Taxpayers United of America’s (TUA) Founder and President, Jim Tobin, leading The Chicago Tax Revolt of 1977 was discussed by Chicago Tribune.
There’s a simmering resentment in Illinois and America. Sometimes it boils over, and you see anger at Donald Trump rallies. Mostly, though, you see resigned frustration in the faces of Chicago teachers walking off their jobs. There’s a sense of defeat among the South Side Oreo cookie-makers protesting at the Kenilworth home of the Nabisco CEO.
They’re the working chumps. They believed if you worked hard all your life you’d be able to enjoy a few years of happy retirement with your grandchildren. They didn’t count on having to pay $300,000 annual pensions for public workers who enjoy a slightly more comfortable retirement.
I’m not sure how old I was when I started working, but I think I was about 8. My first job was selling tomatoes in the neighborhood for nickels and dimes. Our parents raised 12 kids and Dad grew up on a farm in Michigan. We had a huge garden in our west suburban backyard. Dad would freeze it in the winter so my brothers could play hockey.
Mom and Dad would take us up to Michigan, where we’d pick green beans, blueberries, strawberries, apples, pears or whatever fruit or vegetable was in season. Then they’d can them or make preserves at home later. If the weather was good, we’d stop at the beach when the picking was done.
Sometimes we’d stop at Dairy Queen for a treat. Sometimes we wouldn’t, and we were told it was because we’d misbehaved. Years later they told us that some days they just didn’t have the money to buy us 35-cent cones.
If our parents ran our family like the state runs our government, we’d have had ice cream every day and just put it on the credit card.
My first real job was at 14 as a dishwasher in a Poppin’ Fresh Pies restaurant. You had to be 16 to work, but I took my birth certificate to the library, made a copy, and used Liquid Paper and a typewriter to change a 5 to a 3 and make me two years older so I could work.
Restaurants are a good place for young men with healthy appetites to work, and through high school and college, I worked as a cook at Wolf’s Head Inn in Indian Head Park and later as a waiter at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Summit.
When I graduated from college with a journalism degree I worked as a reporter for my hometown weekly newspaper, The LaGrange Sun. The paper closed a few years later, and back then the best offer I could get as a reporter was $300 a week, about $15,000 a year. It wasn’t enough, so I spent the 1990s working concrete.
To this day, every morning when I wake up, the first thought as I open my eyes is, “Thank God I don’t have to do concrete today.”
Concrete work is hard, possibly the hardest of the trades, though roofers don’t have it much better. Painters have it easiest. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians — they all get to walk on solid ground and stay clean for the most part.
Concrete guys are down in the mud, setting forms for footings and foundations upon which the rest of the house is built. The mud gets everywhere — all over your clothes, in your vehicle, in your home. There are a few nice days where you’re actually glad you get to work outside, but most of the time it’s too hot or too cold, too windy, too wet or too dry, which makes the ground too hard to dig.
After concrete, I got back into newspapers and later, public relations. Now, I’m back in newspapers. Except for a few short periods as a freelancer, I’ve been working almost every day for about 35 years.
I get upset when public servants are awarded overly generous retirement benefits. I don’t necessarily want to vilify the individuals; it’s the system that’s broken. I’m mad at the state leadership that does nothing to fix it.
This is a completely normal reaction. Most honest, hard-working people believe that others shouldn’t get something for nothing. In 1976, while I was walking the neighborhood selling tomatoes from a basket, Ronald Reagan was pounding the campaign trail with a story about Chicago’s “welfare queen.”
Reagan never mentioned her by name, but she was real. Her name was Linda Taylor, but she had 33 aliases. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter George Bliss of the Chicago Tribune coined the term “welfare queen” to describe how she committed fraud on a grand scale, driving a Cadillac to the welfare office to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.
People were outraged then, and would audibly gasp at campaign rallies when Reagan said how much she made. Now we’ve legalized and systematized a different kind of fraud on a magnificent scale, and taxpayers are funding outrageous benefits for a privileged class of public workers.
Forty years ago, some people in Illinois got really mad and said enough is enough. The Chicago Tax Revolt of 1977 started in the northern suburbs of Cook County when property taxes skyrocketed following a quadrennial reassessment. Protesters were led by James Tobin, a libertarian who founded Taxpayers United of America. A year later, Howard Jarvis made the cover of Time magazine for leading the Prop 13 property tax revolt in California.
I’m angry, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the executive, legislative and judicial branches to solve the state’s financial crisis. I equally blame political party leadership, legislators, governors past and present, unions, lobbyists and others for the gridlock and deficit spending.
As for the present state of the state, my personal theory is House Speaker Michael Madigan doesn’t care how bad things get in Illinois. I think he’ll hold on to power until his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, runs for governor in 2019, then he’ll step down.
Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t care if historically black Chicago State University shuts down. I think he’s outraged that half the $4 billion Illinois spent on higher education last year paid for employee retirement benefits. By his logic, state schools should close rather than continue the death spiral of deficit spending.
Working chumps like me are left wondering, where’s the outrage? Maybe we need a “pension king,” someone who personifies the egregious abuses of the state benefits system. Maybe that person becomes a lightning rod for criticism and the subject of so much public anger that state leaders are finally forced to do something about the growing legion of retirees collecting six-figure pensions.