Sunday, July 13, 2014

Another Examination of the Illinois “Pension Clause,” or What Part of These Words Do They Not Understand?



[A] plain language reading of the Pension Clause’s text makes clear that governmental entities may not reduce or eliminate a public employee’s pension payments and other membership entitlements once the employee becomes a pension system member… Further, the Clause’s prohibitory language against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is cast in absolute terms and lacks any exceptions…”  



We have witnessed recently a barrage of dishonest editorials that have omitted significant contextual information about the “Pension Clause,” commentaries that have used misleading analogies and other deliberate misinformation to foment envy and anger for public employees who have earned constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefit rights. 
 
To challenge the “Pension Clause” is to defy common understanding of its legal and moral principles and to believe that every word in the State and U.S. Constitutions might also be interpreted in an infinite, fabricated regression of definitions. 

There is nothing transcendental or metaphysical about these 26 words: “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State… shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article XIII, Section 5. Pension and Retirement Rights). 

It does not require intuitive or a priori thinking to justify or verify this claim because we have learned the English language and the rules governing its use. We know what these words mean in relation to written, verbal, historical and cultural contexts.

Lexical definitions, denotations and connotations of the words “diminishment” and “impairment” are unequivocal. It is not necessary to break down these words into simple constituent parts unless, of course, we simply misunderstand them because of stupidity, carelessness, intentionality or maliciousness. 

We cannot mistake the meaning of words such as “shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” because we understand and speak the English language. If words in our State Constitution are to refer or mean anything, they must be commonly understood and accepted as they have been for decades. Moreover, if words are to refer to anything, they must also be understood through their use, role, employment and past agreements.

We have before us “the validity of decades of judicial precedents” that provide “the binding nature of legislation establishing pension commitments to government employees(Defending and Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions against the Legislative Siege). 

If there is anything else we might examine regarding the “Pension Clause” and its relationship to a reality that reveals repeated attempts by the wealthy elite, their politicians and the media to steal constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefit rights, perhaps we should also dispute the relentless attacks on the very intelligibility of the English language by these liars and thieves. We know the “Pension Clause” is valid because it is understood to be a contractual right and guarantee that public employees have earned. 

Though incompetent, corrupt politicians and their wealthy benefactors continue to ignore legal and moral terminologies and court precedents, logical and ethical people understand the essential history and necessity of the “Pension Clause” and know what it also means to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions. 

An equally important and unfortunate issue arises when politicians/lawyers swear an oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions in one context and then contradict their pledge in another context, made evident in Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s and Attorney Joshua Ratz’s sidestepping arguments or attempt to use “reserved sovereign powers” to break a constitutional contract (The Contract Clause and the State of Illinois’“reserved sovereign powers” in Senate Bill 1). 

Logical and ethical people know that the context which states “membership in any pension or retirement system of the State… shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” emerged because “prior to the [Pension] Clause’s adoption, nearly all public employees were members of mandatory pension plans that lacked constitutional protection as ‘contractual’ rights and could be adversely changed by the legislature at any time. These mandatory plans were also underfunded and no better funded than the State’s five pension systems today...

“[Logical and ethical people know] public employees believed constitutional protection was necessary because the State had historically failed to make its required contributions and because employees felt that the State would renege on its obligations should a fiscal crisis arise…

“[Logical and ethical people know] the drafters of the ‘Pension Clause’ were aware of the concerns raised and requests made by public employee groups, the State’s failure to properly fund the pension system, and the difference in legal protection afforded to persons participating in a mandatory and optional pension plan. These concerns, in turn, prompted the drafters to include the ‘Pension Clause’ in the [1970] Constitution…

“[Logical and ethical people also know] the drafters intended for the ‘Pension Clause’ to (1) protect pension benefit rights in all pension plans as ‘enforceable contractual rights’ as of when a public employee became a member of a pension system, and (2) bar the legislature from later unilaterally reducing those rights…” (qtd. in Illinois Pension Clause’s Convention Debates, Text and Historical Background, Eric M. Madiar).


Friday, July 11, 2014

Why are 602 teacher retirees who live in Illinois still paying more for their health insurance?



Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability
703 Stratton Bldg.
Springfield, IL 62706
April 3, 2014

Mr. Dan Long and members of CoGFA:

Having noticed the agenda of the CoGFA hearing scheduled for April 7, 2014 relates to retirees' Health Insurance, I wish to once again relate some major concerns.

Many "downstate" teachers who retired in 2004 were required to notify the Teachers Retirement System a year or two in advance that they were going to retire in 2004. One month after we retired, there was a TRS buy into Medicare Plan, which began on July 1, 2004. We were not able to take advantage of that opportunity. That information was not given to us in 2002-2003. Without Medicare, we do not qualify for secondary health insurance.

According to a recent FOIA request of the Comptroller's Office, there are 602 of us who do not have the needed 40 quarters for Social Security/Medicare and who made the choice to continue to reside IN Illinois since 2004; as a result, we have been charged more than $64,709.62 for single coverage health insurance premiums with the State self-insured CIGNA plan.

At the same time, those retirees who are 65+ and enrolled in the very same CIGNA Health Insurance Plan but made the choice to move OUT of the State of Illinois have been charged 1/2 the cost for their premiums at $32,354.81.

According to CMS, retirees age 65+ and without Medicare (and who made the choice to reside IN Illinois during 2013-2014) pay a monthly premium of $719.96 for their CIGNA health insurance. Retirees age 65+ and without Medicare (and who made the choice to live OUTSIDE of Illinois) pay a monthly premium of $359.99 a month for the very same health insurance coverage using the CIGNA network of Doctors.

Some of us who also reside IN the school districts where we retired from have been charged disproportionate (double) premiums as a result.

As you address issues relating to retired teachers' health insurance plans, I respectfully request you consider these facts. May I also bring to your attention the many, many audits related to the TRS TCHP Health Insurance Plan and the lack of a written methodology for setting the premiums, as stated by the Office of the Auditor General.

I have submitted (pdf.) documents related to this issue to CoGFA and JCAR.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Jeri Shanahan

For more information about this injustice, Click Here.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kanerva v. Weems: A Similar Supreme Court Decision Was Made in Hawaii Four Years Ago


There are seven states that have their legal basis for protection of public pension rights under state laws in their state constitution: Illinois, New York, Alaska, Arizona, Michigan, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

EVERSON v. STATE 

No. 29359. Decided: March 25, 2010

“…Inasmuch as we hold that health benefits for retired State and County employees are ‘accrued benefits’ under article XVI, section 2 of the Hawai‘i Constitution, such benefits would fall within the scope of such protection and cannot be abrogated by statute. Hence, the accrual of such benefits cannot be diminished or impaired by HRS § 87A-23(1) and (3). Because such benefits cannot be diminished, that array of health plan services most advantageous to the employee during his or her service must be deemed the ‘accrued benefits’ under article XVI, section 2; otherwise ‘diminishment or impairment’ of accrued benefits would result.”

Opinion of the Court by NAKAYAMA,J.


I have written often that the keeping of promises, or honoring contractual obligations, is the General Assembly’s legal duty. It is something the Illinois and United States Constitutions require them to do whether they want to or not. Unfortunately, we see that in Illinois, many legislators (and wealthy business members who write editorials) are willing to act without moral or ethical principles.

It is a moral concern and legal duty for Illinois legislators to reform the state's sources of revenue and to address the incurred pension debt through restructuring so the state can provide services for its citizens and fund the public pension systems instead of incriminating retirees and public employees, and thereby forcing them to defend the State and United States Constitutions.