Illinois should put itself under receivership over pensions

Blogger two years ago

By John Ruberry

“As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.” Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in 2016.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Rahm Emanuel in 2009.

Last week the president of the Illinois state Senate, Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sent a letter the state congressional caucus, a gerrymandered lot–more on that latter–asking for $41 billion in aid in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The devil is in the details–Illinois is a hellish place—and in that letter from Harmon is a request of $10 billion to fund its woefully-underfinanced public pension plans.

Illinois’ pension crisis goes back decades. In 1989 Governor Jim Thompson, a Republican, signed into law an annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living-adjustment for the state’s public pensioners. But the funding wasn’t there. His successor, Jim Edgar, another Republican, seemingly placed a fix into the system in 1994, “the Edgar ramp,” which started with low payments for the 15 years of his plan. But by that time, when the “ramp” was to kick in, Great Recession arrived. And there were “pension contribution holidays” before then. When the 2008 economic collapse hit Rod Blagojevich, who was as bad as math as Edgar and Thompson, was governor.

In the early 1990s pension payments consumed four percent of the Illinois budget–now it’s 25 percent. The state-controlled public pension plans are only about 30 percent funded.

All that time–except for two years–powerful Chicago Democrat, Michael Madigan, has been speaker of the state House.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 19,000 state pensioners collect more than $100,000 annually. On average these pensioners paid a paltry $160,000 into their retirement plans. What a great deal!

New Jersey and Kentucky have public pension funding issues that are as bad, or perhaps slightly worse, than that of Illinois. Will they be asking for pension bailouts next?

Cutting the three-percent COLA has been tried–it was ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court because of the pension guarantee clause in the state constitution. Repealing that clause is the smart thing to do but it’s a politically tall hurdle. Such an amendment would likely have to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Thanks to Madigan, a skilled gerrymanderer who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, there are Dem supermajorities in both chambers. Two attempts by petition to effectively ban gerrymandering by way of a constitutional amendment was struck down in court. Allies of Madigan were behind the anti-Fair Map suits. The petition process to amend the Illinois constitution is deeply flawed. 

The organized labor wing of the Democratic Party, the public sector unions, won’t remain quiet if pensions are challenged. Hey there unions, you contributed to this problem too. In 2005 most public service unions signed on to that year’s pension holiday.

Last week Fitch lowered its bond rating for Illinois to BBB- with a negative outlook. That’s one level above junk.

I’m against an Illinois pension bailout by the federal government. For the most part. But if such aid comes in the form of an International Monetary Fund-style rescue package with conditions that Illinois cleans its fiscal house, such as dropping the 3-percent COLA and taking aim at the top pension earners, those six-figure retirees, I’m willing to listen. 

But receivership is best. Okay, let me dream a bit. As Chicago architect Daniel Burnham said a century ago, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I know, states are viewed as sovereign entities and cannot, as Detroit did in 2013, declare bankruptcy. But what if Illinois agrees to a strings-attached receivership deal? An emergency manager can be appointed. Pritzker, or whoever is governor if receivership comes about, can still handle the ceremonial stuff, such as ribbon cutting for a new bridge and placing bets with other governors when Chicago sports teams are playing for a league championship.

Oh, I’m thinking loans from the feds, not handouts.

As badly funded as Illinois’ pension plans are, many local government pension systems are in worse shape. Illinois municipalities and government agencies, unlike those in Michigan, cannot do so under current state law. That needs to change too.

On a personal note, several friends and relatives of mine are collecting state pensions. Money that was taken from their checks every two weeks for their retirement was instead spent on lord-knows-what. They deserve to be angry and that fury needs to be directed at every Illinois governor from Thompson through Blagojevich. And of course at the Where’s Waldo of Illinois failure, Boss Michael Madigan. He deserves the most rage.

Let me be clear: I don’t take my pension reform views lightly.

Prior to Harmon’s bailout request, the latest pension fix idea was a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Illinois flat income tax guarantee and replace it with a graduated one. That amendment will be presented to Prairie State voters in November. My guess is that it will fail. And even if the graduated income tax amendment passes, the additional revenue won’t be enough. Illinois, which has had negative population growth for six straight years, can’t tax its way of the mess.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit

Dynasty 100 Loss All Futility League Report: East Divisions

The latest of a weekly series on the teams in my Online (or in person) Dynasty baseball simulation leagues I run. If you have an interest in joining one leave a message in comments.

This week we visit the Dynasty All Pathetic 100 loss league consisting only of teams that lost 100 games in a season. We are in the home stretch here with about 40 games to go of a 154 game season.

AL East

1970 Chicago White Sox

With 38 games to go the Mariners are just one series away from tying. Can the White Sox continue to hold their lead with a few big bats and and the best pitching in the AL or will a suspect defense at the corners let them down?

Heroes: Bill Melton (29 HR 98 RBI ) and Ed Herrmann (30 HR 80 RBI) may be the 2nd best HR duo for a team but they have made the difference in game after game. Meanwhile on the mound Tommy John has been an innings horse 208 innings, 10 complete games and a respectable 3.72 ERA

Zeroes: Barry Moore has been much worse than his 5-5 record indicates, with a 5.69 ERA and a .296 batting avg against he’s kept many a door open. Meanwhile while Sid O’Brien has been acceptable at the bat when occasionally starting his .933 percentage at 2nd and .930 at 3rd has helped extend plenty of rallies but when it come to bad defense Walt Williams takes the cake with an .897 in left and a 917 in right.

Wild Cards: The best arms in the White Sox bullpen are looking tired as the season nears its end. That could spell disaster shortly.

Coming attractions: The Pale Hose finish a 4 city roadtrip with a pair against the 1st place 1982 Twins before a quick stop at home for a pair vs the 2003 Tigers before heading off to Baltimore for a 4 game series that will likely make or break the 2018 Orioles.


2002 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Tampa under it’s new manager has risen to within three games of Chicago and on occasion even closer. Can the timely hitting overcome an average pitching staff?

Heroes: No question who the heroes are on this team Aubrey Huff leads the league in batting (.358) Slugging .631 OB+Slugging (1.053) and Runs Batted in. and is top five in Runs, Hits and On Base Percentage. The only reason he’s not a lock for the MVP is teammate Randy Wynn who leads the league in Runs, Triples, Stolen bases 2nd in Avg, .(356) Hits (172) Doubles (37) and is top five in two others.

Zeroes: Estaban Yan may have 21 saves but he’s also blown 8 on the way accounting 4.11 ERA & 6-10 record, and of course a lot of runs don’t help a lot when you have starters Joe Kennedy (6-9 ERA 5.00 AVG .302) and Tanyon Sturtez (7-7 ERA 4.99 Avg .304) helping the other guys along.

Wild Cards: Almost half of their remaining games are against teams currently in or tied for 1st place in a division.

Coming Attractions: It’s two in Minnesota against the 1st place 1982 Twins before a 9 game home stand vs 2008 Mariners (4), 2018 Orioles (2) and the 2005 Royals (3).


2018 Baltimore Orioles

Despite losing their manager early in the season the Orioles still have an outside shot (a very outside shot). Can this ship without a rudder steer itself straight in the closing weeks of the campaign?

Heroes: Jonathan Villar has provided the triple crown numbers for the team (.325, 21HR 71 RBI) while leading the team in runs by more than 40 and stealing 37 bases. While reliever Mychal Givens has proved to be not only a workhorse but one of the best closers in the league with 23 saves with only 4 blown and a 6-2 record to go along with it.

Zeroes: Having a great closer doesn’t help if you can’t get to him and the O’s boast the worst pitching in the AL as David Hess (7.58 ERA 19 HR allowed .316 avg) Dylan Bundy (5.95 ERA 19 HR .305 allowed ) and Andrew Cashner (5.22 ERA .290 AVG 13 HR allowed) just haven’t done the job.

Wild Cards: What as bad as having the worst pitching in the league, having the lowest fielding percentage in the majors (.978)

Coming Attractions: after a pair vs the slugging 1973 Texas Rangers the O’s have 4 at home vs the 1970 White Sox and then start a road trip that begins in Tampa Bay with a pair against the 2002 Devil Rays. If they are to climb back into the race this will be their chance.


2003 Detroit Tigers:

The math still says that the Tigers have a shot but with pitching only slightly better than Baltimore and Hitting that is meh. It will take a real run of luck for these cats to roar into the playoffs.

Heroes: Dimirti Young has been at the top of his game all year with 26 HR 91 RBI a .341 abg and an OPS of .992 On a bad pitching staff Wil Ledezma has managed to put together a 6-3 record mostly from the bullpen with a few starts for good measure and Chris Spurling has thrown 106 innings all in relief with an era under 4 on a team whose ERA is over 5.

Zeroes: While Omar Infante (.205 0HR 25 RBI in 111 games is an obvious choice if you list the Tigers pitching by ERA their four primary starts are at the bottom with only Jeremy Bonderman with an ERA below six (5.45) but Nate Cornejo (9-11 6.14 ERA .343 avg) Gary Knotts (3-10 6.28 ERA 16 HR allowed) and Mike Maroth (6-16 6.75 ERA 24 HR allowed .327 Avg) have been the gifts that keep giving to opposing batters.

Wild Card: Whatever is to blame for Detroit’s problems it’s not the glovework as the Tigers are tied for the best fielding percentage in the league.

Coming Attractions: If Detroit is going to make a move the best time for them is now with a pair at Chicago followed by 4 at home vs the last place 2005 Kansas City Royals and then back on the road for the 1973 Texas Rangers.


National League East

2009 Washington Nationals

The Nationals have dominated the National League since almost the start beginning with a pair of 4 game win streaks to start and never looking back. The only question left is can they sustain this level of winning when the playoffs come around?

Heroes: Adam Dunn has been a monster a the plate with 36 HR and 105 RBI’s meanwhile Morgan Nyjer has not only hit .335 but has stolen 63 bases and scored 96 runs meanwhile John Lannan’s 13-5 record is driven by a .203 batting avg against and 2 k’s for every walk 114 vs 57 (despite 17 HR)

Zeroes: It’s hard to find zeros on a team that has only lost 37 games but while starter Livan Hernandez has given up just one less HR than Lannan he’s also allowed a .312 avg against and a 6.41 ERA on a team that has outscored their opponents by over 175 runs certainly qualifies. How good is this offense? Their “Zero” in the hitting column Elijah Dukes is hitting .235 with 13 HR 83 RBI and 24 doubles. Even their least productive overall hitter Wil Nieves whose .261 avg 1 HR & 39 RBI in 353 AB are not impressive is hitting .315 with runners in scoring position.

Wild Card: Since acquiring their new manager the Nationals who were already solidly in command have won 12 of their last 14.

Coming Attractions: The Nats welcome the NL West with series vs the 1st place 2012 Houston Astros (2) and the 1973 Padres (4) before heading off to a three city Road stand that will take them to Milwaukee, Florida and Pittsburgh.


1998 Florida Marlins

If you moved the Marlins to any other division in the league they would be leading by anywhere from 3 to 8 games instead they find themselves 10 games back with 38 to play. Can they recover?

Heroes: The Marlins have won with pitching (3.72 team ERA) and Starter Livan Hernandez (12-9 2.68 ERA .140 avg .228 avg against) has been the biggest part of an excellent staff, it helps when your closer Matt Mantei is 14 of 16 in save chances with a 9-3 record and workhourse reliever Vic Darensbourg with a 1.51 ERA in 101 1/3 innings and a 9-2 record in relief. Of course Cliff Floyd’s 18 HR and 92 RBI’s haven’t hurt either.

Zeroes: The only dark spot on the rotation has been Andy Larkin (0-7 in 15 starts with an era of 6.63 almost double the team avg. At the plate Derrek Lee has 14 HR but has only hit .201, .180 with runners in scoring position and managed an OBP of .288 while Gregg Zaun has managed only .212 with 4 HR and 44 RBI.

Wild Cards: If you’re going to beat the Marlins you had better do it in nine innings. They are a perfect 15-0 in extra inning games.

Coming Attractions: Florida finishes a home stand with 2 against the 1973 Padres and a pair against the 2002 Brewers before heading on the road to try and knock the 2012 Astros off their perch at the top of the NL West.


2010 Pittsburgh Pirates

After a horrible start the Pirates have somehow managed to make it back to .500. With only 38 games to go can they rally to make a respectable finish?

Heroes: Brian Giles (.327 20 HR 72 RBI) numbers are nothing to sneeze at but for pure power i’s been Aramis Ramierz with 30 HR (2nd in NL) and 117 RBI (1st) that has really done the job

Zeroes: While the injury bug has not been kind to Bronson Arroyo it’s not a good excuse for an ERA 2 full runs over the team avg and a .310 avg .062 above the rest of the staff. Jack Wilson has been a disappointment with a .221 3 28 triple crown line and an OBP under .300 (.291)

Wildcard: The Pirates have been incredibly average everywhere with identical 29-29 records at home and on the road, but have blown 22 out of 56 save chances.

Coming Attractions: Pittsburgh’s quest to go beyond avg continues with a pair vs 2004 Arizona and then 4 at 2002 Milwaukee before they come home for a nine game set that begins with the 1967 Mets


1967 New York Mets

In a league of 100 loss teams the 1967 Mets have been a loser among losers as with 38 games to go they are a single loss away from being mathematically eliminated. Dare I say Amazing?

Heroes: No question who the hero is on this team Tom Seaver is 15-8 with an ERA of 3.36 and 167 K’s vs only 58 walks he’s also pitched 8 complete games which is seven more than the rest of the rotation combined. Despite playing in 103 games Bob Johnson has only managed 167 at bats but in those limited at bats he’s hit .365 with an OPS of .880

Zeroes: At the plate Jerry Grote has been the lowest of the low lights for the gothamites (.170 1 HR 26 RBI in 317 AB) on the mound despite Jack Fisher’s 2-16 record the biggest villains in the rotation are Don Cardwell (4-12 3.16 avg 5.58 ERA) and Dennis Bennett (4-10 6.26 ERA 19 HR in 100 2/3 innings)

Wild Cards: Polhittingly Correct The Mets bats are careful not to offend anyone. They are not only the last in the league in HR, but last in Runs, Doubles RBI’s OBP Slugging and OPS

Coming Attractions: the 1974 SanDiego Padres get the honor of trying to officially eliminate the Mets at their home but if they fail to do so, the 2004 Arizona Diamondback get four chances to do it in Shea before they head off to Houston to face the 2012 Astros.