Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 24, 2013

Rippy: Watch where we could be going

By JIM RIPPY
CNHI

MT. VERNON — I am going to start locally because it appears that we could start to be following in the footsteps of our state if we are not careful.

 After scanning several national newspapers and articles each day, I retrieve my local paper from the news box next to the mailbox each morning. I personally think they do a good job with local news and items of interest. It gets a little tougher each year with the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and the numerous communication outlets we now have, so I salute them in their efforts to keep folks informed.

Front page article catches my attention. “District 80 announces tax levy 4.899 percent,” just enough to stay below the 5 percent that triggers a truth in taxation hearing. as I understand it. Recently the city reported they would take the amount between the 13.6 percent levy reportedly needed to fund pensions, from the General Corporate fund. Taking the difference from General Corporate funds would lower the levy and the need for a truth in taxation hearing with public input. District 201, Mt. Vernon Township High School, is asking for an 8.27 percent increase in its corporate and special purpose property taxes of over $400,000. Rend Lake College is asking for more money from property owners in taxes, and I am sure we will see requests for increased levies from Summersville School, the Jefferson County Board and the Airport for those folks in that taxing district. Rather than discuss these individually, I want to discuss the philosophy of this scenario.

We are continuing to see the group of folks whose incomes remain flat or drop dramatically when inflation adjusted being asked to sacrifice and keep funding groups which are protected by annual increases even in retirement. The middle class property owners cannot continue to fund annual increases, and this is especially true for retired, fixed-income folks.

A lot of folks were very upset about the larger than promised increases in property taxes for the share of new school financing. What was stated about an increase of a $100 annually for a property valued at $100,000 was very misleading and simply did not become reality.

I personally experienced a 19.5 percent increase for the high school alone this year of $297. This was a lot more than was quoted during the campaign for the new school. This issue has nothing intended to be derogatory about the need for a new school; only the misleading information about the cost to the taxpayers.

I read almost daily about our state being on the verge of bankruptcy and not paying its bills due in part to a huge unfunded pension liability for state workers and teachers retirement. This is obviously the result of corrupt politicians buying the votes by making promises they cannot fulfill without huge tax increases. We are listed in the top two along with California for financial mismanagement. One national article talked about the death spiral in Illinois and recommended that folks not buy homes in Illinois.

I am not blaming teachers and employees of the state, city and county. They only follow the rules of what their unions negotiate for them. If you want to blame someone, blame the folks that do not know how to say no! In some instances it is like negotiating with yourself if previous teachers elected to the school board are involved in wages and benefit negotiations. How can they say no to demands that the taxpayers cannot afford if they are recipients,either directly or indirectly, from previous negotiations? You tell me! Previous teachers and current teachers elected to school boards should not be involved in union negotiations.

Where else can you work less than 180 days a year, retire with 25 to 30 years service at less than 55 years of age with good medical benefits and good retirement? Where else has the last year of working salary been increased in the past to raise the average of the last four years which is used for retirement computation? Where else can you accumulate sick days not taken and personal days not used to receive pay for them when you retire? Where else will you receive 3 percent compounded annually in retirement and eventually make more than when you were working? This continues while private industry shifts from defined benefit to defined contribution and freezes pension, plus increases medical cost participation. Who lives in the real world?

Each week as I write this column, I ask myself a couple of questions. One question is, “why can’t you find something entertaining and uplifting to write about” and another question is, “do I really expect to see a change in governmental corruption and unaffordable health care in my lifetime?”

The answer to the first question is that writing about fluff does not interest me when you see middle class folks being squeezed into a smaller group daily because of increased taxes and the increasing cost of health care. The answer to the second question is that maybe, just maybe, I can play a small part in waking folks up to the only available solution to them is the power of their votes in eliminating the special interest groups that own our government by insisting on public financing of elections.

I read the news from several sources daily and today I read an article about the income malaise of the middle class by Ann Lowrey. I will insert a few excerpts just to give you a flavor of the article.

“If the two parties fail to come to a deal by Jan. 1, taxes on the average middle-income family would rise about $2,000 over the next year. That would follow a 12-year period in which median inflation-adjusted income dropped 8.9 percent.”

“The Congressional Budget Office has found that between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent of households saw their inflation-adjusted income grow 275 percent. For the bottom 20 percent, it grew just 18 percent, and federal tax and transfer programs also did less and less to reduce income inequality over that period.

“The mounting concentration of wealth is even more dramatic. A recent Economic Policy Institute study found that between 1983 and 2010 about three-quarters of all new wealth accrued to the wealthiest 5 percent of households. Over the same period, the bottom 60 percent actually became poorer.”

One study has the number of middle class folks declining from 61 percent to 47 percent based on decline of income.

I am constantly reminded that we are a republic and not a democracy; that we elect folks to represent us and should abide by their decisions or vote them out. I say that we should publicly finance elections and take the money out at every level. We can then elect folks who represent the people and not some special interest. I close with the following quote:

“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation.... One is by sword.... The other is by debt.” — John Adams 1826