By Scott Reeder | Special to Watchdog.org
“We play the Star-Spangled Banner before every game. You want us to pay taxes, too?”
—Bill Veeck, former owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox
Quite a bit of fuss is being made about the spat between Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel about who should lead the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.
The authority is the governmental entity that owns the ballpark where the White Sox play and it assisted with the financing of Soldier Field, where the Bears compete. And there is perennial talk that it will be a player in the renovation – or ownership – of Wrigley Field.
But at this point that’s all it is – talk.
Instead of arguing over who should lead the authority, this question ought to be asked: Why should tax dollars be pouring into the coffers of the multi-millionaire team owners?
For 18 years, the White Sox didn’t pay a dime in rent to play at U.S. Cellular Field. Two years ago, they began paying the paltry annual sum of $1.5 million. To put that in perspective, White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy is paid $17 million.
The authority is the product of one of the most shameless sweetheart deals ever concocted in the Illinois statehouse.
And that is saying something.
Twenty-five years ago the Chicago White Sox threatened to move to Tampa, Fla., unless the state built the team a new ballpark. Most lawmakers thought this was bad public policy – until Gov. James R. Thompson and House Speaker Michael Madigan, two of the best arm twisters in the business, did some persuading.
I was in the House chamber reporting at the time when lawmakers sang “Nah Nah Nah Hey Hey Hey Goodbye” as a lopsided vote against the deal appeared on the electronic voting board.
Instead of counting the votes, the speaker left the roll call open as Thompson walked from desk to desk of lawmakers voting “no” and “persuaded” them to change their minds.
In the quarter century that has passed since that night, many other corporations have hit subsidy homeruns playing the “I’m moving game.”
Whether it’s Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or the White Sox, Illinois shouldn’t capitulate to threats or resort to special deals while most businesses are left warming the bench without any special advantages.
TOUGHEST JOB IN TOWN
Teacher’s Retirement System Executive Director Dick Ingram must have a bit of empathy for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel right now.
While still cruising its victory lap following the Chicago teachers strike, the Illinois Federation of Teachers has taken aim at Ingram – for something he said to a reporter five months ago.
His sin in the eyes of the union?
He dared to talk about reining in the annual cost of living adjustments provided for retirees.
Here is what Crain’s reported:
“Richard Ingram, executive director of the underfunded Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System, said state politicians will have few other options if they want to make meaningful progress on closing the gap between promised pension benefits and the available funding.
‘Look at every other state that’s done pension reform – what have they done? They’ve changed the COLA because that’s where the cost is,’ Mr. Ingram said, noting that 25 percent of TRS payments are for cost-of-living increases on pension benefits.
Changes in cost-of-living adjustments could be targeted so they have the least impact on the oldest retirees and those with the lowest incomes, he said.
‘If that is where we need to go in Illinois, then we can do it in a manner that is targeted and effective and protects those that need it the most and, at least to a large extent, get the job done,’ Mr. Ingram said.”
On Thursday, IFT president Dan Montgomery demanded Ingram’s resignation.
It seems odd to be demanding someone quit for expressing an opinion.
After all, aren’t educators supposed to be all about promoting dialog and encouraging debate?
The larger Illinois Education Association disagreed with the IFT saying the matter should be handled through established channels through the TRS board.
Why the disparity between the two unions?
The IFT may be the big shots in Chicago Public Schools, but on the TRS board they have little clout.
The TRS board consists of six members appointed by the governor, four members elected by teachers and two other members elected by retirees. It is then chaired by the Superintendent of the State Board of Education.
All of the elected members of the TRS board are IEA members.
No wonder the IFT president is the one hollering and the IEA is saying it “should be handled through established channels through the TRS board.”
In case you are under the illusion that these elected members are just ordinary teachers or retirees, think again. They consist of people like IEA President Cinda Klickna, IEA lawyer Bob Lyons, former Rockford teachers union president Molly Phalen.
TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek said Thursday night that Ingram is not going to resign.
“Difficult decisions have to be made and there is bound to be differences of opinion,” he said.
Scott Reeder is the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute and a senior contributing editor for Watchdog.org. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.