Harmon and Lilly 7/17 at OP Library: Pensions and all that

Sen. Don Harmon and his sidekick Rep. Camille Lilly faced the people in a townhall session 7/17 at the Oak Park library, fielding questions from constituents. Some excerpts:

Pre-Q&A, Harmon: “Decades of underfunding” of pensions have to be made up for. The problem can be solved without taking from “core government services, especially social services.”

Rep. Camille Lilly: The budget process is “really, really, really critical.” This year there were no program cuts. Thanks to a new 60-day deadline for its publication the budget is available via “the new technology of today,” the web site.

During Q&A:

The Oak Park village clerk, Teresa Powell, who did not identify herself, asked about raising property taxes.

Lilly called it a “really, really good” question, said she had raised the matter in legislative committee. As matters stand, she said, “No way is education to be funded equitably across the state.”

Harmon said he is “very sensitive” to the matter of property taxes.

A questioner asked for a “teeny tiny” tax increase to cover pensions, Harmon mentioned the temporary “67%” increase, which he said, “We Democrats [call] two percent,” adding, “We have already cut too much.”

Lilly: The problem began “50 to 60 years ago,” is “really, really testing” the state’s  finances.

A questioner cited an “overall revenue problem, not just regarding pensions,” said he wants the rich to pay more, commended Harmon for writing (March 13 and 20, Wed. Journal) of a “so-called” (his word) “crisis” (quote marks Harmon’s).  He added that “Some are too rich” to need help from the government. Harmon interjected, “Let them run for governor,” to laughs.) The questioner referred further to “super-rich people.”

Harmon offered his proposal for a “fair tax, not flat tax, as we have now.” A previously self-identified retired teacher from the front row innocently corrected Harmon: “It’s graduated.” Harmon objected, citing “political reasons” for his term. “Call it fair,” he said. “Stay with me on this. People get confused” otherwise. There was approving laughter from the audience.

A questioner said Chicago’s Civic Federation raised the pension issue five years ago and otherwise challenged Harmon.

Harmon said, “I share your frustration.” Repeated what Lilly had said, the problem is 50 to 60 years old, adding that he has seen the “desperate look” on faces of those who fear losing their pensions or other government payments.

A questioner cited Illinois‘ bond rating, lowest in the nation, and its unemployment rate, one of the highest. In response we get nothing but “political rhetoric,” he said.

Harmon heard him out up to a point, then called a halt to their conversation (the only time he did this) and called “Next,” clearly wanting to move on. But in a moment of slightly comic relief, Lilly, missing this, picked up with the questioner, entering into a spiel, walking around, pointing for emphasis, in general speaking as if to settle the question with an earnest, forceful however cheery a manner, in the process waxing quite dramatic.

In answer to a question raised raises the North Avenue problem, Chicago side, connected with an undesirable pawn shop’s opening and other matters,
Lilly, with much pointing and waving: The issue is “what I call ‘on the docket'” for action — or at least consideration — it was not clear what.

Even with a fair tax (called “graduated” earlier) there still won’t be enough money, said another questioner. “So how about the proposed tax on stock trades?”

Lilly: “Actually, I saw that proposal, among so many that I didn’t read,” she said laughing.

Harmon: Bill Barclay (Oak Park  socialist, energetic proponent a few years back of a “living wage” for Oak Park and its contractors) testified about this tax. But (gently pouring cold water on the idea, Lilly nodding vigorous agreement) “there’s the fear that this legislation would push the Chicago Mercantile Exchange out of the state.”

Question from Jerry Delaney, Oak Park Democratic committeewoman, to Lilly about “marriage equality” led to Lilly’s: “It’s my heart [she placed her hand over her heart] that it will pass now that it’s really got momentum.  Our great state” will do this, she said.

A man identifying himself as a CPA referred to “our very corrupt state,” said, “If you do anything in Springfield, do something about this.” He took a shot also at “gerrymandering,” saying, “The way it’s set up, candidates know they will win. . . . ” He continues at length in this vein, Harmon and Lilly listening.)

Harmon: “Each of us [as candidate] is vulnerable to be unseated in a primary.” (Lilly, appointed in 2010, ran unopposed in 2012.)

The CPA continued: “To say the pension situation is complicated is a classic delaying tactic. We are spending way more than we are taking in. People leave Illinois . . .  Taxes are huge, hit even homeless people, some of whom I help. You are part of the problem not the solution.”

“Why don’t we tax retirement income?” another questioner asked. To which Lilly: “We are looking at that. It’s on the table of discussion.”

Another cited NPR, Wall Street Journal, and other reports, said he is “embarrassed by Illinois. It’s the worst state . . . ”

Lilly: “I have an opinion. The media doesn’t represent [sic] the facts accurately. The facts don’t state that.  . . . I’m very proud to live in Illinois . . . Look at your history . . .  We must come together . . . I celebrate that. . . . This is a great state to raise your family!”

Harmon conceded “some dramatic government failures. . . . But we are climbing out of the hole.” He rejected the Chicago Tribune’s view, says the Trib “bashed the heart out of us.”

Another congratulated Harmon on his stand against newspapers. (The evening was wearing on. Lilly turned and swigged her orange drink. Harmon was brought two frosted water bottles by Eileen, his administrative helper.) The questioner praised activist Ralph Martiere, who says the state should amortize its pension debt.

Lilly: “I had the opportunity to present that . . . ” again recounting her activities in Springfield.  In the course of this, she defined “responsible” giving a definition that as it were outlines a discussion. Once again we hear of her work as a legislator, dramatically, then nodded vigorously as Harmon explained the matter, saying he know Martiere and has discussed his proposal with him. He gives a detail as to what’s wrong with it. On to the next thing.

Questioner: Look at tax burden issues. Tea Party challenges are coming. He gives advice, does not argue.

Questioner brings up “marriage equality” again. Issue turns to Speaker Madigan

Lilly: It’s “interesting” how legislation comes forth in the house. Draws laughs, pauses, then: “I’ve gone and asked the speaker” to bring a bill forth (pause), “and it was brought up.” It’s a sort of ju-jitsu on the audience, checking laughter, presenting the speaker as not so bad at that. She’s all smiles, keeps her hand going throughout.

Harmon: “The bill’s sponsor did not put it up. I’m confident we will get the votes.”

Another speaker on North Avenue issues: 2009, was big grant for UNO charter school, big spending on celebration. All much widely reported, especially in detailed Sun-Times accounts.

Harmon, carefully: “I have no knowledge of money being wasted.” In face of major news stories, suspension of funding, resignation of top man, etc., he has apparently not felt prompted to inquire. Pleads ignorance, shuts up.

Other issues arose — anti-fracking, dispensing of psychiatric drugs — to which Lilly responded, apologetically: The pension comes first. Later Harmon demonstrated that with a graph thrown up on a screen showing size of pension outlay.

Harmon asked, “Anybody miss a [pension or other] payment?” No one. He had asked earlier how many work for the government in any capacity, apparently expecting and surely getting 25 or so of his audience of about 100.

On the high cost of college education, Harmon: Health care costs “are at the heart of it.” (First time tuition has been connected to health care, as far as I know.)

Lilly, picking up on the cost of college, turned to the funding of public schools: “My first thought is to establish a committee. . . . I believe our education system is in crisis, from kindy-garten [sic] on up. . . .  This. Is. crisis. level.” (Said slowly, every word emphasized.)  “Make sure it’s equitable for all citizens [cost? expenditures? not clear] . . . .  Our great state can do better.” (Said with bang-flourish at the end.)

About the state’s not paying its bills to care-providers, Lilly: “This is, to me, a no-no. We need to pay these vendors — and that’s what they are — on time. It’s unconscionable . . . happening over and over. . . . That’s why I’m here.” She closes, speaking to the aggrieved questioner, “Give us a call.”

Harmon, to questioner with major problem: “You are at scariest part” of the funds shortage problem. “Most don’t understand, we pass money thru” to the people. Presenting government as conduit.

To the matter of health-care costs in general, Lilly: “I attended Medicaid 101 [for legislators: she chuckles at her levity]. . . . When are we going to talk about the cost of health care? I was the first to bring it up [in a committee meeting, where she must be hell on wheels].

“For me, health care is not affordable. We need to talk about that. . . . I think the high cost does impact access! . . . I see every day what it costs [in her job at Loretto Hospital, where she’s a vice president]. . . . Where do we begin?”  (Stunning)

Harmon: “The cost of the uninsured is the main problem with the high cost, [namely in] their use of emergency rooms.   Obamacare is going to dramatically lower costs by just eliminating this alone.”

Lilly: “The healthier you are, the less costly it is. . . . Each state is to have its own health exchange.” (Oh?)

Regarding a single-payer system, Harmon: “There’s been some discussion of it” among legislators.

Tonight in far-off Wood Dale, Harmon and Rep. Kathleen Willis (77th-Addison) in a town hall session.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: