Monday, September 2, 2013

Another month w/o pay for legislators; how much longer ‘til reform achieved?

Sunday was another milestone – two straight pay period for the members of our Illinois General Assembly without compensation.

QUINN: Daring the Lege to override him
For our legislators get paid once a month, at the beginning of each calendar cycle. So the action of Gov. Pat Quinn to refuse to pay legislators until they get off their duffs and approve something resembling a reform of the pay state-monitored pension programs are funded.

THERE HAS BEEN speculation in recent weeks that the committee of legislators that is trying to resolve the problem has some serious ideas.

We may be headed in the right direction. Or maybe it’s just an illusion – the same way that Chicago Cubs fans are delusional enough to think that their favorite ball club actually is headed in the direction of being a pennant contender in the near future.

Quinn, himself, didn’t do much to ease the tensions that now exist.

On Saturday, he defended his actions and said if the Legislature really hates the idea of not being paid (they didn’t get an August check, and now they’re not getting anything for September) they can go ahead and use their override power to take down the amendatory veto he used to strike their salaries from the state budget.

OF COURSE, QUINN knows full well the Legislature is not likely to do that. They don’t want the newspaper headline Legislature restores own salaries while pension problem remains to be turning up all over Illinois.

All over the country actually, because this is just the kind of story that could be spun by all the anti-government geeks into a government DEMANDING to be paid for doing nothing.

Dueling pension plans ...
That’s not literally true. But this is a move by Quinn that resonates with the populace, even if the electorate doesn’t think much of the governor himself. The reality is that he gets away with it because the public thinks even less of legislators than they do the governor.

All of this, however, is mere trivia. What we ought to be focused on is the pension question – the five programs overseen by Illinois state government that cover the retirement benefits of assorted public service workers and public school teachers outside of Chicago.

THE FACT IS that state officials all too often resolved financial problems of the past by short-changing the amount of money needed to fund the pension programs.

... from dueling leaders
When the state does that, it gets the same result as when you hold off on paying your bills in a timely manner – the debt accumulates and at some point you have to make an extra-large payment to get yourself caught up.

In the case of Illinois state government, that payment is now about $6 billion – which is about 20 percent of all the money the state will have to pay for all its daily operations for the current fiscal year. In short, it isn’t going to happen.

We all saw how Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton (both Chicago Democrats) came up with dueling plans, only to see neither actually pass.

WE NOW HAVE the legislative panel (with state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, as a member who could use the results of this issue to propel himself to higher office in the future) trying to come up with solutions.

There is speculation that the cost of living adjustments to the pension payments could be reduced for future years, but the state workers themselves would have to pay 1 percent less as their contribution toward their eventual pensions.

Which could be spun by officials as giving something to state workers (the reduction would mean more money in the employee pockets right now), in exchange for a little bit less come the future.

RAOUL: Pension problems jolt career
I’m sure there are those who will fault the concept. Although there is going to be somebody who will fault it no matter what happens; and will file a lawsuit to challenge it!

THE KEY TO comprehending this issue, however, is to remember that nothing is definite. The legislators aren’t ready to recommend anything for approval, which means the General Assembly isn’t close to voting to send something to Quinn for his final action.

There’s a good chance that nothing will be ready come Sept. 18 – the date when a lawsuit filed by the legislative leaders to force payment of their salaries is scheduled to come up again before Cook County Judge Neil Cohen.

In fact, I won’t be surprised if there isn’t a resolution to this issue come Oct. 1 – which would mean a third month without pay. And more confusion about the future – which our politicos always behave as though it won’t ever come if they just ignore it long enough.


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