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Archive for the ‘Illinois Policy Institute’
Every once in a while I’ll hear someone say that the lottery was passed to finance education.
If I have time, I’ll correct that impression.
When I attended my second New Members Conference put on by the Legislative Research Council, veteran member Zeke Giorgi was a luncheon speaker.
There I learned Chicago Aldermen are allowed to carry concealed guns by sitting at the same table with then-Alderman Rickey Hendon when someone mentioned he was packing in the Holiday Inn East. Hendon told us it was dangerous in Chicago. (I don’t know if he carried it on the Senate floor, but there was one organization Democrat who did so in the House.)
Giorgi gave some helpful hints and then passed out the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times the day after the lottery passed.
It said that the lottery was passed to pay for the Regional Transportation Authority.
Now, Giorgi, the sponsor of the lottery, certainly promoted it as a way to fund education.
And most people think that is why it passed.
But, that’s just not correct.
Northwest Herald guest columnist Scott Reeder, who admits he heard adults carping about how money from the lottery was being “stolen” from education, is one who needs correcting.
He has a good excuse for not knowing.
After all, he was a kid when the RTA and the lottery were linked in passage.
The following was written by Scott Reeder, the journalist in residence at the Illinois Police Institute:
EDUCATING IN THE DARK
As a journalist, I have filed thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests with Illinois school districts and uncovered major personnel problems and cases of criminals teaching.
So please forgive me if I’m a bit touchy when I hear school districts want to make it more difficult for the public to hold them accountable – or even know what they are up to.
But that is exactly what would happen under a resolution from the Illinois Association of School Boards to change Illinois open records laws.
IASB Executive Director and former state lawmaker Roger Eddy noted that the resolution initially was passed by his members well before he took the helm of the organization this year. But he added it is something his members want.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Josh Sharp, a lobbyist for the Illinois Press Association.
“It’s typical of how public bodies in this state think they should be able to operate – with a special set of rules for themselves. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face to the taxpayers who pay their salaries. “
Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois, was more blunt.
“Groups such as these use tax dollars to lobby against the interests of taxpayers,” he said.
It works like this:
- Member school districts use tax dollars to pay dues to IASB.
- Then, Eddy and the association pay lobbyists to push legislation supported by the association. Sometimes, this legislation is aimed at keeping the public in the dark about how tax dollars are being used.
Here are some of the things the IASB’s FOIA resolution calls for:
- Increase allowable FOIA response time from 5 business days to 10 business days.
- Exclude official school breaks in business day response time.
- Allow denials for commercial purposes.
- Allow denials for any request that is deemed “unduly burdensome.”
- Allow a request to be denied if it is “unduly burdensome” to the public body if the public body deems compliance with the request would result in excessive response costs.
- Exempt employment applications of individuals who apply for high profile positions.
- Eliminate requirement that public bodies give a detailed legal explanation when indicating why they are claiming an exemption.
- Allow public bodies to seek review of a binding opinion of the Public Access Counselor in the county in which they are located.
GETTING THE DISCUSSION GOING
At least since the days Gov. Dan Walker, there have been calls for better disclosure laws to provide the public with more information on potential economic conflicts of interest of their elected officials.
And for the last year, the Better Government Association has been working behind the scenes to drum up support for a law that would require more information be provided in the Statements of Economic Interests that all elected officials are required to fill out.
Emily Miller, policy and government affairs coordinator for the BGA, said she hopes legislation that has been introduced will go a long way toward getting lawmakers to begin the debate on what should be disclosed.
“This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky bill,” she said. “I think we are being very pragmatic in what we are asking.”
The BGA said the bill would require officials to report:
- Assets valued at more than $10,000
- Additional sources of income in excess of $2,500
- Debts over $5,000 incurred by or owed to the filer, other than those owed to a financial institution.
- Lobbyists with whom the filer has an economic relationship
- Family members of the filer, including a spouse, child, step-child, parent, step-parent or sibling, who are lobbyists registered with any unit of government in Illinois
- Gifts with a value of $500 or more
The push to disclose if a lawmaker is related to a lobbyist is relatively new.
Last year, Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, got into a confrontation on the floor of the Illinois Senate with Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon.
McCarter had noted Sen. Jacobs sponsored legislation backed by Commonwealth Edison even though his father, Denny Jacobs, was a lobbyist retained by ComEd.
Here is what Denny Jacobs said Tuesday night when asked what he thought of the bill:
“As many —– —- times as The Dispatch and the Quad-City Times have written about me being a lobbyist, if people in Mike’s district don’t know it already we have a real problem.”
Teacher Pension Tax Shift – State Reps. Oppose, District 47 Board President Jeff Mason Seems Resigned to Extra Local Burden
At last night Illinois Policy Institute forum on teacher pensions, one question from Northwest Herald News Editor Kevin Lyons had to do with House Minority Leader Tom Cross’ having characterized a shift in tax burden from the state taxpayer to the local property taxpayer.
Laying out the problems Policy Institute Spokeswoman Diane Rickert.
She explained that there was a $203 billion problem when promised health insurance was included. That’s $41,000 per household,” she said.
She pointed out that disconnecting the setting of pension levels from the payment for pensions was “an anomaly,” that most units of local government set pensions [by setting salaries] and, then, had to come up with the money to pay them.
She pointed specifically to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), to which most government workers who are not teachers, fire or police officers belong. [Police and fire pensions are also financed by real estate taxes.]
Several times during the meeting, Rickert argued that McHenry County taxpayers would continue to be subsidizing North Shore school districts that pay their teachers much more than teachers get paid in McHenry County, if the State taxpayer were forced to continue paying for teacher pensions. The argument seemed to have almost a class envy tinge. She said the Policy Institute favors an immediate shift of incidence.
“Doing it all at once would take 3 1/2 percent of the whole budget,” she estimated. She also gave two examples of a ten-year phase in:
- Cary Grade School District 26 with a $34.5 million budget – $150,000 in year one
- Woodstock Unit District 200 with a $98 million budget – $274,000 in the first year
“I’m pretty such some school superintendents get paid more than that,” she added.
District 47 Board President Jeff Mason answered in a manner that led me to believe that he thought a transfer of financial responsibility was inevitable. He referred to the
- “The test you didn’t want to study for
- “The leak in the roof you didn’t take care of”
Earlier, Mason had said, “We understand this expense is going to be shifted to the school district at some point. “Thirty years sounds reasonable,” he said with a chuckle. Then, five to seven years would give us a chance to ease the shock value to go forward.”
The Crystal Lake School Board President complained that there were “too many cooks–State and local.”
It the financing goes back to local schools, Mason said he thought “that’s where the rules should be set.”
“We need a permanent solution, not a Band-Aid solution.
“Just taking the accountability away from the State will not solve the problem,” Illinois Education Association Spokesman Mike Sayre, a Crystal Lake High School District teacher, added.
The IEA representative made the
- “school boards would have to cut programs to kids,”
- “doing things to affect kids”
argument several times, much to the vocal distaste of the man sitting next to me in the front row.
There were two taxpayer questioners under the only two questions will be allowed policy, one from a teacher or retired teacher and one for everybody else at the forum.
Former School Superintendent Don Bond of Huntley grabbed the “teacher” spot.
He complained his tax bill had gone from $4,000 to $8,000 over the last twenty years.
He had a question, but his point was “Springfield made the mess. Don’t send it to the [property taxpayers]!”
“If you want to keep the problem in Springfield, expect that tax bill to climb and climb and climb,” Rickert replied after pointing out that the income tax had already been hiked 67%.
She pointed to the Huntley School Districts $82 million budget.
Over a ten-year period it would cost $735,000, she said. [I assume that is for the ten years, but my notes are unclear.]
The non-teacher question was asked by Cary Grade School Board member Chris Jenner.
He asked if the legislature would going to shift new costs to school districts, would they take away
- unfunded mandates,
- the prevailing wage requirement that makes building cost 20-30% than for non-government projects
- ineffective life safety code requirements
“The Illinois Education Association has no position,” Sayer answered.
“The onus should be on the politicians in Springfield to remove the onerous requirements,” the Illinois Policy Institute Spokeswoman said.
Mason argued that teachers should be provided with the opportunity to make decisions about their retirement.
The IEA’s Sayer entered the fray again explaining, “When I think of Cary District 26, I know a lot of teachers who have been forced to to teach music and physical education and that’s not what they trained for.
“All things we do for the Illinois Education Association is for the students first.”
The McHenry County College meeting was well-attended, as you can see from the photo below of the dispersing crowd.
With two State Representatives in attendance, people took the opportunity to bend their ears.
Also in attendance were two District 6 candidates for McHenry County Board,Democrat Jay Kadakia and Republican Mary McCann.
Then I went home to write my first article on this event, which is entitled,
“IEA Spokesman Too Young To Know His Union’s Role in the Pension Crisis.”
You can read it here.
I went to the Illinois Policy Institute’s Pension. Got there a little late and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was over an hour after it started.
Representing the Illinois Education Association was Crystal Lake High School teacher Mike Sayre.
I waited in vain for him to accept the responsibility his union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers had in helping create the teacher pension mess.
As I thought about it, I conclude he was too young to know what IEA and IFT lobbyists had done over the years to shortchange the Teachers Retirement System.
Although I have written about this before, let me repeat the scenario that went on year after year after year after year.
The Governor’s budget would have “X” hundreds of millions of dollars for education.
Included would be recommendations for K-12, universities and pensions.
As the session went on teacher union lobbyists would ask for more money for State Aid to Education. In other words, for current salaries.
Where would that money come from?
The pension portion of the education budget.
Concurrently, those same lobbyists would be trying to improve teacher pensions. Think early retirement. (I was astounded that one of my high school classmates who went into teaching was able to retire at age 52.)
Higher teacher salaries, which, in turn, led to higher teacher pensions…while the pension fund was being shorted.
So, when Mike Sayre blames the legislators for not paying what they should have over the years, he is partly right.
The part he doesn’t know about is that his union urged those legislators to do what he complained about Tuesday night.
He said the IEA wants a guarantee that the General Assembly will put money into the Teachers Retirement Fund.
It is virtually impossible for one General Assembly to bind a future General Assembly.
It would be like telling future IEA lobbyists not to try to improve benefits for current dues paying members, that is active teachers.
Just trying to parcel out the responsibility for the mess all parties got us taxpayers in.
= = = = =
On the IEA handout for the event was the following assertion: “The pension crisis was caused by politicians who diverted the pension system payments to other programs.”
What other programs?
State Aid to Education so current salaries could be raised with the assumption that pension payments would take care of themselves. After all the Illinois Constitution says pensions can’t be impaired.
Even I told teachers that for years when they expressed concerns.
A press release from the Illinois Policy Institute:
Illinois Policy Institute to host debate on teacher pension reform
Debate 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14 at McHenry County College in northwest suburban Crystal Lake
CHICAGO (Aug. 13, 2012) – On Tuesday, Aug. 14, the Illinois Policy Institute will host a debate aimed at exploring who should pay the employers’ share of teacher pension costs: local school districts or the state.
Tuesday’s debate will be held in the auditorium at McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake. The debate starts at 7 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
The Crystal Lake debate will be moderated by state Rep. Tom Morrison and Kevin Lyons, news editor at the Northwest Herald newspaper in McHenry County. Panelists will include:
- Mike Sayre on behalf of the Illinois Education Association;
- District 47 school board president Jeff Mason; and
- the Illinois Policy Institute’s Diana Sroka Rickert, an award-winning journalist on the topic of pensions.
In June, the question of who should pay the “employer” portion of teachers’ pensions prompted legislative talks over pension reform to come to a standstill. The results of a new poll commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute finds that public opinion on this issue is mixed, not only across the state but across the political spectrum.
The poll found that nearly half of likely Illinois voters oppose asking school districts to pay the employer share of teachers’ pension costs, while the other half of likely voters are split between indecision and favoring this proposal.
“The Institute’s poll indicates that the public needs more information on how local pension accountability would affect schools and taxpayers, and that they’re confused about who owns this policy in the statehouse,” said Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute.
“To improve understanding of this issue, the Institute is launching this statewide tour to engage stakeholders and move toward consensus on much-needed pension relief.”
In addition to Monday’s stop in Crystal Lake, the Illinois Policy Institute is planning debate stops in Rockford, Skokie and Kane County. Debates already have been held in Quincy, Carbondale, Lemont Springfield and Decatur.
= = = = =
A press release from State Senator Dan Duffy:
Senator Duffy calls for government checkbooks to be online
Lawmaker says transparency could have prevented 53M theft from Dixon, IL
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (May 9, 2012) – Following allegations that a Dixon city official stole $53 million from city coffers, State Senator Dan Duffy is calling for legislation that would require local governments in Illinois to post their checkbooks online.
Senator Duffy’s bill, SB 3392, would require all local governments – including school boards, townships and municipalities – to post their checkbooks online.
The state senator said it’s possible that the alleged Dixon theft could have been flagged earlier if the public had access to this vital information.
Senator Duffy has been pursuing this transparency bill for several years.
In the past, Springfield leadership has not allowed this bill to be called in a senate committee for a hearing.
“These accusations highlight why it’s so important for Illinois to move forward on government transparency,” said Sen. Duffy, R-Lake Barrington.
“If you look at the city of Dixon’s website, there is almost no financial information available to the public.
“Without filing onerous Freedom of Information Act requests, the public had no mechanism for holding its city officials accountable or investigating the finances themselves.”
The Illinois Policy Institute supports this legislation and greater efforts by Sen. Duffy to improve the level of government transparency in Illinois.
Since 2010, the nonpartisan Institute has partnered with local citizen activists to grade governments on how much public information is available online. More than 130 government entities have been graded using the Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.
The city of Dixon received a failing grade on the [Illinois Policy] Institute’s audit, scoring only 18.1 out of 100 possible points. [Emphasis added.]
In addition to having no budget or financial information available on the city’s website, there also is no information outlining how to file a Freedom of Information Request, how much government employees are paid or tax information.
“After seeing how little public information is available on Dixon’s website, it’s no surprise that the alleged theft went under the radar for so long,” said Brian Costin, director of government reform at the Illinois Policy Institute.
“What Dixon and the entire state must do now is create a culture of transparency and accountability. This will help weed out corruption, and restore the public’s faith in local government.”
Today, we’ll look at local House members.
Mike Tryon hit the 100% mark. So did Tim Schmitz.
It is little know that Schmitz’ district bumps over the Kane County line into McHenry County for the 2012 elections.
At 100% State Senators Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington and Kyle McCarter of Highland topped the Illinois Policy Institute’s list of votes favored by the Illinois Policy Institute.
State Senator Pam Althoff came in at 90% and Chris Lauzen at 91%.
Wonder what public employees will get in their pensions?
The Illinois Policy Institute has put in the formulas for various occupations here.
Stick in a bit of information and you can find out what your neighboring teacher, police officer or even state legislator will receive in his or her tax paid pension over a gender-adjusted lifetime.