Homewood on Slippery Slope Raiding Pension Funds; But What Is The Alternative?

The Southtown Star reports that Homewood, Illinois, is considering a measure to dip into police and fire pension funds to balance the budget. The measure calls for reallocation of 25 percent of property tax revenue from its pension funds to pay for day-to-day operations in its 2010-2011 budget.

That’s operations, not capital projects. Homewood needs to dip into pension funds just to maintain the status quo.

From the Southtown Star:

The move would offset an expected drop in sales and income tax revenue during the fiscal year from the economic recession, the village’s financial director, Dennis Bubenik, told trustees during the village board meeting Tuesday night.

"We have 30 years to recoup the loss in the pension funds. We need the money to run day-to-day operations now," Bubenik said.

He said Homewood’s police pension fund is currently funded at 82 percent, and the firefighters pension fund is at 78 percent.

First, let’s consider the percentage figures. If the police pension was funded at 100%, that would mean the pension fund would support each and every police officer if they all went on pension now. Right now, immediately. So funding at 82% is pretty good. 78% for fire isn’t bad either.

If this measure passes, funding levels will be less than those figures, of course.

The big problem, as I see it, is the financial director’s claim that Homewood has "30 years to recoup the loss in pension funds."

Here’s the rub: if the economy was a static, growing entity, then I would have no problem with that statement. But what about future recessions in the next 30 years? And why the incredible hole in the budget in the first place? No doubt, last year, Homewood was counting on revenues that simply did not materialize due to the Great Bush Recession, whether they were from sales tax, real estate transfer taxes, or whatever. Many towns in the south suburbs are facing similar conundrums.

But dipping into pension funds is dangerous. What happens in 12 years, theoretically, if there is another Great Recession? At that point, Homewood is 18 years shy of the 30-year mark necessary to recover the pension funds. Does that future Village Board dip into pension funds again to save the day? Does the 30-year recovery then become a 45 year recovery? And what if Homewood faces a tragic fire event in the interim? What if, tragically, 7 or 8 firefighters lose their lives? Their spouses would receive full benefits.

I’m imagining the impossible because the impossible can happen. Challenges like these require critical thought now so future boards are not faced with a future slippery-slope quandaries.

More conservative budgeting would help Homewood in the long run. As would a healthy reserve fund.

The bottom line is this: municipalities should not need to dip into pension funds to pay for operations. No matter what.

Daley Blames Houlihan for Tax Hikes; Look in Mirror, Richie

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wasted no time pointing hizzoner’s finger at Cook County Tax Assessor Jim Houlihan over this year’s sharp spike in property taxes. But his wag of the finger ignores a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday tried to offer up a scapegoat for the puzzle of why property tax bills are soaring as home values are plummeting: Cook County Assessor James Houlihan.

As he promoted a modest city tax relief program, Daley also lashed out at the assessor, accusing him of not doing his part to keep a lid on tax bills expected to arrive in mailboxes the next few days.

"The thing I can’t understand (is) this whole assessment deal," the mayor said. "Now, no one’s value is going up in the city. … I’m asking him how he does it."

Despite the attack, Daley didn’t make clear how the assessor could have acted legally to alter the trajectory of the latest round of bills. The mayor also did not mention that new bills to Chicago residents reflect a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago but that’s only showing up now. Houlihan spokesman Eric Herman blamed big hikes largely on the General Assembly’s decision to phase out a program designed to soften the effect on taxes of soaring property values earlier this decade. "This idea somehow that we’re going around jacking up everybody’s assessments is just fiction," Herman said.

The finger-pointing took place after Houlihan released new data showing that homeowners across much of the city and county can expect to be hard hit by the latest installment of tax bills.

Mayor Daley has been around long enough to know exactly "how [Houlihan] does it." These assessments the tax bills are based on are already two years old, according to the Tribune, "The latest round of bills actually reflects 2008 taxes. For city neighborhoods, those bills were calculated using assessment values from 2006."

Then the bottom dropped out:

The bubble burst last year, too late to be factored into the tax bills that West Garfield Park homeowners have to pay this year. "We are legally prohibited from using current market conditions to go back and change assessments for a previous year," [Houlihan spokesman Eric] Herman said.

Houlihan said the legislature must shoulder responsibility. From the Sun-Times:

"This is a direct result of Speaker Madigan’s phaseout of the 7 percent homeowner exemption," Houlihan said. "This is the one thing that worked. For the first three years, when it was really going, it protected homeowners. I met with the mayor and urged him to go to Springfield and try to reverse that. The budget indicates how serious the problem is: The mayor has $35 million to deal with that."

Daley supported the "7 percent" cap on property tax increases, but a $65 million property tax increase from Chicago’s City Hall does make a difference, and the mayor owes it to the citizens of Chicago to admit that.

Read more here at the Trib, and read more here read more here from the Sun-Times.

Schwarzenegger Hidden Veto Message to Assemblyman Ammiano: ‘F*** You’

We write, "LOL" online when we get a chuckle. Sometimes we turn up the heat and write, "LMAO." And then theres, " LMFAO."

This one falls into the latter category.

From CBS Chicago:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger typically attaches a message to bills he signs or vetoes telling lawmakers why he took the action.

A Democratic assemblyman who heckled the governor during a recent event in San Francisco actually received two messages: the veto letter itself and a not-so-subtle rebuke creatively hidden within it.

Like a find-the-word puzzle, the second message was visible by stringing together the first letter of each line down the left-hand margin. It consisted of a common four-letter vulgarity followed by the letters "y-o-u."

"My goodness. What a coincidence," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. "I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen."

Here’s the note, emphasis added:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Sincerely,
Arnold Schwarzenegger

My goodness. What a coincidence.

See the original document here.

First-Ever Federal Equality Measure Protecting LGBT Rights Signed Into Law

The following is from Joe Solmonese at the Human Rights Campaign:

Today, something extraordinary happened. Love conquered hate. After more than a decade, the inclusive hate crimes bill we’ve fought so hard for has been signed by the president and sealed in law.

I cannot overstate the importance of this moment. This is the first time ANY federal equality measure protecting LGBT rights has become law. The very first time. And it is the first federal law to explicitly protect transgender people. It is a touchstone in our movement, a triumph of what is right. And I truly feel things will never be the same.

You made this day possible, along with thousands like you who called, wrote to Congress, met with lawmakers, and never gave up. I am inspired and humbled, and I thank you for all you’ve done.

As I left the White House, my thoughts turned to two crucial tasks immediately ahead – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Tomorrow, we will wake up emboldened to fight those battles. So will our enemies. This victory gives us momentum, and we cannot slow down.

Will you make a donation today to help HRC make sure this isn’t the last time we see this image?

With your help, this moment will be a beginning, not a culmination.

President Obama
Help us put more pro-equality legislation under that pen!

Hate crimes legislation was the first piece of creating a safe environment for LGBT people – prohibiting workplace and military discrimination are the next. When LGBT people live in fear of violence or discrimination, we cannot be who we are. And when we must hide our true selves, we cannot change hearts and minds.

It took twelve years, over one million emails, faxes and phone calls to Congress, and 14 separate votes on the floors of the House and the Senate to turn the hate crimes bill into law. Right-wing groups opposed us ferociously until the very end; they knew having a pro-LGBT law on the books would be a game-changer, and it is.

We’ve learned invaluable lessons. Now we know the next victory will take at least that much effort. But it must not take that much time. That means we need your help now.

Today, I am more determined than ever to put more pro-equality legislation on the president’s desk – let us galvanize ourselves in the fire of this moment.

Your support right now will give our nationwide network of staff and volunteers the power to fight for equality across the country.

Thank you again for standing with us to make this historic victory possible. Your hard work has made this country a safer place for millions of LGBT people.

Warmly,

Joe Solmonese
Joe Solmonese
President

Donate Today

Love Conquers Hate: President Barack Obama Signs Hate Crimes Legislation Into Law

“This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

www.hrc.org/loveconquershate

Washington, D.C.– The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised President Barack Obama today for signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The legislation was added as a provision to the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act earlier this Summer. For a comprehensive retrospective and historical overview of hate crimes advocacy visit: www.hrc.org/loveconquershate.

“This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality. Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road. As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds. We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities. After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs’ departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them.”

“We applaud President Obama for signing this bill into law and thank the leadership and our allies in the House and Senate. We also will always remember the tireless efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy on this issue. Senator Kennedy once said that this legislation sends ‘a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.’ This marks the first time that we as a nation have explicitly protected the LGBT community in the law. And this law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice,” said Solmonese.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act honors the memory of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student brutally murdered in an act of hate violence in 1998, and James Byrd, an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.

“We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly,” said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”

“We appreciate everyone who worked so hard on this bill. My son was taken at such an early age and we hope this law will help prevent other families from going through what we experienced,” said Stella Byrd, mother of James Byrd. “Even though we’re different colors and different sexual orientations or gender identities, God made us all and he loves us all.”

The new law also provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes.

This legislation was first introduced in the 105th Congress. There have been 14 total votes in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to bring this historic legislation to the president’s desk.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

President Obama Signs Hate Crimes Legislation

President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. (Photo: HRC.ORG)

Source: HRC.ORG

Take Dick Durbin’s Poll to Support the Public Option

Senator Dick Durbin wants a public option for health care in the United States. Support the public option by taking this poll:

From Senator Durbin:

The tide is shifting our way.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of activists like you we’ve seen a tremendous shift in the health care reform debate. On Monday, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the merged Senate health care bill — a bill that includes a public option.

The question is no longer if we will have some sort of public option in the final health care reform bill, but instead what form it will take.

There are several interpretations of what a public option should look like, and I’d like to share the preferences of the American people with my colleagues in the Senate.But I must do so before the final health care reform bill comes to a vote on the Senate floor in the coming weeks.

Please rank your preferences for what form the public option should take in the final bill at:

http://www.DickDurbin.com/PublicOptionPoll

I believe that a robust public option must give more Americans more choice on day one. But some of my colleagues would be content with a public plan that only kicked in if insurance companies continued to raise premiums at an unreasonable rate — the so-called "trigger." Others would prefer a more limited public option, requiring state governments to "opt-in" to participate in the program.

I am "whip counting" the votes in favor of all of these in the Senate, and we’re very, very close to reaching the 60 votes we need to pass a robust form of the public option — one that provides more coverage to more people by requiring states to "opt out" if they don’t want to participate. That’s exactly how Medicare and Medicaid work, and all 50 states participate in those popular programs.

Ultimately my colleagues need to know what their constituents think a robust "public option" really means — and what it doesn’t.

Read up on the various interpretations of a public option now under consideration, and tell me — and my colleagues — where you stand.

http://www.DickDurbin.com/PublicOptionPoll

Virtually every poll now shows most people support a robust public option to expand health insurance choice and offer coverage to more Americans. And the American people will not settle for a "public option" in name only.

Neither will I.

Let’s tell Congress what precisely we want and expect to see in the final health care reform bill that President Obama signs into law.

Thank you for taking my poll.

Sincerely,
Dick Durbin
Dick Durbin
U.S. Senator

Isaac Hayes (GOP) Doesn’t Want You to Have Health Insurance (Unless You Can Help Fund His Campaign)

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s challenger in Illinois’ 2nd District doesn’t want you to have health insurance if you can’t afford it. Rev. Isaac C. Hayes (is he really a CHRISTIAN reverend???) rejects the so-called public option.

From ENEWSPF:

Isaac C. Hayes, the GOP nominee for Congress in Illinois’ Second Congressional District, released a statement Tuesday condemning health care reform that includes a public option. Hayes called the proposed "public option" in health care reform legislation moving through the Congress is a "Nightmare on Elm Street." which will lead to soaring deficits, and declining medical care for Americans. The program will also scare the daylights out of bondholders of the U.S. and that’s deadly for America’s economic future.

"We must not cede to the public option. It will be the worse mistake our country can make. It will forever hand over control of our health care system to Washington, D.C.," says Rev. Hayes. "We’ve seen this B-movie before. Need I say Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These budgets continue to increase and not decrease. Nancy Pelosi in charge of my health is like the next sequel of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Please wake me up before it is too late."

Unfortunately, we can’t give Hayes high marks for creativity, considering his overkill on the Nightmare on Elm Street metaphor. Notice he said it twice.

Look, Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s 2nd Congressional has historically been overwhelmingly Democratic. Hayes is way off base so strongly rejecting the public option.

Jackson’s district gets it. It’s time for the for-profit health insurance industry to go, for good.

Hayes is out of touch, and in bed with the for-profit health insurance industry.

I wonder how much money the for-profit health insurance industry has given to Hayes? How many dollars of your insurance premiums have you contributed to a campaign that does not want those who cannot effort health insurance to actually get health insurance?

This is America, the only industrialized democracy in the world without health care for all.

And the other industrialized democracies are all living longer.

Vote for Jesse Jackson, Jr., in the second Congressional district in Illinois.