Agitate, America!: Pensions at risk

Nancy Churchill
Nancy Churchill

By Nancy Churchill
A Progressive Visionary

In the Nov. 15 issue of The Progressive Populist, David Sirota lays out what he calls a “plot against pensions,” which he says is “designed to slash public employees’ guaranteed retirement income in order to both protect states’ corporate welfare and, in some cases, enrich Wall Street.”

His evidence finds the gap between states’ assets and obligations for retirement benefits, mostly caused by the stock market decline from the 2008 financial collapse, is $1.38 trillion over 30 years.

That sounds like a lot, but surprisingly, it amounts to “less than 0.2 percent of projected gross state product” over the same period.

He shows how “states lose roughly $40 billion a year thanks to loopholes that let corporations engage in off-shore avoidance.” Further, quoting The New York Times, “states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion” to companies each year in the form of subsidies.

So, “state and local governments are so flush with cash they spend a combined $120 billion a year on corporate handouts — almost three times the total pension gap.” Well, knock me over with a feather!

So, naturally, our own state lawmakers voted recently to cut state pensions. And as I write this, our governor is poised to sign it.

So, I copied the article to my state senator, Tim Bivins (R), state Rep. Tom Demmer (R) and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), with the following letter:

I am writing to you out of grave concern for how the State Legislature is focused on reforming pensions in Illinois. My family depends upon a pension promised to my husband, Cliff Knapp, for his years of work as a professor at Northern Illinois University. He put in his time based upon a sacred contract with the state, and I believe it is immoral for the state to renege on that promise now. None of us would be able to conduct our business in that manner, and neither should the state.

Furthermore, it is not the pension obligation that has created the state’s budgetary crisis, as is laid out in the enclosed article by David Sirota in the Nov. 15, 2013, The Progressive Populist. Most troubling is information such as ‘According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, states lose roughly $40 billion a year thanks to loop-holes that let corporations engage in offshore tax avoidance.’ To the extent that Illinois lawmakers may have allowed this type of tax avoidance to create a budget shortfall over the years, closing that gap now should be where lawmakers are looking to fix the state’s budgetary crisis.

Seniors relying on the state to fulfill its pension obligations should not have to pay for tax giveaways to corporations. Please do what you can to preserve Illinois’ good faith with its employee obligations by choosing to close tax-dodger loopholes, in a way that Sirota lays out in his article, rather than cutting pensions to make up budget shortfalls.

Thank you for your time.”

Because they ignored me, they should be replaced.

Nancy Churchill was raised in the D.R.C. (Congo), raced stock cars on short dirt tracks for 25 years, and is a proud, lifelong member of “We, the People.” She lives in Oregon, Ill.

From the Dec. 11-17, 2013, issue

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