WBEZ | Illinois budget http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois-budget Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Mayors blast pension fix for cops, firefighters http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-blast-pension-fix-cops-firefighters-110227 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr_matt Turner_springfield_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A group of mayors and municipal groups from across Illinois is deriding an influential lawmakers&rsquo; blueprint for stabilizing their police and fire pension funds, some of which are teetering on the brink of insolvency.</p><p>The Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities Coalition, which comprises nearly 100 mayors and municipal groups, released a statement Thursday night claiming the package from State Sen. Terry Link risks leaving their pension funds in even worse financial shape.</p><p>&ldquo;This proposal is not an &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; that brings comprehensive and long-term solutions, but merely window dressing that covers up the real impact on taxpayers and allows the unsustainable public safety pension crisis to continue to spiral out of control,&rdquo; the statement reads.</p><p>Link, a Waukegan Democrat, outlined several proposals to municipal leaders and police and fire lobbyists this week that he said would provide stability to more than 600 public safety pension funds outside of Chicago. Altogether, those funds are projected to be underfunded by at least $8.4 billion.</p><p>Link has not yet introduced his proposals in bill form, and it&rsquo;s unclear whether he will before lawmakers head home for the summer at the end of next week. But the blueprint he outlined during a closed-door meeting, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/springfield-nears-pension-deal-downstate-cops-firefighters-110219" target="_blank">first reported by WBEZ</a>, would ease restrictions on how and where pension funds can invest their money, with the goal of allowing them to earn more in the stock market.</p><p>Link also wants to rejigger the makeup of the hundreds of five-member boards that govern public safety pension funds, and he aims to give smaller funds more investment power by allowing them to pool their money.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s Link&rsquo;s call for a five-year moratorium on further pension changes that would spell doom for the grander hopes of suburban and downstate mayors.&nbsp; They&rsquo;ve been calling for a cut to the three percent compounding annual pension benefit increases given to cops and firefighters, higher retirement ages, more contributions from workers and scaled back &ldquo;pension sweeteners&rdquo; - their term for benefit enhancements that state lawmakers have approved over the years.</p><p>To that end, Link&rsquo;s blueprint merely &ldquo;nibbles around the edges,&rdquo; said Mark Fowler, executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, which lobbies for dozens of northwest suburbs.</p><p>&ldquo;If you put a moratorium in on addressing any pension sweeteners or pension changes, you&rsquo;re five years down the road...[and] the problem continues to spiral out of control and you&rsquo;ve got pensions in Illinois that will not be able to pay out benefits,&rdquo; Fowler said.</p><p>Mayors around Illinois have been lobbying for years to have police and fire pension benefits reduced, but their efforts seemed to be gaining some traction this year, after state lawmakers <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287" target="_blank">overhauled pensions</a> for state workers and for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989" target="_blank">some in Chicago</a>. Towns across Illinois complain that ever-rising state-mandated pension contributions are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166" target="_blank">crowding core services out of their budgets</a>, while they watch the health of many pension funds continue to decline.</p><p>While the coalition blames benefit enhancements for their skyrocketing pension costs, unions and some actuaries claim the spike comes courtesy of a decades-old funding mechanism that backloads pension contributions.</p><p>Link has suggested he won&rsquo;t go for the type of benefit cuts included in other recent pension laws because he believes they violate a clause in the state&rsquo;s constitution that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished.&rdquo; The controversial new state pension law is now on hold, pending the outcome of several court challenges.</p><p>But Fowler said that shouldn&rsquo;t stop pension reform for downstate police and fire funds.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t quite understand why those were constitutional decisions or those were proposals that passed the muster of the General Assembly, yet we&rsquo;re not allowed to even present those proposals,&rdquo; Fowler said.</p><p>Representatives for downstate police and fire pension funds did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Senator Link has not returned several phone calls from WBEZ.</p><p>But earlier this week, Link said he may officially introduce his pension changes &ldquo;fairly soon.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;And I think that this is something that everybody agrees on,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-ece037e0-2a71-69d8-b578-db2facad95ff"><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 23 May 2014 13:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-blast-pension-fix-cops-firefighters-110227 Chicago suburbs grapple with their own pension crisis http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/pothole - AP Charles Rex Arbogast.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On a recent drizzly weekday afternoon, Mt. Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek climbs into the back seat of an official white village SUV.</p><p>She&rsquo;s guiding a tour of her local pension crisis.</p><p>Behind the wheel, Assistant Village Manager Dave Strahl hangs a right down Forest Avenue, on the northern end of this upper middle-class northwest suburb. In a few seconds, he&rsquo;s slaloming around potholes on a road that&rsquo;s crumbling, awash in gravel.</p><p>&ldquo;We fell behind in our street maintenance,&rdquo; Juracek explains, leaning forward from the backseat. &ldquo;So as your revenue sources are limited and your costs are escalating, you start to make the tradeoffs. ... One of the most escalating costs is the pension costs.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Juracek admits there is not a direct correlation between potholes and pensions.</p><p>But mayors around Illinois are complaining of a similar trend: State-mandated local pension contributions for police and firefighters are straining local budgets, threatening to squeeze out money for basic government services. Yet according to a <a href="http://cgfa.ilga.gov/Upload/2013FinancialConditionofDownstatePoliceFirePA96-1495.pdf" target="_blank">state study from last year</a>, the total projected future debt for suburban and downstate public safety pensions has ballooned at least eight-fold since the early 1990s.</p><p>That has mayors warning of deeper service cuts, higher taxes and compromised retirement security for cops and firefighters.</p><p>Experts and municipal groups say mayors are even more anxious because, starting next year, a new Illinois law takes effect that will enable the state to intercept tax dollars from towns that don&rsquo;t pay enough into their police and fire pension funds.</p><p>A <a href="http://pensionfairness.org/" target="_blank">coalition</a> of nearly 100 towns and municipal groups is finally sitting down with state lawmakers and labor leaders to try to stabilize those pensions. But the group fiercely disagrees with police and fire unions over what caused the underfunding - and how to fix it.</p><p><strong>Budget pressures</strong></p><p>Illinois has more than 600 individual, locally-controlled pension funds for cops and firefighters outside the city of Chicago. And the trend in Mt. Prospect is similar to that seen in towns and cities across the state, regardless of their size or economy.</p><p>The village has seen the health of its local police and fire pension funds steadily decline over the last several years. It&rsquo;s projected that each will have just more than half of the money it needs to pay out in future retirement benefits, a ratio known as the &ldquo;unfunded liability.&rdquo; But all the while, the village&rsquo;s required police and fire pension payments have nearly quintupled since 1997.</p><p>Mayors like Juracek say this puts pressure on local budgets in ways that are beginning to hit residents.</p><p>In the suburbs, Elk Grove <a href="http://www.elkgrove.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2041" target="_blank">recently passed</a> a utility tax just to pay for pensions. Downstate Bloomington approved a <a href="http://www.cityblm.org/index.aspx?page=575" target="_blank">similar measure</a> late last month.</p><p>Officials in Niles say rising pension costs contributed to a recent sales tax hike. And in Fox River Grove, northwest of Chicago, the mayor says he may have to choose between borrowing money to build a new train station, and borrowing money to bolster his police pension fund, which is projected to have just about a quarter of the money it will need to pay retiree benefits in the future.</p><p>Mayors around Illinois say the economic recession dealt a large blow to their local pension funds. But they also blame what they call &ldquo;<a href="http://pension.iml.org/page.cfm?key=3536" target="_blank">pension sweeteners</a>&rdquo; - that is, benefit enhancements passed by state lawmakers, who must approve all changes to pension law.</p><p>Many mayors claim the increases are an unfunded mandate, pushed by powerful police and firefighter unions and okayed by Springfield lawmakers.</p><p>Longtime suburban Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski says state accused lawmakers are often &ldquo;happy to be the purveyors of largesse at our backs.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have a money tree in the back that I&rsquo;m saying I just don&rsquo;t wanna give to you guys,&rdquo; said Mayor Gayle Smolinski, of suburban Roselle. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m talking about real money that&rsquo;s coming in from my taxpayers, many of them who don&rsquo;t have pensions anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>The coalition is <a href="http://pensionfairness.org/page.cfm?key=11348" target="_blank">asking</a> the General Assembly to scale back the three percent compounding annual benefit increases given to downstate cops and firefighters. Lawmakers <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287" target="_blank">recently approved</a> similar cutbacks for the state of Illinois&rsquo; pension funds, and for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989" target="_blank">Chicago laborers and municipal workers</a>. Unions are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/unions-file-lawsuit-over-pension-changes-109588" target="_blank">suing</a> over the state-level benefit changes, claiming they violate the Illinois constitution.</p><p>The coalition also wants to raise the retirement age for downstate and suburban police and firefighters, and make them contribute more toward their pensions out of each paycheck. They would also consolidate the hundreds of local pension funds across Illinois to save money on administrative costs, similar to the way <a href="http://www.imrf.org/info/about.htm" target="_blank">municipal workers&rsquo; retirements</a> are structured.</p><p>Illinois State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, has been spearheading talks between municipal groups and police and fire lobbyists.</p><p>&ldquo;Then we&rsquo;re putting it off a year or better before we can, uh, try to help the problem,&rdquo; Link said. &ldquo;So that&rsquo;s what I&rsquo;m trying to do right now, is work on some things that can be done without causing, uh, a court case. And then the taxpayers could see some relief immediately.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>&lsquo;Not about potholes&rsquo;</strong></p><p>But lobbyists for police and fire pensions in Springfield say mayors have been misleading the public about the nature and cause of the pension problems.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s definitely not about potholes,&rdquo; said Sean Smoot, a lobbyist with the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, which represents downstate police pension funds.</p><p>Smoot said the choice these mayors are presenting - cutting basic services or paying public safety pensions - is a false one.</p><p>And Smoot rejects the claim that mayors and municipal interest groups had no hand in increasing public safety pension benefits over the years.</p><p>&ldquo;These pensions sweeteners that they like to point to, those didn&rsquo;t happen without their agreement,&rdquo; Smoot said. &ldquo;So, for them to turn around and say...&rsquo;General Assembly, you put these unfunded mandates on us,&rsquo; it&rsquo;s just simply not true.&rdquo;</p><p>Pat Devaney, with the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, maintains retirement benefits didn&rsquo;t cause this crisis.</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s a great talking point for them to stand up at a press conference, deliver, and not accept any responsibility for what&rsquo;s gone on in their community,&rdquo; Devaney said.</p><p>In fact, Illinois pension benefits for cops and firefighters outside of Chicago are actually less generous than similar plans across the country, according to an analysis for WBEZ by the non-profit Urban Institute, and Washington, D.C. think tank.</p><p>That&rsquo;s largely because cops and firefighters here do not get Social Security, said Richard W. Johnson, who heads up the institute&rsquo;s Program on Retirement Policy. Johnson&rsquo;s analysis found that Illinois&rsquo; downstate public safety workers also pay more than average toward their own pensions, though they do not have to pay Social Security taxes.</p><p>Instead, Devaney said municipalities shouldn&rsquo;t be allowed to wriggle out of making their required pension payments. He contends towns have been making artificially low contributions for decades - though they should have anticipated the present problems.</p><p><strong>&lsquo;We saw it coming&rsquo;</strong></p><p>Rather than &ldquo;pension sweeteners,&rdquo; longtime Illinois police and fire pension actuary Art Tepfer said the rapidly rising pension costs that towns are struggling with came about by design.</p><p>&ldquo;This is the way that Illinois retains it&rsquo;s No. 1 ranking as having the worst-funded pension funds in the country,&rdquo; said Tepfer, who serves as an actuary to more than 100 downstate and suburban public safety funds in Illinois.</p><p>Tepfer points to a 1993 change in state law, when legislators approved a pension funding scheme that functioned similar to an adjustable-rate mortgage: low payments at first, but rapidly rising payments in the future.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, we&rsquo;re in the future now,&rdquo; Tepfer said. &ldquo;This is what&rsquo;s happened. And that&rsquo;s why we have a pension crisis. We saw it coming.&rdquo;</p><p>Tepfer said smaller funds are also limited in how much money they can invest in stocks, which limits the amount of money they can make on their investments.</p><p>Back on the tour of Mount Prospect, Assistant Village Manager Dave Strahl points out a whopper of a pothole that&rsquo;s eaten the road to its very foundation.</p><p>The longer it goes unfixed, the worse it gets.</p><p>Mayor Arlene Juracek leans in from the back seat to say that&rsquo;s the same reason state lawmakers need to change downstate police and fire pensions - soon.</p><p>&ldquo;If not now, when?&rdquo; Juracek asks. &ldquo;You need to start because the problem gets worse every single year. You need to start at some point in time and really get the ball rolling and impress on everybody the urgency of getting a solution.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe" target="_blank">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028" target="_blank">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 12 May 2014 12:27:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166 Madigan drops property tax mandate in pension bill http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Pat-Quinn-AP-Seth-Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is removing a controversial provision from a Chicago pension bill that would have required the City Council to raise property taxes in order ease the city&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion pension crisis.</p><p>The move to strip the property-tax language in the bill came late Monday, just a few hours after Gov. Pat Quinn signalled he would not back a proposed property tax hike that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing in order to bolster the ailing pension funds for Chicago laborers and municipal workers.</p><p>&ldquo;Working with legislative leaders, bill sponsors, the Governor, and our partners in labor, we have addressed their concerns and can now move forward to save the retirements of nearly 60,000 city workers and retirees in Chicago,&rdquo; Emanuel was quoted as saying in an emailed statement late Monday afternoon.</p><p>But the removal of the property tax language doesn&rsquo;t mean Emanuel&rsquo;s tax hike proposal is going away. That plan, which would bring the city $750 million in revenue over the next five years, still seems to be central to the mayor&rsquo;s plan to pump more money into the city&rsquo;s pensions.</p><p>The difference is that state legislators, who must approve changes to Illinois pension law, don&rsquo;t have to worry about being blamed for raising Chicago property taxes during an election year. The bill&rsquo;s original language mandated that the City Council raise property taxes to pay for pensions. The latest version allows the city to use &ldquo;any available funds&rdquo; to make its annual payments.</p><p>Speaking at an event Monday morning, Emanuel said he is not trying to hang a potential property tax hike around legislators&rsquo; necks.</p><p>&ldquo;It was never anybody&rsquo;s intention to have Springfield deal with that,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s our responsibility. But I do believe to actually give the 61,000 retirees and workers the certainty they deserve, you need reform and revenue. And we&rsquo;ll deal with our responsibility.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel said he will continue to &ldquo;address people&rsquo;s concerns&rdquo; about the pension plan, though he would not speak directly to its fate in the City Council, which would also need to approve any property tax hike.</p><p>To placate public worker unions who had wanted a dedicated revenue stream, Madigan&rsquo;s changes also beef up the penalties if City Hall wriggles out of paying its pension contributions. The bill directs Illinois&rsquo; Comptroller to cut off state funding to the city indefinitely if it doesn&rsquo;t pay its pension tab, and it gives pension funds the right to sue City Hall in order to get their money.</p><p>The new bill would also guarantee that retirees who make $22,000 or less in annual benefits would get a cost-of-living increase of at least 1 percent each year. Prior proposals set the annual increases at the lesser of 3 percent or half the rate of inflation. Right now, city laborers and municipal workers get a guaranteed annual benefit increase of 3 percent, which builds on the previous years&rsquo; increases.</p><p>The changes to the mayor&rsquo;s proposed pension fix came just hours after Gov. Pat Quinn slammed Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve gotta come up with a much better comprehensive approach to deal with this issue,&rdquo; Quinn said at an unrelated press conference. &ldquo;But if they think they&rsquo;re just gonna gouge property taxpayers, no can do. We&rsquo;re not gonna go that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn, a populist Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, has made property tax relief central to his 2015 state budget proposal. And while he shot down Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, the governor did not offer an alternative source of revenue for Chicago pensions.</p><p>&ldquo;I think they need to be a whole lot more creative than I&rsquo;ve seen so far,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>State legislators could consider the new amendment as soon as Tuesday.</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 Quinn quiet on mayor’s pension plan, questions property tax hikes http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-quiet-mayor%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-questions-property-tax-hikes-109966 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Quinn - AP Seth Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is raising questions about whether he would support a plan to bolster Chicago&rsquo;s underfunded public pensions by raising property taxes, telling reporters today that property taxes are already &ldquo;overburdening&rdquo; state residents.</p><p>State lawmakers are now debating <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Femanuel-pension-deal-would-raise-property-taxes-trim-benefits-109948&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHVMds9AwIwUN5U23ljh0rlrgfAPg">Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s plan</a> to prop up city&rsquo;s pension funds for laborers and municipal workers. Central to that is a proposal to raise property taxes by $50 million each year for five years, which would ultimately net the city $750 million. The mayor also is calling for city workers to chip in more money toward their retirement benefits, and he wants to scale back the rate at which those benefits grow each year.</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s blueprint, which he said would solve about half of Chicago&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion public pension crisis, first needs approval from the state legislature and the governor, because all Illinois pensions are governed by state law.</p><p>Quinn on Thursday would not say whether he would sign the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Fbillstatus.asp%3FDocNum%3D1922%26GAID%3D12%26GA%3D98%26DocTypeID%3DSB%26LegID%3D73354%26SessionID%3D85&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHCEIli0kRUcM8Np1l1LxGkpZmWDg">Chicago pension bill</a> if it landed on his desk.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know what that bill is, frankly,&rdquo; Quinn told reporters in Chicago. &ldquo;I think it has all kinds of different descriptions. They&rsquo;re, I guess, looking at it in Springfield. When they have something put together we&rsquo;ll look at it. But I wanna make it clear: I believe in reducing the burden of property taxes in our state.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn would not detail any specific concerns he had with Emanuel&rsquo;s pension plan. But he returned repeatedly to the talking points he has been using to push his own 2015 state budget proposal. &ldquo;The bottom line in our state is we have to reduce our reliance on property taxes and we have to invest in education,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>The governor&rsquo;s 2015 budget would make permanent a <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fstory%2Fincome-tax%2Ftemporary-tax-hikes-dont-always-stay-way&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHDXygwYKimhgniQZB0Efijo86f_Q">income tax hike</a> enacted in 2011, while guaranteeing all Illinois homeowners a $500 property tax refund. The governor is hoping that will allow municipalities around the state, boosted by trickle-down state income tax revenue, to lower local property taxes, which Quinn thinks disproportionately favor wealthy areas.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s Springfield allies put his plan into legislative form on Tuesday, shortly after he outlined it for reporters. The bill passed a key House pension committee on Wednesday, but is still awaiting a debate before the full House.</p><p>The State Senate, meanwhile, adjourned for the week on Thursday without taking up the plan.</p><p>The blueprint Emanuel outlined earlier this week aims to pump more money into the two pension funds for more than 56,000 city workers -- one for city laborers and the other for municipal workers, including administrators and skilled tradesmen.</p><p>By 2020, Emanuel&rsquo;s plan would finally do away with the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fnews%2Fexperts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGzLcw0b8YPzM-h-NQSYombAlYX5g">archaic math</a> the city has been using for decades to calculate how much money to chip into its workers&rsquo; retirements. Experts say that is a primary reason the pension funds have been shorted for decades, leading to their current dire shape. Instead, the proposal in Springfield would slowly ramp up contributions from the city, before switching over to a self-adjusting funding formula.</p><p>If the city tries to skimp on payments -- or skip them altogether -- <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Flegislation%2Ffulltext.asp%3FDocName%3D09800SB1922ham004%26GA%3D98%26SessionId%3D85%26DocTypeId%3DSB%26LegID%3D73354%26DocNum%3D1922%26GAID%3D12%26Session%3D&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNEL9MZWqOZTKPul1CQW64R2_sAHpA">the current proposal</a> allows the pension funds to take Chicago to court, or even garnish City Hall&rsquo;s share of state grant money.</p><p>But the stabilization of the pension funds would also come at a cost for taxpayers and city workers.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, which would still need approval from the City Council, would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $58 more in property taxes each year for the next five years, according to the mayor&rsquo;s office.</p><p>Current and retired city workers would also kick more into their pension funds, but get less out of them. Employee contributions would jump from the current 8.5 percent of each paycheck to 11 percent by 2019.</p><p>But the mayor also wants to scale back the rate at which those benefits grow each year. Retirees in the municipal and laborers pension funds currently see their retirement benefits grow at a 3 percent compounded annual rate. The mayor wants to cut that down to a flat 3 percent, or half the rate of inflation, whichever is smaller. And retirees would see no benefit increase in 2017, 2019 or 2025.</p><p>Several of Chicago&rsquo;s most powerful city workers&rsquo; unions quickly came out against the mayor&rsquo;s plan, arguing it violates a part of the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilga.gov%2Fcommission%2Flrb%2Fcon13.htm&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHYjOR9TNeMJMsYGbhWyAumt2lbbA">Illinois Constitution</a> that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>That includes the unions for police, firefighters and teachers, whose members all have their own woefully underfunded pensions systems that would not be affected by Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal. What&rsquo;s more, the mayor&rsquo;s plan does nothing to stave off a state-mandated spike in the city&rsquo;s contributions to its police and fire pensions next year, which will cost nearly $600 million.</p><p>The jump in required payments was designed to finally bring the city&rsquo;s police and fire pensions into the black, after decades of City Hall shorting the funds. But Emanuel has threatened that such a huge, one-time increase would force drastic budget cuts or steep property tax hikes.</p><p>A spokesman for venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, Quinn&rsquo;s Republican opponent in the November election, said in a statement that Rauner disagreed with the mayor&rsquo;s proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;Bruce has always maintained that true pension reform requires moving towards a defined contribution style system and believes that should also be part of the solution for Chicago,&rdquo; said campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbez.org%2Fusers%2Fakeefe&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHCooL3ruU-DUyQdnHprdBP25WItg">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FWBEZpolitics&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNE7HeV8c3K0gV2LF_GODmIGo6nkkg">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 15:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-quiet-mayor%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-questions-property-tax-hikes-109966 Morning Shift: The impact of social anxiety on teenagers http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-03-25/morning-shift-impact-social-anxiety-teenagers-109912 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cover Flickr by Abby_B.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We explore the issue of social anxiety among teens and look at how marketers are trying to reach the generation after Millennials-and what to call that generation. Plus, the music of Ethiopian artist Meklit</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-impact-of-social-anxiety-in-teen/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-impact-of-social-anxiety-in-teen.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-impact-of-social-anxiety-in-teen" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: The impact of social anxiety on teenagers" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 08:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-03-25/morning-shift-impact-social-anxiety-teenagers-109912 Illinois' pension problem: How big is it, really? http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-pension-problem-how-big-it-really-109659 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr_matt Turner_springfield.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The controversial changes to Illinois&rsquo; public pension systems enacted in December came after years of fierce debate. And one of the key points of contention among academics and fund leaders was this fundamental question: Exactly how bad is the pension shortfall?</p><p>The number kicked around by politicians and reporters is usually around $100 billion, based on <a href="http://cgfa.ilga.gov/Upload/1113%20SPECIAL%20PENSION%20BRIEFING.pdf">estimates</a> from the state&rsquo;s five retirement systems.</p><p>That is what is known as the state&rsquo;s &ldquo;unfunded liability&rdquo;&mdash;a fancy way of saying the amount Illinois will owe state workers in future retirement benefits but will not be able to pay if the systems&rsquo; finances do not change.</p><p>But there are economists, including a recent <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/December-2013/Q-and-A-with-University-of-Chicago-Economist-Eugene-Fama/">Nobel Prize winner</a>, who thinks the real amount of this pension debt is at least two or three times bigger than that.</p><p>Economists, lawmakers, and pension fund leaders agree that Illinois&rsquo; pension underfunding is a gargantuan problem, no matter what math you use. But the math does matter, they say, because it produces the number they are trying to hit when they determine state contributions or pension reform laws.</p><p>The bigger the number, the more taxpayers and state workers may feel the sting in the form of benefit reductions, tax hikes, or budget cuts.</p><p><strong>A question of risk &amp; optimism</strong></p><p>Jeffrey Brown, a financial economist at the University of Illinois, believes the state&rsquo;s unfunded pension liabilities are more likely around $250 billion.</p><p>He is part of that school of economists who have raised big questions about the way all American public pension funds are crunching their numbers. The result, academics such as Brown claim, is that public pension debt is made to look far smaller than it really is.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re being too optimistic because they are failing to account for risk,&rdquo; Brown said.</p><p>At issue are the assumptions that pension funds make about how much money they will earn off of their investments in the future.</p><p>Running a public pension fund is basically like being a fortune teller, with a calculator instead of a crystal ball. Pension fund actuaries try to predict how much of today&rsquo;s dollars they will need in order to pay retirement benefits decades down the road.</p><p>To do that, they also try to predict how much money they are going to make from their investments. The more they assume their investments will grow in the future, the smaller they assume their future pension debt will be.</p><p>The number pension funds use to predict their future financial condition is called a &ldquo;discount rate.&rdquo; Right now, Illinois&rsquo; five state pension funds assume those investments will bring in 7 percent to 8 percent a year. Many pension funds in Illinois have hit or exceeded that mark when returns are averaged over the last 30 years.</p><p>But economists such as Brown <a href="about:blank">argue</a> that assumption is too optimistic, regardless of what happened in the past.</p><p>&ldquo;If I go to Las Vegas, and I bet my house, and I actually win, it doesn&rsquo;t mean that it was a smart thing to go to Las Vegas and gamble my house, because I could have just as easily lost,&rdquo; Brown said.</p><p>Brown said a safer rate of return would be around 4 percent, and some economists have said it should be even lower. But there is a more fundamental issue, he said. Because public pensions, unlike 401(k) plans, are supposed to be guaranteed payments to workers, pension funds should not be using something as unpredictable as investment returns to discount what they will owe.</p><p>&ldquo;Whether you invest the money...in Beanie Babies, or whether you invest it in stocks, or whether you put it under your mattress, doesn&rsquo;t affect how much we owe,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;And the same thing is here. They&rsquo;re really separate decisions.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The &lsquo;reality&rsquo; of public pensions</strong></p><p>Brown&rsquo;s pitch of new pension math has not gone over well with many pension fund leaders.</p><p>&ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve just described is pure finance theory,&rdquo; said Keith Brainard, director of research at the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, which represents public pension leaders nationwide. &ldquo;However, public pension plans are not operating in a world of theory.&rdquo;</p><p>Brainard has been a <a href="http://www.nasra.org/content.asp?contentid=133">vocal critic</a> of the more conservative math that economists such as Brown are advocating. He points out that the funds&rsquo; financial predictions are not simply based on past investments, but also on what they think will happen in the future with interest rates, inflation, and the performance of a wide range of assets.</p><p>And he sees an agenda behind some financial economists&rsquo; estimates, which would make America&rsquo;s public pension problems seem so bad as to be almost unsolvable, absent huge tax hikes or deep budget cuts.</p><p>&ldquo;It would make the cost of providing that benefit so prohibitive that state legislatures and city councils by and large would be forced to close those pension plans,&rdquo; Brainard said.</p><p>Some economists have <a href="http://suaa.org/assets/pdf/AreStatePublicPensionsSustainable.JD%20Rauh.pdf">predicted</a> that very outcome. Brainard dismissed that notion as a scare tactic, often wielded by groups that believe public pensions are unsustainable, and that workers should be shifted over to 401(k)-style retirement plans.</p><p><strong>Illinois&rsquo; challenging pension math</strong></p><p>State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, was one of the architects of the state&rsquo;s new pension law. He said the type of pension math advocated by some financial economists would be particularly hard for Illinois&rsquo; cash-strapped state government.</p><p>Assuming less money from future investments would mean Illinois must kick in more money to pay for pensions -- perhaps too much money, if investment returns exceed the lowered expectations.</p><p>And Biss said Illinois simply cannot afford to be conservative with its math, but rather needs to try to guess its pension obligations right on the nose.</p><p>&ldquo;If we had enough money as a state to - in addition to funding schools and health care and human services and infrastructure - also create a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of coins for the pension systems to play in for no reason, I think that might be a cool tourist attraction,&rdquo; Biss said.</p><p>But not a practical one.</p><p>Still, for financial economists like Brown, this whole debate is about transparency. Brown does not advocate for the abolition of public sector defined benefit plans, but thinks they are not being honest with themselves&mdash;or with taxpayers.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re gonna have those discussions, regardless of where you come down, you need to be working with accurate numbers, &ldquo;Brown said. &ldquo;And you don&rsquo;t want to hide the true cost of things.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-pension-problem-how-big-it-really-109659 Study: Pension savings 'barely dent' Illinois fiscal woes http://www.wbez.org/news/study-pension-savings-barely-dent-illinois-fiscal-woes-109547 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/jimmywayne.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you think Illinois&rsquo; new pension law will fix the state&rsquo;s money troubles, think again.</p><p>Savings from the controversial pension overhaul will &ldquo;barely dent&rdquo; Illinois&rsquo; budget shortfalls over the next decade, according to a new study released Tuesday by researchers at the University of Illinois.</p><p>Even with the new law, Illinois&rsquo; budget shortfall is still on course to grow to $13 billion by 2025, according to estimates produced by U of I&rsquo;s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.</p><p>Chalk it up to state government&rsquo;s propensity to spend more money than it takes in, said Richard F. Dye, who co-authored the study.</p><p>&ldquo;It just doesn&rsquo;t add up,&rdquo; said Dye, an economics professor assigned to the institute. &ldquo;We like government services. We don&rsquo;t like paying taxes. We like politicians that tell us it&rsquo;s gonna be fine. But it ain&rsquo;t fine.&rdquo;</p><p>Backers say the pension law, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287">passed by lawmakers</a> and quickly signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in December, will save the state $160 billion over the next 30 years. Much of those savings comes from scaling back annual benefit increases for state workers, a provision organized labor groups say violates the <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con13.htm">state constitution&rsquo;s guarantee</a> that benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>But the law&rsquo;s savings are backloaded and will not be fully felt for years, Dye said, even if the law survives legal challenges.</p><p>Illinois would save between $1 billion and $1.5 billion each year for the next decade, according to his analysis. Even with those savings, the state would face a roughly $3 billion hole in 2015, which would swell to $13 billion in 2025.</p><p>Darkening the forecast is the scheduled 2015 expiration of the income tax hike -- aimed at closing the state&rsquo;s budget gaps -- that was <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/quinn-holds-income-tax-increase">championed by Quinn</a> and enacted in <a href="http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/story/illinois-legislature-approves-major-tax-increases">2011</a>. That will mean less money to the state starting next year, unless that law is extended.</p><p>But even if lawmakers do continue the increased tax rate beyond 2015, things do not get much sunnier, Dye said. That would still leave Illinois on track to have its deficit grow to $5.5 billion in 2025.</p><p>&ldquo;We are spending beyond our means,&rdquo; Dye said. &ldquo;And, you know, greater cuts in education or social services are on the way. It&rsquo;s just not sustainable.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 Jan 2014 00:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-pension-savings-barely-dent-illinois-fiscal-woes-109547 New report shows Illinois' finances could go from bad to worse http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-shows-illinois-finances-could-go-bad-worse-105715 <p><p>A new report projects Illinois&rsquo; state budget will go from bad to worse if legislators don&rsquo;t address some key issues. If things stay as they are, Illinois can expect to see more money devoted to rising pension costs and more bills go unpaid, according to a new report by The Civic Federation, a financial watchdog group.</p><p>The report says pension contributions are eating up money for other essential government programs and will go from $5 billion this fiscal year to $7 billion five years from now.</p><p>&ldquo;Illinois is in a horrible financial situation,&rdquo; said The Civic Federation&rsquo;s Laurence Msall. &ldquo;It is continuing to get worse and we&rsquo;re at the breaking point where core government services will not be able to be funded if we are going to maintain the existing pension structure.&rdquo;</p><p>Legislative leaders have not been able to agree on the best way to pay for state employees&rsquo; pensions. They have disagreed on everything from which plan is considered to save the most money, to the legality of certain proposals, since the state constitution says a pension cannot be &ldquo;diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>The Civic Federation&rsquo;s report says another factor why the state is expected to continue to struggle financially is the personal income tax rate. Gov. Quinn raised it from three percent to five percent two years ago, but the rate is scheduled to go down in 2015. Corporate taxes were also raised to seven percent. Those are also scheduled to be cut in 2015.</p><p>The decision to keep the income tax rate where it is or cut it is expected to be a big part of next year&rsquo;s governor&rsquo;s race.</p><p>&ldquo;We might not be able to make it to 2015 if the state doesn&rsquo;t address the pension crisis and reduce that $97 billion in unfunded liability,&rdquo; Msall said.</p><p>Msall&rsquo;s report also details the consequences of the state&rsquo;s financial problems. Illinois is expected to have a backlog of unpaid bills owed to vendors of $21.7 billion in five years if the pensions stay where they are and the tax rates are cut. The state has $7.8 billion in unpaid bills in fiscal year 2013.</p><p>Quinn is scheduled to give his budget address next week.</p></p> Mon, 25 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-report-shows-illinois-finances-could-go-bad-worse-105715 All Kids health program set to drop thousands soon http://www.wbez.org/news/all-kids-health-program-set-drop-thousands-soon-98137 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS5374_photo-scr_1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Time is running out for approximately 4,000 Illinois children who've been covered by <a href="http://www.allkidscovered.com/">Illinois’ All Kids Medicaid program</a>. On July 1, they won't meet the latest eligibility guidelines. The program's biggest supporters hope to reverse the decision, but Illinois is facing a budget crisis and lawmakers are considering massive Medicaid reform to make ends meet.</p><p>The Wright household is wrapping up dinner this weekday night.&nbsp;Vinita Wright cooked fried rice and husband Jim rinses bowls as he loads the dishwasher.</p><p>The couple has guardianship over Sara Opsenica, the daughter of a family friend. Sara’s a high school freshman diagnosed with cancer, specifically, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.&nbsp;Vinita shows me a bag of liquid Sara gets hooked up to overnight.</p><p>VINITA WRIGHT: This is nutrition. We call it TPN. I don’t know what that means. But it’s basically nutrition. There are lipids in it, that’s why it’s white. it’s a fatty substance.</p><p>Sara’s prescriptions, hospital visits, chemotherapy have all been paid for underAll Kids. Sara was diagnosed last fall but had been on All Kids for several years. Sara’s father had been unemployed but he’s now a shuttle bus airport driver, and his health insurance coverage is haphazard; he'll be off it a while, then he’ll have coverage, only to be off again. The family says&nbsp;All Kids has been a relief.</p><div class="mediaelement-audio"><audio class="mediaelement-formatter-identified-1334268448-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/AfternoonShift_20120412_AllKids.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>SARA OPSENICA: My dad doesn’t make a lot of money. We just have Social Security because my mom passed away. The All Kids have paid for everything. I don’t think - we have a small co-pay of my prescriptions but I don’t think my dad has gotten any hospital bills.</p><p>But things will likely change for Sara because&nbsp;Illinois is making new rules about who can be on All Kids. Families that make 300 percent above the poverty level are getting kicked off. That means the cut-off is about $60,000 for a family of four. President Barack Obama’s health care plan would cover kids like Sara, but not until 2014, and only if the law survives a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court.</p><p>STEPHANIE ALTMAN: It’s not a lot of of people when you think all the people in Illinois, but it is a group of children who generally can’t get insurance any other way.</p><p>Stephanie Altman directs programs and policy at a non-profit group called Health and Disability Advocates. She worries what will happen to the 4,300 kids after July 1.</p><p>STEPHANIE ALTMAN: The families are working class and working at jobs where health insurance is not offered and the family is kind of living by the rules and doing all the right things and has too much money for Medicaid.</p><p>Illinois spends about $14 billion on Medicaid, and All Kids accounts for about $75 million of that. But the program is in trouble in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn says the state needs to balance the budget, so he wants to cut Medicaid by $2.7 billion.</p><p>There’s some legislative support for shaving the state's Medicaid spending. Here’s state Senator Matt Murphy, a Republican from Palatine.</p><p>MURPHY: Illinois right now is in the unique situation of having to cut the largest percentage of their Medicaid overall budget than any state in the country. So we’re going to have to make difficult choices within our Medicaid program and prioritize for whom those dollars should be spent.</p><p>Illinois lawmakers are working on Medicaid reform this spring. One idea on the table is to keep All Kids as it is for two more years, until the National Health Care Act kicks in. State Senator Heather Steans is a Democrat from Chicago who supports an extension.</p><p>STEANS: You know in the long run it makes a lot more economical sense as well as much better health outcomes to get people in and seeing the doctor regularly, get them their immunizations, make sure they’re doing all their well visits that they can so people are not ending in much more expensive care situations.</p><p>Policymakers say the worst case scenario is that families will skip giving medicine to their kids, and those kids will end up in emergency rooms.</p><p>Back in Chicago’s West Chesterfield neighborhood, Vinita Wright is considering what will happen to Sara Opsenica, the girl in her care. Vinita says Sara’s chemo treatment should last another 16 months, but All Kids runs out in less than three.</p><p>VINITA WRIGHT: There’s so much stress connected to this cancer business...to not have to deal with a whole other several layers of stress having to do with which bill do we attempt to pay first.</p><p>Sara’s family is seeking alternatives, hoping maybe another agency can step in to pay the bills.<br>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 12:43:36 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/all-kids-health-program-set-drop-thousands-soon-98137 Poor Pat Quinn: Are you ready for your legacy? http://www.wbez.org/blog/justin-kaufmann/2011-06-01/poor-pat-quinn-are-you-ready-your-legacy-87275 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-01/AP110318141204.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Yay. New budget. Yay. New casino in Chicago. Yay. Quinn has 60 days to slow this story to a crawl, giving more and more media outlets the chance to speculate on what is next. Yay.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" height="436" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-01/AP110318141204.jpg" title="" width="512"></p><p>Poor Pat Quinn. Remember when his job was all about walking across the state to raise awareness for health care? Or telling us the dangers of household cleaners?</p><p>The one-time liberal crusader is now faced with the unthinkable: Approving a casino in Chicago. And not to mention approving a budget that will short-change education and social services. All that adds up to a legacy, gov'nor. It will definitely be historic and will tie Governor Quinn's name to gambling forever. All this while his <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/blagojevich-denies-he-used-state-action-force-donations-87173">former boss tells his life story</a> in Chicago.</p><p>And did you see this <a href="http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-chicago-casino-bill-advances-in-senate-20110531,0,891826.story">front page picture of State Senator Terry Link</a>?</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" height="225" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-01/trib-link.jpg" title="" width="400"></p><p style="text-align: center;">"YES. YESSSSS. YESSSSSS!!!!! YESSSSSSSSSS VICTORY IS OURS!!!!! YESSSS, NOW LET"S DESTROY THE JEDI KNIGHTS!!!!! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS."</p><p><strong>B story</strong>: <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chibrknews-daley-joining-big-chicago-law-firm-20110601,0,5866658.story">Daley joined a law firm</a>. Not just any law firm, but the law firm that brokered the infamous parking meter deal. C'mon Rich. Seriously? Were you that hard up for work that you took the only offer on the table? This does nothing for your reputation.</p><p>But this is the way of the world of Chicago politics. Once you serve the public, you serve the corporations who want to benefit from the public. Daley says he won't have anything to do with city contracts, but that certainly woulnd't stop him from saying to colleagues, "Oh, that contract? Yeah, just call my buddy Jimmy..."</p><p><strong>C story</strong>: It's sort of like when an employer cuts a bunch of jobs and then when the economy turns around, they still don't fill those jobs. That's what it's like, <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/5700733-417/chicago-cancels-july-4-fireworks-leaves-shows-to-navy-pier.html">these 4th of July fireworks</a>. You are ruining the sacred ritual of drunk teenagers who come out in the cover of darkness to watch pretty fire.</p><p>Who wins? Lollapalooza. They get the runoff of drunk teens, looking for that one summer trip on the Metra.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Weather</strong>: I missed the news cycle on Monday, but caught up with <a href="http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/05/31/emanuel-heat-related-illness-forced-north-avenue-beach-shutdown/">Emanuel's presser about the closing of North Avenue Beach on Memorial Day</a>. Too much heat, he said. The Tribune has an <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/videobeta/d140e6f1-9168-43e0-aafa-3a0c26d8a692/News/North-Avenue-Beach-The-morning-after">awesome next morning video</a>, right out of a zombie movie. But in the end, was the unusual closing really about too much heat? Or <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/sneed/5694076-452/did-street-gang-activity-really-close-north-ave.-beach">was it about gangs</a>?</p><p><strong>Sports</strong>: Last night, the NBA Finals began with a Game 1 win for the Miami Heat. I watched the 4th quarter and during a timeout, noticed a big celebrity sitting courtside. His name is Julius Peppers and he plays defensive line for the Chicago Bears. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Peppers was spotted sitting courtside with a Chicago White Sox hat on. I gave him mad props for supporting the Chicago team. But now, I'm not so sure. Is it possible that <a href="http://mvn.com/2011/04/05/photo-of-the-day-julius-peppers-beaching-it-with-his-girlfriend/">Peppers is a Heat fan</a>? And if that's the case, should the Bears just cut him outright? Forget what I said earlier about how great he is on the football field, what I mean to say is that he is lazy, unproductive and a liability.</p><p>Because of this betrayal, I hope football never comes back.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 01 Jun 2011 14:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/justin-kaufmann/2011-06-01/poor-pat-quinn-are-you-ready-your-legacy-87275