MEDIA WATCH: 'These people are hypocrites, and they should be ashamed to open their mouths...' Karen Lewis lays out the challenge on 'pension reform' in The New York Times

It was buried towards the end of the article, after a stream of half-truths and lies quoting Rahm Emanuel and the billionaires' mouthpiece, Civic Federation chief Laurence Msall, but at least it was there. The New York Times followed the vote to rob state pension funds with a front page story on December 5, 2013 about the "challenge" to Chicago on "pension reform." Ignoring the various ways in which Chicago and Illinois have become cesspools of corporate welfare and talking as if the only source of additional revenue for Chicago would come from raising residential property taxes, the Times finally, towards the end of its report, got around to quoting union leaders whose members pensions are now in the cross hairs of corporate "reform."

Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation (far left) and Rahm Emanuel at a 2011 event announcing the formation of the infrastructure task force. Msall's Civic Federation if routinely quoted as if its reports were unbiased, when in fact it is just another part of the echo chamber for the corporate version of reality in Chicago. Msall have never criticized Chicago's corporate welfare plans and talks as if the only increased revenue for the city could come from residential property taxes. Substance photo by George N. Schmict.Lewis is quoted as getting to the point regarding the class bases for the problems: Our actual problem with this bill is that, once again, the people who are behind this thing are the very people who stand to gain from our members going into 401(k)s, Ms. Lewis said. They will get those fees from administering the 401(k)s. These people are hypocrites, and they should be ashamed to open their mouths.


Chicago Pursues Deal to Change Pension Funding. By RICK LYMAN (Front Page, National Print edition of The New York Times, December 5, 2013).

Photo shows Rahm... Mayor Rahm Emanuel said property taxes would double or services would be cut if Chicago didnt get pension relief soon. Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. First came the State of Illinois, now comes the City of Chicago.

The hard-fought passage here Tuesday of a landmark bill trimming retirement benefits for state workers, aimed at fixing the vastly underfunded pension system, has become instantly relevant to the nations third-largest city, which has its own pension systems in various stages of financial collapse.

And if anything, the reckoning in Chicago is even nearer and more difficult than the one the state had faced, putting its Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, in a difficult position under a tight deadline.

Under state law, the city must increase its contributions to its workers pension funds by $590 million in 2015, to a total annual contribution of $1.4 billion for current and future retirees. If no pension deal can be reached by November of next year, when the city will draft its next budget, the city will either have to raise taxes or cut services or some combination of both.

But city officials are hoping there is now momentum on their side to force a compromise solution. They come armed not only with Tuesdays state vote but also with a federal judges ruling, also on Tuesday, to formally send Detroit into bankruptcy. Chicago is not facing bankruptcy, but the Detroit case produced a development being watched closely by cities and unions across the country: It explicitly permitted changes to public pension funds to help the city shed its debts and reorganize.

Should Chicago fail to get pension relief soon, we will be faced with a 2015 budget that will either double city property taxes or eliminate the vital services that people rely on, Mr. Emanuel said in an email on Wednesday. To avoid that, we need a balanced approach. We need a plan that is fair to both workers and taxpayers, and gives them both the certainty and security they are looking for.

Pension changes must be part of the calculus, he said.

Without reform and revenue, we cannot make the critical investments in our future and the future of our children and neighborhoods, the mayor wrote. Without reform and revenue, we cannot be the city that we want to be.

One credit rating agency, Fitch Ratings, estimated that if there is no deal to reduce pension benefits for city workers and no cuts in services, the city will have to increase property taxes by 35 percent.

A younger Laurence Msall (above left), now head and voice of the Civic Federation, was originally sponsored by the most reactionary and/or corrupt Republicans, including George Ryan (above right). Msall, a suburban factotum, remains the official voice of the financial analysis of CPS and public finances in Illinois and Chicago. The phony "independence" of the Civic Federation is perpetrated by all of Chicago's corporate media and pundits.Actually, the situation is even worse, said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a government watchdog group. The Fitch study looked only at police and firefighter pensions. If you include pensions for teachers, laborers and other municipal employees, property taxes in that situation would have to more than double, he said.

Angry union officials say they will file suit in state court in coming days to have the new state law overturned, a process that could last more than a year, and they argue that no further deals involving the more than 62,000 Chicago workers should be enacted until that litigation plays out. City officials say they cannot wait that long.

Theres a definite hole in the budget, and neither taxpayers or employees should be expected to fill it alone, said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for the mayor. The longer we delay, the worse the problem gets.

Union leaders are not in such a rush.

There certainly seems to be a will to address Chicagos pensions, and obviously the mayor is pushing that vigorously, said Daniel J. Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. But if they are looking to duplicate what they did to the state systems, theyve got a few legal hurdles.

For one thing, he said, the Illinois Constitution has very clear and precise language that guarantees that retirement benefits cannot be lowered. The ruling on Tuesday by the judge overseeing Detroits bankruptcy that federal law trumps the Michigan Constitution when it comes to lowering benefits does not apply in Illinois, Mr. Montgomery said.

The City of Chicago is not bankrupt, he said. It is an entirely different situation.

Michael K. Shields, president of Chicagos Fraternal Order of Police, said there was no way to compare the new state bill with the situation faced by his members. This pension bill is not one size fits all, he said.

He pointed out that much of the benefit cuts in the state law came from changes in the way annual cost-of-living raises are dispensed. While state workers received annual raises of 3 percent that compounded every year, Chicago police officers and firefighters receive a flat 3 percent raise that does not compound. So more benefit cuts would have to be found elsewhere for those city workers.

Other union leaders were even more blunt.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which represents 30,000 people, called the whole process an unnecessary attempt on behalf of bankers and the financial community to force government workers out of defined benefit pension plans and into 401(k) plans.

Our actual problem with this bill is that, once again, the people who are behind this thing are the very people who stand to gain from our members going into 401(k)s, Ms. Lewis said. They will get those fees from administering the 401(k)s. These people are hypocrites, and they should be ashamed to open their mouths.

Relations between the mayor and the citys teachers union had already been strained by a bitter strike last year that kept classes closed for eight days.

What has also attracted little attention, compared with the emotional public debate that surrounded passage of the state pensions law, is the deal reached in the legislature last month involving pensions for Chicago parks workers, whose unfunded pension liability grew from $77 million in 2003 to $550 million in 2012, a 615 percent increase. That deal may well provide a better template for a deal covering other city workers, city officials and others contend.

Under the deal, parks workers will no longer be able to retire at age 50 with 30 years of service. Instead, to get full benefits, they will have to work to age 58, except for those who will be 45 or older on Jan. 1, 2015, who will retain the old deal. Annual cost of living increases will also be limited, and the city will have to borrow money in 2015 by issuing one-time pension bonds.

If all goes well, the pension fund for parks workers will be 90 percent funded by 2049 and 100 percent by 2053.

City officials, meanwhile, insist that Chicago has no other choice but to come up with some sort of a solution by November, including some measure of pension cuts.

If so, then prepare for a fight, union officials say.

Were going to take to the airwaves and knock on doors, do whatever we have to do to let people know whats happening here is an injustice, said Thomas E. Ryan Jr., president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2. All we ask for when we no longer can do this job is to live with some kind of dignity. All we want is what was promised to us when we were hired. Thats it. Were not asking for anything special.


December 6, 2013 at 1:12 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Mr Mendes President Lewis may be correct

It appears that the Guardian newspaper has linked Mayor Emanuel to a plan to convert public sector workers over to 401k type plans. So President Lewis seems to have a point.

Please read

Rod Estvan

December 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Estvan comment: A Troll named 'Bruce Mendez' got cut

Mr. Estvan is referring to a comment posted earlier today by a Troll using the name "Bruce Mendez." The comment was removed because of inaccuracy, imbecility, and petit bourgeois stupidity in violation of our rules about comments.

December 7, 2013 at 3:56 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Trolls attacking

For the second time in less than 24 hours, a self serving Troll, this time using the pseudonym "Gossip Girl", tried to anonymously trash the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and promote the slanders and libels being published by Kris Rudzinski, a former union member and long-time supporter of the United Progressive Caucus. Our rules require that a comment provide the real first name and last name of the writer. We also DELETE comments that are libelous or worse.

December 9, 2013 at 12:02 AM

By: Richard Biegaj

Laurence Msall

Laurence Msall, a former top aide to convicted criminal and Republican George Ryan isn't even a resident of Chicago and yet he has his hands in so much of what effects Chicago. But then again, Rahm Emanuel wasn't a resident of the City of Chicago and he got elected mayor.

December 9, 2013 at 5:03 PM

By: Rod Estvan

re: Laurence Msall

Mr. Msall's organization normally does fairly detailed reviews of legislation that impacts taxation on the level that the Senate Bill 1 did for statewide pensions. Not this time however. In Republican circles this is a hot button issue because of gubernatorial candidate Rauner's claim that the pension deal is insufficient to keep the state afloat.

Mr. Msall formally endorsed the proposal prior to the vote but provided no analysis of the proposal until December 6, which was four days after the vote. This analysis can be read at

The short statement written by the Federation is also carefully worded in relation to savings to the State of Illinois. It uses phrases like "supporters estimate" or "estimated savings." It also admits no actuarial analysis of the legislation has as yet been conducted.

No matter the opinion readers have of Mr. Msall, he and the Federation generally have attempted to use real actuarial analysis when discussing the state of the various pension funds. But not this time. I look forward to seeing the actuarial analysis conducted by the pension funds impacted by this legislation to get an understanding of the extent actual savings are reflected in the estimates the Federation discussed.

Rod Estvan

December 9, 2013 at 8:48 PM

By: Richard Biegaj

Civic Federation

The Civic Federation seems to function more and more like a shadow government; the real power behind the throne. I wonder how many people in Chicago are even aware of this quasi-governmental organization which advocates chiefly for the interest of the business community and Chicago's ruling class. It wields tremendous power and influence over the current mayor and his administration, as it did with Mayor Daley. I think the mayor is more interested in the impression he makes on the Civic Federation than he does with the City Council.

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