Sen. Dan And The Politics Of Division


Since its inception, PublicWatchdog has tried mightily to keep its attention, ideas and comments focused on the local governments based in Park Ridge: The City of Park Ridge, Elementary School District 64, High School District 207, and the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District.

One reason for that is because there’s more than enough going on with Park Ridge-based government to keep us busy.  Another reason is that we don’t have the ability or the interest to deal with bigger governmental units like Crook County or the malodorous State of Illinois.

But today we’re making an exception, compliments of Park Ridge’s own Springfield emissary, state Sen. Dan Kotowski.

We think that Sen. Dan, personally, is a fine fellow.  But when he’s wearing his “politician’s” suit, which is most of the time, he exhibits a split personality that is as puzzling as it is disturbing.

Kotowski has been our state senator for six years, during which time Illinois’ finances have gone from bad to worse to just plain gawd-awful despite the 67% Illinois income tax hike, for which Sen. Dan provided the deciding vote.  That’s not all Kotowski’s doing, of course.  He has had plenty of help from his fellow senators and state representatives who handle the state’s finances worse than an 8-year old manning a sidewalk card-table lemonade stand for the first time.

But what won Sen. Dan this first-ever Watchdog extra-territorial post is a letter he recently sent to a number of his constituents about the state legislature’s abject failure – once again – to enact meaningful public-sector pension reform.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Sen. Dan is a Culligan…uh, we mean Cullerton…man: he shills for the uber-modest pension “reform” plan of Senate president John Cullerton, which ostensibly is competing for support with the more aggressive reform plan proposed by Illinois’ prince of darkness himself, ol’ number 666, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Frankly, this “competition” between Madigan and Cullerton seems about as legit as professional wrestling.  But guys like Sen. Dan are paid to act like it’s real and thereby convince the rest of us: a Cullerton-controlled political fund has given Sen. Dan over $300,000, which might explain the spring in his step when Cullerton says “Jump!”  So he’s doing his best to whack that turnbuckle and sell Cullerton’s Atomic Drop “reform” to voters the way Vern Gagne used to sell his “Sleeper” hold; and, more recently, Rick Flair peddled his “Figure-Four Leglock.”

Hence, his letter, in which Sen. Dan proclaims his desire for pension reform that “protects working men and women.”  But only one class of “working men and women.”

That’s because the pension “reform” Sen. Dan advocates isn’t intended to protect the vast majority of “working men and women” who toil in the private sector.  It’s intended to protect only public sector employees when they are no longer working (i.e., retired), which for many public sector employees can start in their mid-to-late 50s.  Not surprisingly, this reform is intended to “protect” retirement income levels – which are guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution and, hence, the taxpayers – that substantially exceed what many/most private sector workers will be drawing from Social Security and their non-guaranteed 401(k)s combined.

Sen. Dan claims “a strong record of doing just that” – with the “that” presumably being  protecting public sector employees and retirees.

How?  He doesn’t really say.  But a safe bet would be: by an irresponsible combination of fleecing the taxpayers and driving our once-prosperous State even further toward bankruptcy, its slide to the rock bottom of all 50 states being achieved during Sen. Dan’s six years in office.

Sen. Dan’s letter says that an unidentified pension reform bill (which, by process of elimination, must be Madigan’s House bill) will “punish hard working men and women” like teachers, asphalt patchers, police and firefighters – the implication being that those public employees work harder than their private-sector counterparts, while at the same time having “devoted their lives” to nobler pursuits than the rest of us in the private sector.

Sen. Dan brags about voting to “send a pension reform bill before a bipartisan conference committee” comprised of 10 legislators – chaired by union-cozy Sen. Kwame Raoul (D. Chi.), whose chief claim to fame is that he was appointed to the seat Barack Obama vacated in order to claim his U.S. Senate seat back in 2004 – that “will reconcile policy differences between the House and the Senate.”

Really, Senator?  Really?

He closes his letter by expressing confidence in “passing fair and meaningful pension reform.”  But “fair and meaningful” for whom?  For all those taxpayers who aren’t now, never were, and never will be public employees?

We think not.

Then again, what should we expect from someone who has received contributions reportedly totaling over $200,000 from five public employee unions?

Illinois’ public pension system, if not poorly-conceived, has been obscenely mis-managed and grossly under-funded by a bi-partisan collection of Democrat (Blagojevich) and Republican (Thompson, Edgar & Ryan) governors and legislators, with the acquiesence of public-sector unions content in the knowledge that the Illinois constitutional guaranty of pension benefits ensures that such benefits will be paid, no matter how high taxes need to be raised.

Nevertheless, many public-sector retirees – especially those who retired years ago when public sector salaries were a mere fraction of the lucrative wages paid today – need and deserve to have their pensions protected.  Many of them earned less in wages while actually working (even adjusted for inflation) than many/most of their more-recently retired peers now receive in pension benefits.

If Sen. Dan and his Springfield cronies were concerned primarily about protecting the pension benefits of those older retirees, we might have a little more respect for the arguments made in his letter.  But that doesn’t appear to be the case with either Madigan’s or Cullerton’s “reform” bill.

They seem to want a one-size-fits-all “reform” that perpetuates the current unsustainable system of tying pensions to out-of-control public employee compensation – thereby promoting perversions such as (according to Open the 47 Illinois village managers earning higher compensation (and, therefore, higher pensions) than every governor of the 50 states, including Gov. Pat Quinn; park district administrators earning more than the State Director of Parks; and “spikes” in teacher and administrator salaries (including those in the high-five and six figure range) the last few years before retirement, solely to jack-up their retirement benefits.

That must be what Sen. Dan means by “fair and meaningful reform”: “fair” to the public-sector employees while providing a “meaningful” hit to the taxpayers’ wallets.

Welcome to Sen. Dan’s public sector v. private sector politics of division.

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