Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Friday - Chicago is #1 - again

(Meant to get this posted on Friday during lunch, got busy and sort of forgot about lunch)

Last week, there was a news article that a recent study showed that Chicago was the most corrupt city in the nation.  This comes as no surprise to Chicago residents.  Chicago has been corrupt since the first white explorer stepped out of his canoe on the pristine shore of Lake Michigan.  Not only is Chicago the most corrupt city in the U.S., it is the most corrupt city in the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state in the country.

Chicago and the state of Illinois have been mis-managed for decades.  Money has found its way from the city and state treasuries into politicians pockets for years, creating a fiscal crisis of unbelieveable proportions.  Now both the mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois are trying to shore up their treasuries by blaming state and city employees for expecting to receive their pensions after paying in for a lifetime of work.

I work for the city of Chicago.  When I was hired a little over 20 years ago, I was told that a pension contribution would be deducted from every paycheck, and that the city would match my contribution.  When I retired from city employment after a minimum of 20 years employment and a minimum age of 55, I would receive a pension from the city.  I had no choice in this matter:  I was not offered a choice of a city pension, Social Security, an IRA or an annuity.  The city's pension plan was the only option.  So for the last 20+ years, I have been contributing to my pension fund every paycheck. I honored my part of the deal, just as all my fellow city and state employees have. About two years ago, both the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois admitted that they hadn't honored their pension obligations, and both the city and state pension funds were woefully under-funded.  They are attempting to go back on the promise they made to us all those years ago.  So far, their suggestions include giving us only our pension contribution with no matching contribution, and making us pay double in order to make up for their dishonesty.

You don't get rich working for the city or the state.  With careful planning, you'll be able to support your family and send your kids to college.  People who take government jobs are usually paid less than those in the private industry.  It's not because we're less qualified - I have two Master's degrees, and most of the people I work with have at least one Master's degree.  And we sure don't get anything for free - we pay through the nose for our medical benefits and are forced to pay union dues, whether we belong to the union or not.  But we take the jobs because we believe in helping other people, and we were told that as a reward for our service, when it came time to retire, there would be a decent pension waiting.

Some suburban friends of mine expressed the opinion that the state has to do something about their fiscal crisis, so the only logical thing to do was to eliminate pension funding.  I asked if they had a 401(k) where they worked.  They said of course they did.  I asked about profit sharing - yes, they had profit sharing as well.  I asked if THEIR employer paid a contribution to their 401(k) and/or profit sharing.  They looked at me like I was crazy and said OF COURSE THEIR EMPLOYER MADE A CONTRIBUTION TO BOTH PLANS FOR THEM.  EVERY YEAR.  So I asked how they would feel if their employers sudden decided not to make those matching contributions anymore.  My suburban friends bristled and said that wouldn't be right, that their employers had PROMISED to make those contributions.  I explained that the city and state had made the same agreement with city and state workers, and that while I had made MY contributions, the city hadn't kept their promise to me.  Also, that if the city and state could go back on their agreement, what would stop private industry from following suit?  My suburban friends got very quiet - suddenly, the thought of government not honoring their pension obligations didn't seem like such a great idea after all.

I have a little less than 10 years to work until I turn 65.  I do have money saved in my deferred compensation plan, also in an annuity from a previous pension plan when I worked at a bank.  But the money that I saved was supposed to supplement my city pension, not the other way around.  I can understand if the city and state change the rules for new hires, that anyone hired from now on or even with less than 10 years of service, will be offered a different type of retirement plan, such as an annuity that does not include a contribution from the city and state.  But it's not fair to change the rules for long-term employees.  Come on, Mayor Emmanuel and and the city council, for a change, get your hands out of the till and do the right thing for city employees!

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