Cost of college, school lunches, pensions; Sen. Lightford hedges beautifully

— Oct 2113 gathering of eagles, Julian Middle School, concluded —

A panel of students were given the floor as yet another quizzer of the legislators. The meeting became a middle-school version of show and tell. The first question, a good one if not something for which the legislature has direct responsibility (did the students know that?), was about the high cost of college.

The Oak Park senator punted: Legislators are aware of the problem and are working on it.

Sen. Lightford referred to MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants, the state’s financial aid program for “neediest” students attending Illinois colleges, according to a state site, but not explaining that, assuming her audience recognized the term.

Rep. Lilly offered a remarkable claim: “I passed legislation for grants for junior college,” adding an equally remarkable suggestion: “I’d like to put on the table, [we should] get parents involved. We need to bring them to this room and ask them how to do it.”

But parents were in this room, so were their children, asking the legislators how to solve the problem. No one asked her what she had in mind, besides what they were doing then and there, including her fellow legislators, who no doubt knew her well enough to just let it go.

The next question, how improve school lunches, got the students some teacherly advice from Rep. Ford, a former teacher, he’d said earlier: “Form a student lunch committee. It will change things,” and from Sen. Lightford in a follow-up: “Draft legislation, if you will, changing, uh, the menu. Open dialog with the school administration.” All things considered, it was good advice from both.

A student asked about pension funds. They had been underfunded “the day [he] was born,” the Oak Park senator said. It was the most complicated problem” the state faced. Once again he noted “the crucial reform of 2010,” which he had said at the library three months earlier had “kind of solved” the problem but had been “grossly underreported,” he said, again with special mention of the Tribune as chief offender.

Rep. Ford, who had largely kept his counsel, called the problem “difficult to a degree,” but ruled out benefits reduction as unconstitutional (as so it was declared by the state supreme court some months later) “because it reduces [legislated] benefits” — which was the reasoning that prevailed within the Illinois Supreme Court.

Sen. Lightford declared it a moral issue. “I’m challenged,” she said, apparently meaning she couldn’t make up her mind, or so she said, carefully. “If a teacher after 25 to 30 years, retires, it’s totally wrong to [reduce] benefits.” Woman in audience, as if encouraging the preacher: “Right.”

Totally wrong, but she was “not for it . . . not against it,” having in mind “all who did their due diligence,” apparently meaning put in their time as employees, but note the newspeak, use of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t words and phrases.

The woman in the audience once more: “That’s right.”

Lightford made further extended comment, then struck a blow for reductions, sounding as if but not quite saying she had indeed made up her mind: “We’re talking about people’s livelihoods.”

The woman in the audience again: “That’s right.”

Lightford, continuing: “I have time” to plan, meaning her retirement, which she said was not expected for many years, but others do not. And finally, settling the matter: “I can’t give a yes or a no” to reducing pensions.

Her friend in the audience once more: “Thank you for that.

Lilly again had her dollop of wisdom: “Process is as important as the end itself.” She spoke with ands in air, causing mike-sputter: “So correctively, [sic] what can we do? We need to listen to one another.”

The woman in the audience said nothing.

“We are listening [paying attention] to state employees,” Lilly continued, finally seeming to embrace the unembraceable: “Someone will walk away with less,” adding in a massive hoping against hope, “they may have a better feeling toward our state.” Because they listened? Not clear.

Ford noted a possible upside to the pension cut. For someone on a fixed income “and working because they want to work,” he said, the outcome “might be good.” Congratulate that man for making the silk purse out of that sow’s ear.

In the nick of time. It was 9 pm. The meeting was over.

— End of Julian school forum — 

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