By: Mark Glennon*
Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, last week aired a plan to stabilize Illinois police and fire pensions, you might have read. It wasn’t. It was a stunt — an attempt to stop any reform of those plans, and it should have been reported that way straight out, as a plain fact. It was “a plan to shore up hundreds of pension funds that cover police and firefighters outside of Chicago,” as Greg Hinz at Crain’s described it; a “blueprint for stabilizing” those funds, as WBEZ called it; and a “first responder pension reform plan,” as Rich Miller called it. Other sources used similar descriptions.
Hogwash. It was designed to impose a five year moratorium on police and fire pension reform, an there was no objective basis for calling it anything but.
Along with that five year moratorium, Link’s proposal included trifling changes in how pensions could invest, make-up of their boards, and pooling of administrative resources. How much would those reduce the unfunded liabilities or required contributions? Zero. You needed no analysis to see that. Illinois mayors immediately slammed the proposal for what it was — “window dressing,” they called it, to avoid real reform and cover up the insidious attempt to stifle real reform for five years. Fortunately, they’ve probably killed the proposal.
Reporters who gave equal time to the notion that it was real reform no doubt would claim they just presented both sides since they did emphasize the inclusion of the five year moratorium and criticisms of it. But this was so brazen that there’s no excuse for making it a two-sided story. That’s part of problem in Illinois. Gimmicks and stunts are the currency of the realm in Springfield, so reporting them as serious positions seems reasonable, and voters get suckered. This should have been reported as a proposed moratorium on pension reform, or as a stunt, nothing more.
It’s all too common for Illinois reporters to print political stunts as serious proposal. Here are a few others they know, or should know, are gimmicks, but rarely reported as that:
-Speaker Madigan’s proposed $100 million funding for the Obama library. Madigan knows the library will be privately funded but hopes Republicans will kill it, which he will blame on racism, in hopes of spiking voter turnout in his Chicago base.
-A referendum on the “millionaires’ tax” for the Fall ballot. Non-binding, it wouldn’t mean anything more than a good poll. Its purpose, too, is to drive turnout for Cook County Dems.
Minimum wage referendum. Reasonable people differ about whether to raise the minimum wage, but putting it on the ballot is primarily also a turnout strategy for Dems.
This kind of nonsense can be deadly serious. Had somebody challenged Governor Quinn’s claim four years ago that $54 million was to be spent on an anti-violence program, maybe he would have been forced to spend it on anti-violence and not vote-getting. That’s serious money that might have had an impact. How many lives might have been saved? Who? Maybe Hadiya Pendelton?
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints and a business consultant.