By Patrick F. Cannon
Money in Politics
Complaining about how Federal elections are funded is a fruitless exercise. Unless the Supreme Court finds a way around the First Amendment by reversing itself in its decision that political contributions are a form of speech, then the only real way of reforming the system is to amend the Constitution. Good luck with that. It is interesting, though, that the average voters seems to be getting immune to all the sleeze tossed in his or her direction. Maybe the only true beneficiaries of all this PAC money are the broadcast media.
I was curious, so I found that the average Chicago teacher pension after 28 years of service is $42,000. I got this number from the folks who run the retirement program. The maximum Social Security benefit at the regular retirement age of 66+ is $31,956. To receive that benefit, you would have to pay the maximum withholding tax for 35 years. While the rate of 15.3% (including Medicare) – shared equally between the employer and employee – has not changed since 1990, the maximum taxable income has risen from $51,300 to $118,500, and can be expected to continue to increase in the coming years.
I understand that Chicago teachers are paying a 2% share of the pension tax, as opposed to the 7.65% withholding that Social Security mandates. Chicago teacher retirees are also guaranteed a 3% annual cost of living increase. Since 2010, the average cost of living increase under Social Security has been 1.2 percent.
Donald Trump wants to build a humungous wall along the Mexican border. Forget for a moment that there has been a net outflow of illegal Mexican immigrants in recent years. Trump claims that his negotiating skills will force the Mexican government to pay for the wall. To accomplish this, he will stop US residents from sending money back to Mexico. If, through some miracle of bi-partisanship, he manages to get Congress to go along with this, two things will happen: Western Union and the other companies who handle these transfers will scream bloody murder as they go out of business, and a new black market will replace them. How about a rational new immigration law instead?
One of Bernie Sanders’ more appealing ideas is free tuition at public colleges and universities. The cost to the taxpayers (that’s you) has been estimated at $75 billion per year. Frankly, I think it would end up being much more. While the Federal government already provides some funding to most colleges and universities, I wonder if people are aware of the sheer number of schools involved. For example, each state has a primary university, usually the one established by the land grant program of the 19th Century. Illinois has its main campus in Urbana-Champaign and satellite campuses in Chicago and Springfield. It also has a second system that includes Northern and Southern Illinois universities, among others. There is also an extensive system of community junior colleges. All are already supported by Illinois and local taxpayers.
The countries that do provide free tuition limit the numbers who get this benefit by a rigorous competitive examination system. This is one reason, I think, for the high number of foreign students in American colleges and universities. If you graduate from high school in this country, you are almost certain to find a place in at least a community college. A better answer, in my view, would be an increase in outright grants to the poorest students and an overhaul of the student loan program.
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon