Pension “news”

We knew what was coming when we got a call last week from the Tribune’s reporter in charge of executing the mission of the paper’s editorial board — to strip public employees of their pensions.

Because of our history, we decided to send a statement on IEA’s pension policy, rather than give an interview. You can read President Swanson’s statement here.

We thought it odd that our decision to reply in writing didn’t result in some protest. We’ve only done this in one other case.

But it now makes sense. Our involvement wasn’t really necessary to the story, which, it appears, was written long before we were contacted.

Wednesday’s front-page NEWS story, Illinois teacher pension system nearly $40 billion in the hole, states that the latest figures indicate that the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) is 48.4 percent funded.

That’s very low. But it’s not really what you would call “front-page news;” everyone knows TRS is underfunded. The state has underfunded pensions for three decades. But all bad news about pensions warrants front-page coverage by a paper whose dog was apparently run over by a public pension recipient. (Read the TRS response)

What is interesting is some of the language in the “news story”

“They (educators) blame their retirement system’s financial hole on the state, for failing to make all payments into government pension systems.”

“To be sure, districts have contributed to the rising costs of pensions.”

Now, what if we take those two thoughts and construct two indisputably truthful statements?

To be sure, the state has contributed to the financial hole by consistently failing to make its payments into the pension systems.

Some (legislators) blame school districts for contributing to the rising costs of pensions.

You see what happened there? The paper’s version casts doubt on the claims of TRS annuitants, even though it is absolutely true that the state’s failure to meet its obligations has made TRS’ funding level an issue.

The front-page placement coincides with the launch of a radio attack ad by an anti-pension group with the same goals as the Tribune’s editorial board. The ad is funded by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which includes on its board at least two former top Tribune executives.

There couldn’t be a connection. After all, we’ve been told repeatedly that the news and the editorial departments are completely independent of each other.

So it must be a coincidence. Right?