By: Mark Glennon*
“We will just have to pay up.” That’s the conclusion many are now saying we must accept after the court decision invalidating Illinois pension reform.
No. We shouldn’t, we won’t, and we can’t.
When, since Sherman’s army burned Atlanta and marched to the sea, has anyone done more harm to an American city and state than our leadership has done to Chicago and Illinois? They remain in super-majority control of our legislature. Unless and until they turn around, we will use all legal means available to stop them from taking more from us. Their hand-wringing over the court decision is intolerable. Whether through constitutional amendment, bankruptcy, a change in their leadership, simply not paying some pensions, or something else, they must reduce pension costs radically.
Reform opponents remain brazenly indifferent to the plainest of economic realities — the simple arithmetic of impossible budgets, the flight of people and employers, and a tax base already foundering.
They wallow in the sanctimony of a duty to honor obligations. That duty ends where ability to honor more important ones is undermined. Their opposition to the slightest reforms in any pension imperils even the smallest ones, which is all that will separate many pensioners from destitution. Total unfunded liabilities grow by tens of millions of dollars each week. Many pensions have less than a third what they need. Their chances of paying even the modestly sized pensions grow ever bleaker. Basic services and safety nets — core obligations of any modern government — go increasingly unmet while pension appetites grow ever larger.
We are appalled by opposition to reform under the mantle of progressivism. The poor and middle class are ravaged most by the profligacy they defend. Their first victims were Chicago public school students. Property tax rates on some homes have reached confiscatory levels and rise with no end in site, especially on those with the least ability to pay. Waukegan, 5.5%. Harvey, 9%. Their homes have been seized. To the richest among us, they say “give us more money, you rapacious capitalists,” blind to the reality that they, the taxpayers we need most, are, in mass, changing residence or simply leaving.
We’re stunned that public unions, whose members are just five percent of the state’s population, captured so much control over a democracy and inflicted such harm. They’ve poisoned the work ethic and waged an exceptionally dishonest campaign against every idea and person that stands in their way. They’ve rigged a pension system so complex and so easily corrupted that sane fiscal management and informed oversight are impossible.
No combination of tax increases or spending cuts will end this crisis without massive pension reform, and that reality has been irrefutable for years. Most Illinoisans simply don’t have more to pay. Half of Chicago is under or near the poverty line. Nothing can be asked of them and nothing should be asked. The cumulative cost of pensions for all our overlapping layers of government, per family with ability to pay, is hundreds of thousands of dollars. They won’t pay it.
More will leave. Others of us will stay and fight. They include many who, like me, are willing to pay more, after underlying problems are fixed. But we will not pay more into the bottomless hole that this pension system is. We did that already.
We will not “just pay up.”
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.