt this state’s economic death spiral and to set Illinois on the path to future prosperity, solutions must be found that will last into the next century.
Time is running out. The General Assembly adjourns on May 31. Call your legislators, urging them to vote “yes” on pension reform.
Published at Champion News, May 25, 2011
Pensions of teacher and public employees are hot topics not only in Springfield, but in state capitals all over the country. Why? Because unsustainable, unfunded pension systems are bankrupting states.
According to a report released on April 25 by The Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C. think tank, Illinois ranks last place among states in putting away enough money for benefits promised to its employees in retirement.
Illinois legislators have been derelict in failing to fund the state pension funds over the years as mandated by the state’s Constitution. The result: Illinois has an $85 billion pension shortfall. Of that figure $44 billion of the shortfall is in the Teachers’ Retirement System pension fund.
With the introduction of a major piece of reform legislation in Springfield, HB 140 and the traction it is receiving, public service unions have launched a campaign to portray members as hard-working victims of politicians who want to cover their mistakes by slashing pension.
Why does hearing an ad presently being sponsored by unions representing teachers bring displeasure to me, even as a former music teacher? Foremost is the absurdity of what the ad portends in light of HB 149. The legislation would not take away full pension benefits already earned by retirees, but would give teachers the following three options:
- Increase contributions.
- Keep current contributions levels in place and work more years for a less open-ended package.
- Chose a 4010 (k) -style defined contributions plan with the state offering a 6% matching contribution.
The ad further states that teachers contribute 10% of their yearly earnings, never missing a payment, into their Teachers’ Retirement System (The figure mandated is really 9.4% and only 7.5% is used to fund pension benefits.).
Here is the catch: Unions have been successful, as in my own Lake Forest Districts #67 and #115, of getting contracts that put the burden of TRS contributions completely or mostly on the local school district. Throughout Illinois two-thirds of all educators contribute less than 1% of their pay to TRS.
It is true that teachers are not entitled to Social Security. Even so, it is disingenuous to compare teacher pension benefits to benefits paid to SS recipients.
Although most teachers don’t understand the complexity of the TRS, they are knowledgeable about how their pensions are formulated: 75% of the average of the highest four years in their last ten years of teaching.
In my local Lake Forest District #115, eighty nine out of 169 full time and part-time administrators and teachers employed are earning more than $100,000 in the current school year and another twenty-one are earning salaries in the range of $90,000 to $100,000. Such high salaries are the norm and not an anomaly.
As it is not uncommon for salaries to be inflated as teachers near the end of their teaching careers, it is evident that Lake Forest High School teachers will reap sizable pensions upon retiring. Additionally they will receive an automatic yearly 3% cost of living adjustment and will pay no taxes on their pensions. All this after just 25 years of work!
The superintendent of Lake Forest Districts #115 and #67, Dr. Harry Griffith, upon his retirement in June of 2012 will be receiving a pension even more grandiose to sustain him in his sunset years: $300,000 a year from the Teacher Retirement System in Illinois with guaranteed increases of 3% per year, plus a lavish annuity of hundreds of thousand of dollars purchased by Lake Forest School Districts #67 and #115 to augment his already substantial TRS retirement income.
In the private sector, a person starting his career after college must work for 44 years to receive full Social Security at age 66, SS benefits are taxed, and there is no guarantee that cost of living increases (COLA) will be awarded every year.
It is not my intent to place the blame for the massive amount of unfunded pension debt accrued by Illinois directly on teachers and public service employees. Equal blame rests of state legislators who turned pension funds into a Ponzi scheme by spending the money paid into TRS by its members.
Nevertheless, teachers and public employees’ demands make them their own worst enemies. They retire too early, and they don’t contribute enough into their retirement funds to account for their generous lifetime retirement benefits.
HB 149, sponsored by Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and being pushed by the Republican leadership, must be debated on its merits. Its weaknesses must be identified and fixed. Teacher and public union employees must also stop demanding benefits that can no longer be sustained.
It is way past time for meaningful pension reform to take place in Illinois. A common sense approach to the $85 billion in unfunded pension is not too much to ask of either unions or legislators. There must be a combined effort to find a solution that will last into the next century.
Only then will future generations of Illinoisans have the possibility of inheriting a state that will rank near the top in economic outlook, GDP growth, personal income growth, and employment growth, instead of near its present bottom-of-the-barrel state status.
Time is running out. Will reform happen before the May 31st adjournment of the General Assembly? Or will another session pass leaving the state with the nation’s most under-funded state pension system?
Call your elected IL representatives and demand that they support HB 149!
This is the Tale of Two States going in two different directions. Who might the winner be?
State of Illinois:
1. The state willingly accepted federal money like it was a pot of gold. No concern over ridership or that the state is broke.
2. The state dropped twenty places in five years to the bottom of the hap in business climate.
3. The state’s deficit at $15 billion is half as big as the state’s budget for 2012.
4. The state financial plan calls for taxing and spending and more spending!
5. The state wines and dines big corporations to remain in IL with their many jobs, but small businesses (engines of the economy)
are stuck with high taxes and regulatory burdens.
State of Illinois:
1. The state turned down federal high speed railroad. Why: Limited ridership, $810,000 for 55 permanent jobs, and money to anti-up down the road.
2. The state went from 41st in business climate to 24 in 2011.
3. The state wiped out a deficit of $3.6 billion through reforming the budget process and without raising taxes.
4. The state created jobs in the private sector and has lowered taxes and decreased regulatory burden across the board.
5. The state is making it easy for out-of-state businesses to relocate.
The winner, of course, is Wisconsin! As long as the Democratic Party retains its power by keeping voters satisfied with generous payouts of taxpayer money, Illinois will continue on a sure path of irrevocable fiscal insolvency.
Illinois has the wrong policies, which will continue to lead to a dismal future for Illinoisans.
Nancy J. Thorner 331 E. Blodgett Ave., Lake Bluff, IL 60044 (847) 295-1035
—– Original Message
Message to John Rowe, CEO, Exelon Corporation and Illinios media: Disinterest exists, rather than outrage over the wasting of The Zion Station
May 2, 2011
Instead of media outrage, disinterest prevails over Zion Station wasting
Zion Station consists of Two Modern Environmentally Clean, Safe, Lowest Cost Electricity Generation, 3 Loop 1000 + Megawatt Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) Design and Built, Operating Nuclear Fueled Electricity Generating Plants, Located on Seismically Approved Ground.
As a Lake Bluff resident, who can view the Zion Plant from her town’s Sunrise Beach. I have been engaged in a continuing effort over 2-1/2 years to engage others, and especially legislators, to heed her call to refurbish and restart The Zion Station, with almost zero interest in acting to save Zion.
With proper routine maintenance and upgrades, as happens to all machinery, both could be safely operated for a hundred years or more.
Exelon has never explained WHY the two Nuclear Plants were unnecessarily and prematurely closed and placed in “safestore” in 1998 way before their time, WHEN these two Nuclear Plants while “OPERATING,” neither spewed radioactive particles into the air, nor leaked radioactive particles into Lake Michigan.
Exelon refuses to this day to release its financial calculations as to its decision to shutter Zion Station in 1998, as well as two other financial calculations made, before Exelon transferred Zion to ZionSolutions for decommissioning on September 1, 2010.
Also of importance is why Exelon Corporation never attempted to sell the Zion Plant to another party if Exelon was unable to operate Zion profitably?
The two Nuclear Plants were providing safe, environmentally clean, lowest cost electricity to the Electrical Grids, in a seismically approved location, not just to Northeast Illinois, helping to stabilize and possibly drive down the cost of electricity in rate payers monthly bills.
Regarding nuclear waste, approved in 2002 by the United States Congress, the funding for the development of Yucca Mountain was terminated effective with the 2011 federal budget passed by Congress on April 13, 2011. This leaves the United States without any long term storage site for its high level radioactive waste.
It is way past time for this nation to start reprocessing nuclear fuel like in France. The reprocessing of spent waste was rejected by President Jimmy Carter’s administration. In France, where 80% of that country’s electricity comes from nuclear power, the radioactive waste from their 59 reactors with over 30 years of operation is stored in a single room in Normandy.
Not unexpectedly, US anti-nuclear groups on Monday, April 4, 2011, condemned a plant roughly one-third finished on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site to build a plant where plutonium from weapons would be reprocessed into fuel for nuclear power plants.
When will the Nuclear Energy fear-mongering end that once again reared its ugly head during the recent incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in March? It was the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan that destabilized the reactors and caused radiation leaks due to the destruction of backup reactor electric suppliers.
The 2,226 spent fuel rods now in Zion’s cooling pool can withstand a tornado up to 360 miles per hour and missiles up to 4,000 pounds. Furthermore, Lake Michigan has never had a seisch (a wave) of more than 20 feet high.
When will saner heads prevail to educate the American people about Nuclear Energy, instead of those in the print and broadcast media who have little or no knowledge about Nuclear Energy.
Enough with the “Pie in the Sky” dream that wind and solar power will ever become viable mass producers of energy!
These facts about Nuclear Power should be taught to every high school student in the U.S.
1. One Uranium Fuel Pellet, without being reprocessed and recycled, generates about as much energy as 3 Barrels of Oil (41 gallons each), 2 ton of Coal, or 17,000 cubic Feet of Natural Gas.
2. Uranium-fueled electrical generating plants produce abundant, cheap, clean and safe energy.
3. About 20% of electricity in the U.S. comes from uranium fuel.
4. We depend on electricity to manufacture goods and provide services that assure safety, healthy living and conveniences in modern life.
May legislators and those in the energy field wise up before it is too late. Others nations are investing in nuclear energy while this nation sits on the sidelines. Since the time of Admiral Rickover the Navy has had Nuclear Powered Submarines, Aircraft Carriers and Destroyers, all with a stellar record of safely.
Power is what drives the engine of our economy. An ever increasing amount of energy will be required in future years to fuel economic growth and to sustain the quality of life for future generations.
The Zion Station even now could be and should be refurbished and restarted, but time is running out.
Legislators should be outraged that Zion’s massive source of energy is scheduled to be wasted forever!
Nuclear Power is not only a necessary and viable source of clean energy in meeting today’s needs — which should please environmentalists — but expanding nuclear power capacity is essential to meeting ever increasing future energy needs.
Wind and solar power will never be able to supply massive amounts of reliable energy. Both would not exist as viable and practical sources of energy if not for the granting by government of subsidies to investors.
If this nation fails to act decisively and in a timely way, the decision-makers of today will reap the post-mortem blame for their shortsightedness and lack of common sense. Nuclear energy is for now and for the future!
Nancy J. Thorner is a Republican Precinct Committeeman in Lake County, Illinois. Click here to visit her website.