Sen. Don Harmon draws primary opponent tied to pension vote

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

When Don Harmon voted for pension reform last year he knew it would be a tough vote. It was and that vote has resulted in a primary challenge for Harmon as the Oak Park Democrat seeks a fourth term in the State Senate in next Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Harmon is being challenged by Bob Galhotra, a 47 year old assistant Cook County public defender who headed the public defenders union until last year. Galhotra, who lives in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago, said that the pension vote motivated him to make his first try for elective office.

"I'm running because I'm very disappointed about the direction the state is going in," Galhotra said. "I'm running because I became very upset about the way people were being scapegoated about the pension problem. It's not the people who are the participants in the pension funds who are the problem. It's people like Don Harmon and other people in the General Assembly who screwed it up for everybody."

Harmon (D-Oak Park) says that he knew his pension vote would be controversial but said that it was the right thing to do.

"We have an incredible burden on the state that we need to fix," Harmon said. "We need to put the state back on firm fiscal footing so that we can fulfill our promise to pay a pension to all the public employees to whom we've promised pensions and still provide the base level of government that people expect from the state. It was the most difficult and painful vote I have cast in my time in Springfield, but it was necessary."

Galhotra also criticizes Harmon for sponsoring a bill that would allow psychologists to prescribe drugs.

He rejects Harmon's argument that some people with mental problems can't get necessary medication because they do not have access to psychiatrists.

"It's not a situation where there's not enough psychiatrists," Galhotra said. "It's really a situation where the pharmaceutical companies, the pharmacists and the psychologists are basically lobbying him because they want to provide second class mental health care to these folks and it's not right. I've never had a client come up to me and say I didn't have my medication because I don't have a psychiatrist. These people, they have prescriptions; they just don't have the money to get the prescriptions filled."

Harmon says that safeguards are built into his bill which has passed the state senate and is awaiting action in the House. He says psychologists would have to obtain a master's degree in pharmacology and have a contractual collaborative arrangement with a medical doctor before being allowed to prescribe drugs.

Galhotra also opposes a Harmon bill that would force businesses to post a guns welcome sign if they wish to permit people to enter their premises under Illinois' new concealed carry law. Galhotra favors the current approach of posting no guns signs on public buildings and other places where guns are not allowed.

But Harmon said that the presumption should be that guns are not allowed unless a sign specifically says otherwise.

"I just think you shouldn't carry a gun on to someone else's property without their permission so if you're a business and welcome people who carry concealed weapons you should post a sign saying your weapons are welcome, but the presumption should be you shouldn't carry a weapon on to someone else's property without their permission" Harmon said.

Harmon has a huge financial advantage in the race in the 39th District which ranges from the Austin neighborhood in Chicago northwest into DuPage County as far as Wood Dale.

State records show that Galhotra's only donation of more than $1,000 was a $4,000 contribution from his parents.

But Harmon said that he isn't taking anything for granted since the pension vote angered many teachers and other public employees who are part of the Democratic base.

"The pension vote in particular is one that has caused a lot of grief and I understand that," Harmon said. "Because of that, as much as anything, I've taken this campaign very, very seriously."

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Goofy to vote for pension funding from OP  

Posted: March 17th, 2014 10:14 PM

1st time ever pulling a R ballot in 35 years of voting. The message for a strong IL boils down to Pay Me First, hope it all works out for you. I don't have a voting block speaking for my family. So much of the rhetoric is insulting. I understand the teacher union is selling a crossover vote to R too . so which is it? I need to vote for myself first.

Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: March 14th, 2014 1:09 PM

@CPA from Oak Park FACTS. The pub you site (complete URL does not back you up. Go to page 111 and you will see that the average monthly payment for ALL retired teachers with 30-34 years of service is $5,219. Find it interesting you point out lower rates for people with less than 25 years of service. Those pensions should be lower. I plan to work at least 45 years before tapping my 401K and whatever is left in SS.


Posted: March 13th, 2014 4:21 PM

Wow, some choice on this one. You've got an anti-business pro-excess government typical Crook Country Democrat and the guy whose parents are bankrolling him.

CPA from Just the Facts  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 4:15 PM

The teachers contributed their 10 percent of pay every year. The 8 percent required by the state was not placed in the pension fund. The state placed zero percent in the pension fund. Harmon voted to cut the teachers pension by one third. Harmon did not vote to cut his own pension. Teachers do not get social security. Harmon gets social security. Any teacher who votes for Harmon is voting to cut their paltry pension.


Posted: March 13th, 2014 2:22 PM

Here's a fact from the TRS doc you referenced: Average annual benefit for retired members in 2012 is $48K. My post below details all the problems hidden within that #. So it seems as though the TRS can't even get their biased message together properly. But TRS did take a page from the 1%'ers...this document is as one-sided and misleading as anything coming out of Wall Street.

CPA from Oak Park FACTS  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 1:13 PM

Teachers retired in the years 2004 -2009 1,282 retired Six to Ten Years of Service Average current benefit $669 monthly 1,286 retired Eleven to Fifteen Years of Service Average current benefit $1,312 monthly 1,241 retired Sixteen to Twenty Years of Service Average current benefit $2,172 monthly 2,504 retired Twenty to Twenty Five Years of Service Average current benefit $ 3,003 monthly You must be getting your FACTS from the one percent.

Brain surgeon  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 11:25 AM

As a brain surgeon I can tell you for a fact that CPA- that is if CPA is a CPA heshe must go back to CPA school.


Posted: March 13th, 2014 11:23 AM

@CPA-The facts: The avg teacher pension payment is $46K/yr. This is cited in numerous sources. 2nd: That $46K figure is misleadingly low an includes people who did not work full careers as IL public school teachers. 3rd: Avg pension payment includes teachers who retired decades ago. The pension benefits earned by a teacher who retired in 1994 has no bearing on what teachers who retire this year will collect. And we haven't even talked about the generous and unsustainable health care benefits.

CPA from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 10:13 AM

Screw all the desperate poor old teachers because OPRF gamed the system a few years ago for the connected.. Pensions have already been cut more than half for employees hired after 2010. You will not be happy until all the old people are living on lower Wacker.

Duplicitous from OP  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 8:00 AM

iI didn't make up any facts. I think you should paint the whole picture. People working less than 10 years qualify for a pension. That's part of your average. I was talking about OP since this is an OP paper. Many retirees do get free insurance, our OP teachers do. I could include RF but their numbers are lower. They didn't spike salaries 40% in the last 2 working years to add to the pension crisis. Are those the people you want me to stand up for?


Posted: March 13th, 2014 7:29 AM

Taxpayer money pays a teachers salary, part of which goes towards pension and towards union dues. It is the taxpayers right to stop funding the pension and the unions. It's the politicians job to stop these payments. They need to do it across the board and eliminate all public pensions and all public unions.

CPA from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2014 1:25 AM

15K AVERAGE IL teacher pension is a fact. OK make up your own facts. Teachers do not get social security and free insurance. OK make up your own facts. Please do not let the FACTS get in the way. The way you see it, teachers are retiring in their fifties at 80K. How about some FACTS? How may .. when .. where? Go vote for Don Harmon and feel good about screwing a teacher into welfare and MEDICADE.

Duplicitous from Oak park  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 9:17 PM

2 career teachers will get SS and a pension. Is a 15k average pension the average pension for a 30 year FT employee? that would be shameful and everyone could get behind that. No one gets behind an 80 k retirement at 56 unless your in the club.


Posted: March 12th, 2014 9:14 PM

@CPA-Why did I use $100K in my example? Because that is the avg salary of all teachers/staff at OPFRHS who receive pensions (it's posted online). That includes some part-timers that brings that # down even lower. But I have a solution you would like. How about we cap pension payouts at $60K regardless of salary? Then we take excess contributions (from the well paid teachers/principals) and that money shores up the fund for the low income teachers. It is a union after all, isn't it?

Duplicitous from OP  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 8:49 PM

10 yrs and less needed for pension. Be truthful. What is the average cook county pension for 25 years of service? You want to lead people to believe our 30 yr workers are getting by on 15k (free medical, no income tax, whoops)Are there any ethics teachers that can frame it better?

Duplicitous from Oak park.  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 8:30 PM

Talk Oak Park please. What is the average op teacher pension for full time 30 year workers. Please let's not trot out the part time music teacher again.

CPA from Oak Park  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 8:22 PM

Average IL teachers pension is 15K per year. No Social Security. Why did the law ignore those low income old folks? Because that is where the money is. The abusers you mention are there for sure but that is not the story. The story is the low paid teacher gets screwed. Don Harmon stole these teachers retirement. Go powder your nose and tell yourself you are smart and kind. Then vote for Harmon.

Duplicitous from oak park  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 5:58 PM

CPA. -what's paltry? We should keep it local. To be honest some teachers had the contribution made for them. But back to OP.... Who made the contribution for the 40% salary spikes we added to the kitty. You realize just that paltry bump created an addition 600k in retirement income for our OP staffers retiring at 58? I know you are familiar as you trotted out the talking points.


Posted: March 12th, 2014 4:30 PM

@CPA-Take the following example. 2 individuals, private vs union, both make avg $100K upon retirement, forget COLA. Union guy gets 75% of his final salary for that 18% investment in his pension. Private guy gets around 32% of his final salary for his 12.5% SS. (SS calculation is complicated but in this case generous). That's 2.5x less than union guy. So for private guy to equal union guy, you have to raise FICA from 6.2 to 15%...50% more than union guy contributes. Just to be on even ground.

CPA from Oak Park  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 2:57 PM

The teachers contributed their 10 percent of pay every year. The 8 percent required by the state was not placed in the pension fund. The state placed zero percent in the pension fund. Harmon voted to cut the teachers pension by one third. Harmon did not vote to cut his own pension. Teachers do not get social security. Harmon gets social security. Any teacher who votes for Harmon is voting to cut their paltry pension.


Posted: March 12th, 2014 12:37 PM

Galhotra is upset because of "the way people were being scapegoated about the pension problem." Yet he expects the private sector taxpayer to be the scapegoat to fill in the deficit. We're on the hook to support a deeply flawed pension system, one in which the avg pensioner withdraws far more than is earned or contributed on their behalf. Any solution for that little tidbit, Bob? What can we expect a former president of public defenders union AFSCME Local 3315 other than more union bias?

Bob Haisman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 12th, 2014 9:16 AM

I'm a teacher. I'm a voter in Senator Harmon's Senate District. Senator Harmon is an outstanding voice for progressive issues in the General Assembly. He is the "perfect Senator to represent Oak Park! I was an advocate for My Teacher Pension. It is an important issue to me. I Believe Senator Harmon helped ring the two sides together (President Cullerton and Teacher Unions)....but the compromise Cullerton/Union bill never gained traction and was never called to a vote in the house. I mention all that to underline the Pension Issue was never an easy one, never white or black but shades of grey. I disagreed with Harmon's Vote ....but I agree with his Progressive Positions so deeply -- it out weights his pension vote for me! Bob Haisman

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