Public Watchdog.org

Sen. Dan And The Politics Of Division

07.02.13

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 Books.com): 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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

19 comments so far

Both the Cullerton bill and the Madigan bill claim to be “pension reform,” but make only itty, bitty adjustments to government pension payments. The debt never goes away. You may be asking, why are the dems and unions not up in arms about reform? Or, you may even ponder why dems and unions LIKE these so-called reforms? It’s because BOTH bills contain what’s known as a FUNDING GUARANTEE. Both bills require Illinois to pay union pensions FIRST, in full, BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE IN THE BUDGET GETS PAID FOR – including programs for the poor, the old, the sick, the vulnerable… pretty much everyone Dan claims to be “protecting.” It’s bad enough there’s a pension guarantee in the state Constitution. But, these pension ‘reform’ bills screw everyone but those on the high end of the government dole. Take a look at the pension ramp — in a short while, it will squeeze EVERYTHING ELSE OUT in the budget, leaving nothing for the citizens of Illinois or current government workers. As it currently stands, there is no mathematical way to fix the pension problem if we’re honest about what the true debt is (anywhere from 200b on up). Dan can’t politic his way out of this math problem; however, he can keep hiding it with his SEIU propaganda (for the time being) to perpetuate his political career. I predict he’ll be long gone by the time things implode upon the rest of us commoners.

I received my tax bill today. I note that the percent of property taxes collected by each of Cook County and City of Park Ridge that is for pension obligations is about 38% for each taxing body. So the crowding out is already not so far from 50%. Add on the TIF payments we can lay off to the work of resume building city managers and we are probably over 50% now. I guess we will never see real see upgrades in the sewer system, for example.

The only suggestion I can make for the City is a permanent hiring freeze and staff reduction with total outsourcing and a tiny full time staff, meaning about 5 persons to buy the services. Fat chance!! The County…….bankruptcy. I think I hope so but I am not sure

Of course the property tax bills are only an indicator of what the situation must be for the schools…..but we’ll find out when payment responsibility is transferred to the local districts.

Ill Policy Institute says that Maine Township 207 pays $6 million per year to pick up the teachers side of the pension payment. With 700 staff that’s about $8500 per staff member. And that will double when the district gets the other half to pay.

But the good news is that they can make the present income tax permanent and then hit us up with a graduated income tax. I wonder if public employees will be exempt from that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Add on the TIF payments we can lay off to the work of resume building city managers and we are probably over 50% now.”

Then-city manager Tim Schuenke’s roll in the Uptown TIF cannot be overstated. BUT Schuenke’s boneheaded “resume building” projects were supposed to be kept in check by our elected officials. THOSE are the folks who sold out the taxpayers by mindlessly making Schuenke’s/Wietecha’s dream a reality.

1. Cullerton and Madigan are putting on a show of trying to reform public pensions, not really intending to reduce them in any significant way.
2. Gov. Quinn doesn’t get point #1, so they’re play-acting at least until after the 2014 elections for governor.
3. You know #1 and #2 are true because the unions aren’t screaming bloody murder.
4. If the economy improves, and tax receipts go up, they won’t cut spending.
5. None of them care about what PR Mom describes above.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Madigan, Cullerton or Kotowski lack the courage to effect real change. This isn’t just “kicking the can down the road” and hoping the problem goes away. They don’t want the problem to go away. They will use this “crisis” as an excuse to keep raising taxes and keep public employee unions strong enough to keep donating to re-election campaigns.

I do not disagree with what has been said hear about the pol’s. I do think PRMOM’s statement about the unions being for both plans is wrong. A very little digging shows that the rank and file of the unions was against both plans. The were certainly more for Cullerton’s bill than SB1, but they did not want either of them to pass. Many of the unions members had call in days to call your elected official and urge no passage.

Does anyone think that Dan is interested in anything other than getting re elected? Until we can get term limits in place we will never have real representation
It is interesting that there has been all this talk of pension reform without any thing being published as to what current pension are. Is it true as an example, retiring at 55 with 75% of current pay and 3% increases each year?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In his comment to our 09.27.12 post, PREA activist and former D-64 teacher Fred Klonsky admitted to a pension of approx. $63,000 after 28 years of service. According to the information we were able to obtain, his last four full years’ salaries were: $91,425 in 2008, $94,505 in 2009, $96,361 in 2010, and $102,143 in 2011 – which averages out to $96,108.50. So his pension is approx. 2/3 of his final four year average salary for an 8-9 month work year.

If you’ve got a 401(k), you will need to fund it with well over $2 million to provide you with a $63,000/year pension.

Dog, I really enjoy your local color, but this hit on Kotowski is a welcome change of pace.

I dumped Sen. K when his vote gave us the big tax hike, and he has shown me nothing ever since. Whether it is his wire to Cullerton or to a bunch of lobbyists that gives him his juice, he is just another face in the Dem crowd that has owned the capitol for longer than any party, Dem or Rep, should.

This state is screwed becuase of people like Kotowski, but to hear him tell it he is a Messiah.

You don’t walk on water, DK, but you are all wet.

Fund it!!!!!!! Wow what a great idea!!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why?

by the way…just to be fair you have to ad in your SS. Teachers just get a pension. I get my 401K as well as social security. Funny how in the private sector when say they are going to fund (company matching) your 401K they actually live up to their promise and put the money in the account!! Crazy, huh?!?!?!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Even adding in the SS would still require over $2 million of 401(k) value.

Funny how the public-sector unions – and all their rank-and-file members – had no beef about under-funding of their pensions for four decades (1970 to 2010), until the taxpayers finally realized how under-funded those pensions were, how high the benefits were, and how many of their tax dollars will be consumed for these benefit.

Kotowski has all his eggs in his anti-gun movement, he could care less about pension reform. Next time you see him ask him about both topics and see which one lights a fire.

Anon yesterday at 5:54 pm: Sure, of course the unions were against it. They even ran radio ads. Two things tempered the debate: Dems control the process…and they trust Madigan & Cullerton. If either of those factors didn’t exist, there would have been MUCH more noise.

Anon. last night at 10:00 pm: I’m sure you’re right…but Kotowski still votes in the legislature, and consistently to raise taxes and go along with whatever Madigan & Cullerton are actually cooking up behind the scenes on public pensions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve touched on what is most disappointing to us, FWT: Sen. Dan’s apparent comfort in occupying the M&C bed, while trying to sell his constituent critics on the idea that HE is using M&C!

You hit the nail on the head in pointing out the divisiveness caused by Sen. Kotowski and all the Democrats pandering to public employee unions. By doing that they have lowered the public’s regard for those public employees, if not actually turned the public against them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After the insane economics of it, that’s probably the second most tragic result from all these decades of Democrat (and Republican governor) pandering to these public-sector unions: the unnecessary resentment of public employees by the people who pay their salaries, pensions and benefits.

Here’s my $0.02 – in the long run, taxes must rise to cover the cost of these pensions. Those who have money will choose to leave the state when taxes get too high. Those who are left to pay the bills will be the people who have little money and can’t afford to move. Therefore, the inaction of state politicians is immoral and unethical. When are the voters going to realize this?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not until the Republicans can field candidates that are knowledgeable, credible, articulate and haven’t branded themselves as anti-gay, anti-abortion, coddle-the-rich whackos.

Why is Kotowski so bent out of shape about guns? He lives in one of the safest communities in America with fewer murders in its history than Chicago will have just tonight.

EDITOR’S NOTE: People don’t kill people, guns kill people?

HUH? you are a classic. You truly cannot imagine why an elected official would care about any conditions affecting any neighborhood he doesn’t live in. That, in a nutshell, is the Republican perspective. Genuine mystification that anything affecting anyone else should matter to us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Which must explain why all those wonderful, caring Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly are doing such a great job governing our state.

Your points about Madigan and Co. are well taken, perhaps even a bit mild. But the untrammeled generosity of public sector bennies were, just a few years ago, seen as modest by any reasonable private sector standard for full-time work. A few years ago…a lifetime ago, for private sector workers who today often operate without affordable benefits, without fair pay for the 12-hour workdays and 24/7 availability demanded, without even the slightest pretence of security. Compared to that very average private sector scenario, the public sector looks overly generous. And the public sector workers have no clue as to how inhospitable the terrain is out here for the taxpayers who fund their jobs. A damn shame all the way around.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Public sector “bennies” (like pensions) were considered by many taxpayers as an acceptable trade-off for more modest public sector salaries, which is what the politicians in bed with the public sector unions kept reminding us. But salaries kept increasing – arguably using money that should have funded pensions – until taxpayers and the press finally started asking tough questions.

Don’t blame Sen. Dan for the politics of division. It was caused entirely by private sector corporate decision-makers. Profits are at record highs, average white-collar workers haven’t had a real raise since 1975. As Warren Buffett so memorably put it, “class warfare is real, and my class is winning.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Any elected public official who tries to alibi away the stupidity and ineptitude of the public body on which he sits by claiming to be looking out for only one class of workers is most certainly waging class warfare.

And if Warren Buffett thinks he’s not paying enough in taxes, nobody’s stopping him from writing a $1 billion check to the United States Treasury with a notation that says: “My real fair share.”

Well, that’s one way to duck the whole issue.

Hey 745, I am tired of Democratic elected officials forgetting who they represent. So buzz off.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What makes you think “forgetting” is the problem?

Some great comments here on DK.
Yes, he forgets the purpose why he was re-elected.
Yet – most in the state congress drink from the same water bucket we well.Change will not come until we MM get’s his retirement papers in order.
The fish does rot from the head down. Agreed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And the only way to get rid of MM is to elect enough Republicans to other state rep seats so that the Dems don’t have the majority to elect MM speaker – because the dolts who comprise MM’s district will still vote for him a year after he croaks.



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