Statehouse Insider: So much for the urgency to enact pension reform – Batavia, IL – Batavia Republican

*That supposed sense of urgency about quickly enacting pension reforms seems to be slipping away.

When lawmakers failed to enact pension reforms before adjourning at the end of May, Gov. PAT QUINN opted not to immediately call them back into session. Rather, Quinn said he would hold discussions with the four legislative leaders to work out an agreement and then call the General Assembly back to deal with it.

What he emphasized over and over, though, was it had to be done quickly. No stalling, no dodging the issue. The bond-rating agencies were ready to swoop in and wreak further havoc on Illinois’ credit rating. Quinn talked about having something done before the new fiscal year started July 1.

Quinn and the leaders first got together June 6, just days after the session ended. They agreed to get more information about school finances since the major hang-up at this point is the idea of shifting teacher pension costs away from the state and onto local school districts.  Probably a good idea to know how much damage that might cause before you go ahead and do it.

It took a couple of weeks, but the information was compiled and the leaders convened again Thursday.  The upshot of that meeting was that the discussion should now cover the broader area of school-funding equality. Now they’re supposed to get together again in five weeks, when we’ll probably see some new angle that must the thoroughly explored before pension reforms can be tackled.

If they play their cards right, they can stretch pension reforms beyond the November election, which is what a whole lot of folks think was the object of this from the start.

nIn a way, the pension reform talks mirror the way the state got into this pension mess to begin with.

There is no disagreement that a major reason for the state’s pension problems is that the state didn’t put enough money into the systems, a practice that’s gone on through multiple governors over many years.

Instead, money that could have gone to pensions was used to pay for other state operations. That allowed lawmakers to avoid making tough decisions about cutting other programs.

While the legislative leaders can point fingers at each other (and they are) about who is to blame for the impasse over pension reform, and why, there’s no denying that as long as the impasse persists, they and their members are spared from having to make tough votes on changing pensions that are going to anger a lot of their constituents.  read more…

via Statehouse Insider: So much for the urgency to enact pension reform – Batavia, IL – Batavia Republican.

Wisconsin: Ex-police chief’s lawyer wants to leave case – TwinCities.com

Just four days before a jury trial is set to begin against the former Wheeler police chief accused of sexual contact with two teenage boys, his defense attorney has asked to withdraw from the case.

But Dunn County Judge Bill Stewart denied attorney Lester Liptak’s motion to stop representing former Wheeler Police Chief Gary L. Wayerski, noting Wayerski expressed confidence in Liptak.

Liptak filed a motion to withdraw his representation of the 56-year-old Wayerski on Friday, June 22, saying it had become apparent to him that Wayerski did not trust him.

Wayerski, of Menomonie, is charged with two counts of felony child enticement, two counts of exposing his genitals, two counts of exposing a child to harmful materials and two counts of causing a child older than 13 but younger than 18 to view or listen to sexual activity. Wayerski also faces eight counts of felony sexual assault of a child. The charges stem from incidents between March and July 2011.

In his motion, Liptak noted that Wayerski asked the investigator if Liptak was trustworthy. Liptak said he met with Wayerski on Thursday and Wayerski said he disagreed with a number of Liptak’s decisions.

“Ethically, I don’t think I can continue,” Liptak said in court Friday. “I think the bridge has been burned.”

Wayerski disagreed.

“I don’t feel it’s broken beyond repair,” he said. “(Liptak) has done a great job for me so far as I’m concerned.”

Jury selection for the three-day jury trial starts Tuesday.

A Dunn County jury will hear the case.

According to the criminal complaint in Dunn County:

Wayerski arrested two boys, ages 16 and 17, for breaking into a Wheeler church in March 2011. He showed the boys pornographic images and fondled them.

via Wisconsin: Ex-police chief’s lawyer wants to leave case – TwinCities.com.

Top 10 labor union woes

Taxpayers are waking up to the scam of public workers shaking down politicians for lucrative benefits, and leaving the tab for future generations. The jig is up, as this list of labor woes makes clear.

1. Wisconsin Waterloo

The recall attempt of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker  was billed as an epic showdown between public-sector unions and their chief antagonist. It turned out to be a classic blowout as Walker cruised to victory even after labor pulled out all the stops mobilizing an army of union volunteers trying to save their benefits. Walker said his victory was labor’s Waterloo, and it sends a powerful message to other elected officials that government unions can be beaten.

2. San Jose smack down

Even in liberal San Jose, Calif., government workers were rebuffed as voters overwhelmingly passed with some 70 percent support a measure limiting benefits for public employees. Some government employees in the Silicon Valley city could retire after 30 years and receive 90 percent of their salaries for the rest of their life. Unions have already gone to court to overturn the measure, which requires that government workers contribute something to their pensions.

3. San Diego sanity

Voters in San Diego also passed a measure curtailing public employee benefits. The initiative, which turns city pensions into 401 (k) style plans, passed with two-thirds support. San Diego’s budget was under so much pressure that the city would rotate closing different firehouses on a daily basis to save money.

4. Obama AWOL

When the President of the United States  is too busy to help his closest allies in their critical struggles, you know you are fighting a losing battle. Despite Big Labor’s support in getting him elected in 2008, President Obama couldn’t be bothered with the Wisconsin recall battle, a sure sign it was a lost cause.

5. Romney gains

Mitt Romney  represents all that Big Labor hates: a venture capitalist who opposed the auto bailout. How surprising then, that polls show Romney gaining support in union households and that the Walker recall victory has tilted Wisconsin into a battleground state for the presidential race.

6. Union members flee 

One of the reforms initiated by Scott Walker allowed government workers to have the option of leaving the union and keeping their monthly dues. Given freedom of choice, more than 30,000 public union members dropped out of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, cutting its membership nearly in half.

7. Deficit fixed after union reform 

One reason that Scott Walker cruised to victory in the recall battle was because he was able to point to substantial progress in dealing with Wisconsin’s fiscal problems. Walker was able to close a state budget shortfall of $3.6 billion largely through savings made by the union reforms that prompted the recall effort. A study by Suffolk University showed the reforms saved the state $1 billion.

8. Taxes drop after union reforms 

Not only was Wisconsin’s budget shortfall cut, but it was done without raising taxes. In fact, property taxes on homes fell for the first time in the state in more than a decade following Walker’s public-sector union reforms. Voters across the nation are taking notice that their hard-earned dollars have been subsidizing government worker’s excessive benefits and pensions.

9. Union-reform movement grows

Days after Walker’s recall victory, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said that public-employee unions should be abolished. “Government works better without them,” Daniels said on Fox News. “Voters are seeing the fundamental unfairness of government becoming its own special interest group, sitting on both sides of the table.”

10. Unpopularity grows

An annual Gallup showed that unions are close to the bottom on the list of which institutions Americans have confidence in, even trailing the banking industry. Some 42 percent want unions to have less power compared to only 25 percent that want them to have more. And with government workers compiling more than half of the union members nationwide, that number is likely to grow as taxpayers want to know why public servants get such a sweetheart deal.

via Top 10 labor union woes.

Ex-Tampa Bay area principal charged in fatal rampage; fired 5 years ago over drug arrest | StarTribune.com

LEALMAN, Fla. – After Anthony Giancola was arrested five years ago for buying crack cocaine at the Tampa Bay-area middle school that he oversaw as principal, he told reporters that he needed to make some changes.

“I need to get my life together, and then maybe from that other people will learn not to, you know, make the mistakes that I’ve made,” Giancola, who lost his job, told WFLA-TV in February 2007.

Now, the 45-year-old Giancola faces the possibility of life in prison after authorities say he went on a drug- or alcohol-induced rampage on Friday, stabbing several people — killing at least two — before driving his car into a crowded porch and brutally attacking a couple at a motel they ran.

“You’ll be very proud of me, I just killed 10 drug dealers,” Giancola told his mother afterward, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

The sheriff said Giancola was bloody and “apparently high on drugs, intoxicated.”

Giancola was taken into custody Friday afternoon and charged hours later with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported. Authorities said there were 11 victims in all, and several are being treated at area hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.

“This is the worst of the worst here, because this does appear to be a random crime at this point,” the sheriff said.

Capt. Sanfield Forseth of the Pinellas Park police said Friday evening that the suspect’s motive is not known, but said of the victims: “These people were not drug dealers” as far as police can tell.

The crime spree began shortly before 10:45 a.m. in Lealman, a small city in Pinellas County, about 20 miles west of Tampa.

That’s when Giancola went to a group home for the hearing impaired and stabbed four people, authorities said. Officials said Justin Lee Vand, 27, died at the scene, and Mary Anne Allis, 59, died at a nearby hospital. Injured were Danielle Whitney Gilbert, 25, and Janice Denise Rhoden, 44. Of the two wounded, one person was reported to be in serious condition. A child who lived there was not home at the time, said neighbors, who were stunned by the day’s events.

“It’s crazy,” sighed Ken Seidl, 52, who lives down the street from the group home. “There’s always problems in this neighborhood. Drugs, prostitution, but never (anything) this drastic.”

Pinellas County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cecelia Barreda said officers were still piecing together the timeline.

“It appears at this moment, this is all random,” Barreda said.

Shortly afterward, Giancola went to the Kenvins Motel in the nearby city of Pinellas Park, where he attacked the married couple who own the motel with a hammer, police say. Kanu and Indiranden Patel, both 57, were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The husband is in critical condition, officials said.

Around 11:30 a.m., investigators believe Giancola pulled up in front of a house in Pinellas Park and asked residents where he could find women. The residents told him to go away, and Giancola drove away angry. He soon returned and crashed his car into their porch, injuring three women and one man, police said. The women were taken to a nearby hospital, but the man refused treatment.

WFLA-TV reported that a witness jotted down the license plate of Giancola’s maroon Ford sedan.

Giancola’s vehicle also struck a 13-year-old boy on a bike, authorities said. The boy’s injuries were minor.

The boy, Kole Price, told The Tampa Bay Times that he was pedaling home after fishing that morning with his grandfather. The boy alleged that after the vehicle hit him, the driver intentionally ran into him again. The car backed up again and the boy hid behind a telephone pole and a Buddhist shrine that had been erected on the roadside.

“I think that guy was a nut job and he was like messed up or something,” the boy told WTVT-TV in Tampa.

The Times reported that Giancola’s mother and sister picked him up as he sat in his idling Ford outside the Egg Platter restaurant. They took him home, but he didn’t stay, so they called deputy sheriffs.

By that time, officers had spoken with victims who were able to communicate and had pieced together the name of the suspect, Barreda said. A police dog tracked Giancola to near a storage facility and that’s where he was arrested.

Giancola was first arrested in 2007. Authorities said he bought $20 of crack cocaine from an undercover police officer during the school day in his office at Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. Giancola eventually pleaded guilty to purchasing crack cocaine, possessing crack cocaine and possessing marijuana. Court records show he was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of probation.

A message left at a telephone listing for Giancola seeking comment from his family wasn’t immediately returned. It wasn’t clear if he had an attorney.  read more…

via Ex-Tampa Bay area principal charged in fatal rampage; fired 5 years ago over drug arrest | StarTribune.com.

Former principal charged in fatal Florida stabbings | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

LEALMAN, Fla. — A former Tampa Bay-area middle school principal who lost his job over a drug arrest five years ago went on a rampage Friday, stabbing several people — killing at least two — and then driving his car into a crowded porch before attacking two others at a motel, authorities said.

Anthony Giancola, 45, was taken into custody Friday afternoon and charged hours later with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported. Authorities said there were 11 victims in all, and several are being treated at area hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Giancola told his mother “that she would be very proud of him because he’d just killed 10 drug dealers.”

The crime spree began shortly before 11 a.m. in Lealman, a small city in Pinellas County, about 20 miles west of Tampa.

That’s when Giancola went to a group home for the hearing impaired, where authorities said he stabbed four people. Officials said Justin Lee Vand, 27, died at the scene, and Mary Anne Allis, 59, died at a nearby hospital. Injured were Danielle Whitney Gilbert, 25, and Janice Denise Rhoden, 44. Of the two wounded, one person was reported to be in serious condition. There was no immediate indication that the victims were involved in criminal activity. A child who lived there was not home at the time, said neighbors were stunned by the day’s events.

“It’s crazy,” sighed Ken Seidl, 52, who lives down the street from the group home. “There’s always problems in this neighborhood, drugs, prostitution. But never (anything) this drastic.”

Pinellas County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cecelia Barreda said officers are still piecing together the timeline.

“It appears at this moment, this is all random,” said Barreda, stressing that the details of the story could change throughout the evening.

However, she said, investigators believe that after the stabbings at about 11:30 a.m., Giancola pulled up in front of a house in the nearby city of Pinellas Park and asked residents where he could find women. The residents told him to go away, and Giancola drove away angry. He soon returned and crashed his car into their porch, injuring three women and one man, police said. The women were taken to a nearby hospital, but the man refused treatment.

Giancola also hit a 13-year-old boy on a bike as he was fleeing, officials said. The boy’s injuries were minor.

Soon after, investigators reported, Giancola went to the Kenvins Motel in Pinellas Park, where he attacked the married couple who own the motel with a hammer. Kanu and Indiranden Patel, both 57, were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The husband is in critical condition, officials said.

By that time, officers had spoken with victims who were able to communicate and had pieced together the name of the suspect, Barreda said. A police dog tracked Giancola to near a storage facility, and that’s where he was arrested.

Giancola was first arrested in 2007. Authorities said he bought $20 of crack cocaine from an undercover police officer during the school day in his office at Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. Giancola eventually pleaded guilty to purchasing crack cocaine, possessing crack cocaine and possessing marijuana. Court records show he was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of probation.

A message left at a telephone listing for Giancola seeking comment from his family wasn’t immediately returned. It wasn’t clear if he had an attorney.

The sheriff’s office said the Florida Highway Patrol was investigating the hit-and-run, and Pinellas Park police were investigating the motel attack. It wasn’t immediately clear if charges had been filed in either of those cases.

via Former principal charged in fatal Florida stabbings | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Public pension reform in California must be Democrats’ priority – Los Angeles Times

State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), left,… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — Democratic legislators read the polls. They heard the voters of San Jose and San Diego — San Jose, for crying out loud, a Democratic bastion.

They understand that voters everywhere are demanding public pension reform.

And they will deliver. They promise.

It’s just that it probably will not be before they start a monthlong recess July 3. Pencil in late August, just before they knock off for the year.

You might have thought there’d be a greater sense of urgency by the majority party in the state Capitol, given that on June 5 voters in San Jose and San Diego, by landslide margins, adopted dramatic cutbacks to their city pension plans.

Californians increasingly have been insisting on a rollback in public pensions. Retirement costs have been eating up larger chunks of local government budgets, cutting severely into services.

Judges have ruled that you can’t touch the promised benefits of current public workers, although reformers seem willing to retest that doctrine in court. In any event, there’s no reason that the benefits of future employees can’t be substantially trimmed.

The urgency for Democrats in Sacramento, you’d think, would be the November election. On the ballot will be Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes in order to avoid deep cuts in education funding, mainly to K-12 schools, but also to colleges.

Virtually no one in the Capitol believes that voters will approve a state tax increase unless the Legislature and governor have enacted serious pension reform.

And to delay the reform until late August would merely provide the anti-tax crowd an additional two months to shout that Sacramento doesn’t get it.

Democrats understand. They just don’t feel the urgency.

“We have an obligation to deliver pension reform. It’s essential,” says Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), echoing what he has been saying for months. “The question is whether it will be July or August.”

The first priority for now, say Steinberg and Assembly SpeakerJohn A. Perez(D-Los Angeles), is to complete a state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

No argument there. But budget negotiations between the governor and Democratic legislative leaders seemed practically completed Wednesday. The remaining budget bills could be passed relatively quickly.

Tax politics, incidentally, have played into the budget negotiations — for the better.

You haven’t heard a lot of rough, in-your-face rhetoric between Brown and Democrats, unlike last year when Steinberg and Perez were “deeply dismayed” by the governor’s veto of their first gimmicky budget.

This year, there have been quiet, gentle negotiations aimed at avoiding a budget veto and angry rhetoric. Democrats have figured out that this sort of bombast just sours the public on Sacramento and would turn off voters from the tax hike.

“The more drama and the more fighting, especially between Democrats, the more problematic it will be to pass the measure in November,” Steinberg says.

“People have gotten so used to the overwrought drama of the budget season that they see it as a ritual, and not a good ritual. People roll their eyes…. We need to create some momentum around achievement. Around production, around getting things done.”

No argument there either. So what about pension reform?

It must get in line behind other priorities: home-foreclosure protection and the bullet train.

A foreclosure package is practically a wrap.

High-speed rail has been a slow go. It no longer is popular with the public. Projected costs have doubled — and bells and whistles have been removed — since voters authorized building the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line. It’s still a mystery how all the $68 billion in construction costs will be raised.

But Brown is insisting that the Legislature authorize an initial sell of $2.7 billion in state bonds — at a borrowing cost of roughly $180 million annually for 30 years — to trigger federal funding of $3.3 billion. That would build the initial stretch of track in the San Joaquin Valley.

“I want to get high-speed rail done before the recess,” Steinberg says. “Not that it’s that popular.”

He and Brown are afraid that the feds will back out of the deal if the state doesn’t soon begin putting up money. “The longer it goes on there’s a risk,” the Senate leader says.

“There’s a risk of us going ahead because we don’t have guaranteed funding for the future. But there’s a risk in not doing it. The state is hungry for forward thinking. For infrastructure, construction work. The risk of not doing it is greater than in doing it.”

That’s all speculative. But the risk to the tax proposal and education funding of continued pension procrastination is unambiguous.

Everyone knows the political problem with pension reform. “It’s got labor out of our comfort zone,” says Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Assn., who also heads a labor coalition fighting major pension rollbacks.

Labor largely foots the bill for Democratic election campaigns. And Brown also is counting on donations from public employee unions for his tax campaign. So this is delicate.

Brown has proposed a tougher overhaul than what Democrats have been willing to accept.

A special two-house committee held several hearings on pensions and came up empty.

“The whole hearing process was just a dog and pony show,” contends a Republican member, Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel. “We didn’t have any meaningful discussion on pension reform.”

“If Democrats were smart,” says Marcia Fritz, a leading pension-reform activist, “they would make it their issue and get in front of the parade.”

Yes, and they wouldn’t recess for summer vacation until the job was done.

via Public pension reform in California must be Democrats’ priority – Los Angeles Times.

Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Hold Contract Vote – WSJ.com

Locked-out union workers at the nation’s largest sugar-beet processor with operations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa will vote Saturday on a contract proposal that would change seniority rules and require its 1,300 members to pay more for health care.

It will be the third time members have voted on a contract over a nearly 11-month standoff that has divided towns up and down the Red River Valley, where making sugar from the red root vegetable is the economic lifeblood.

The offer from the 39-year-old co-operative, owned by some 3,000 farmers who raise beets on 500,000 acres, calls for a 4% pay increase for the first year, 3% increase in the second and 2% in the third year.

Company leaders acknowledge they are attempting to adjust what they consider an archaic labor contract with newer standards that are competitive with other union rates, according to Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of administration at American Crystal Sugar Co.

Workers say they are surprised by the lack of compromise from the leadership, according to Mark Froemke, a representative from the American Federation of Labor.

“The leaders are more focused on the long-term view and want the company to be around for their grandchildren,” said Mr. Ingulsrud, who began working at the cooperative as a financial analyst 21 years ago. “The [proposed] labor contract is going to help.”

“This lockout hasn’t been good for anybody,” counters Mr. Froemke, who operated machines at American Crystal Sugar for nearly 30 years. His wife, who managed a store-room as a foreman, remains on lockout. “It’s an important vote on Saturday, and it will determine the direction of the union in either accepting the contract or rejecting it.”

Saturday’s vote comes as organized labor faces serious challenges across the country and especially in the Midwest.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently survived a recall vote prompted by his fight to rein in collective-bargaining rights of most state employees. That move inspired other labor battles in Ohio, where voters repealed a law limiting collective-bargaining rights last November, and in Indiana, which operates under a right-to-work law signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in February.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 union members in Caterpillar Inc.’s Joliet plant have been on strike since May 1. The company says it has exhausted the negotiation process and is focusing on running the facility with a contingent workforce.

“Caterpillar claims they exhausted the bargaining process, but in reality, they blocked meaningful negotiations from the start with take-it-or-leave-it proposals that guaranteed a strike,” said Frank Larkin, a spokesman for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers.

With more than $1 billion in sales, American Crystal has been thriving, says Chairman Robert Green, 58, who owns a beet, wheat and navy bean farm in North Dakota. “We are neighbors with many of the workers, so it was important to many of us that we come to a good agreement,” he said.

Workers rejected the proposal by a wide margin last summer, citing the increase in health-care costs, the elimination of seniority and changes to the grievance procedure.

The company locked out workers on Aug. 1 and hired 750 replacement workers. Efforts to resolve the dispute with help of a federal mediator have been unsuccessful.

The impact of the lockout extends beyond the factory floor. Small-town businesses in the region have seen a drop in sales and neighbors have noted rising tensions at the grocery store.

For Mark Voxland, 62, the mayor of Moorhead, Minn., where the co-op is based, it’s an added hurdle to motivating the community.

“No matter how it ends, it will be a hard wound to heal,” said Mr. Voxland.

via Midwest Sugar-Beet Workers Hold Contract Vote – WSJ.com.