Thursday, June 7, 2012

HJRCA 49, a Letter from the State Universities Annuitants Association on April 25, 2012

To Chairperson Senator Don Harmon Senate Executive Committee

Dear Senator Harmon:

Vote ‘No’ on HJRCA 49

Amending the Constitution of the State of Illinois is more about how it affects the next generation rather than the present. HJRCA 49 would be a very complex addition to our Constitution and should be subject to more objective analysis and a thorough legal review than in the time we have here today.

As I read it, this amendment affects all local governments and government services, including police and fire departments, education and more. It will affect government at every level for a very long time.

The State Universities Annuitants Association represents currently employed and retirees of the State University and Community College systems. Our members [and TRS members] do not receive social security. We believe this amendment to our Constitution will make it more difficult to attract and retain quality personnel at Illinois State-funded universities and colleges [and public schools throughout Illinois] by placing conditions and strict procedural requirements on pension and retirement benefit increases.

We also understand that the governing body for higher education in this State is the General Assembly. These requirements seem to put or would require the General Assembly to be in the business of setting salaries for those such as physics professors, grounds-keepers, plumbers and talented administrators employed in higher education [and in the public school systems throughout the state]. We believe this is the domain of the education sector.

This amendment also creates new definitions for the terms “new benefit,” “emolument increase” and “beneficial determination” which are neither defined in current statutes or in existing case law. These definitions, and other terms in this amendment, would likely generate a litigation that would result in delays and costs that will be borne by local governments, the State, our university system and other stakeholders [such as TRS].

Litigation is inevitable when units of local government try to interpret the 3/5 procedural requirement in this amendment. The problems with this section were manifested in the House last week, when Speaker Madigan's own attorney, Heather Weir, was asked a hypothetical by Representative Elaine Nekritz on how this provision would affect collective bargaining. We have provided this committee a partial transcript of that question:

Chairwoman Nekritz: “I was curious about your argument on the collective bargaining. I didn't quite understand how this constitutional amendment would affect, the you know, if someone is offered an incentive to go get a master's degree how this would impact that?”

Counsel for the Illinois Speaker of the House: “I couldn't tell you without looking at the actual agreement. It would depend on how it was characterized and whether or not that particular, if it's a type of 'perk', that is counted toward the person's final average salary, that would result in an increase in their pension benefits, then I would say 'Yes' it would trigger the 3/5 requirement.”

This committee [IEA and IFT] should strongly reject that kind of broad interpretation, of whether attenuated benefits, like a reasonable incentive for a person to obtain a Master's Degree, contained in a collective bargaining agreement that lead to an increase in a member's salary and, consequently, may result in higher pension benefit, triggers a supermajority vote. We ask you in the coming floor debate on HJRCA 49 to object to this sort of legal analysis.

Finally in section (d) of this amendment, the concluding paragraph would GRANT UNPRECEDENTED POWERS TO GOVERNMENT THAT WILL UNDERMINE PROTECTIONS CONTAINED IN THE PENSION PROTECTION CLAUSE [ARTICLE XIII, SECTION 5] AND ELIMINATE THE UNIFORM LAWS THAT NOW EXIST FOR [ALL] STATE EMPLOYEE BENEFITS AND OBLIGATIONS IN THE ILLINOIS PENSION CODE.

This paragraph will allow every unit of local government to go its own way with respect to pensions, therefore ensuring a benefit gulf will emerge between the State’s retirement systems, geographic regions and citizens employed in a wide range of public sector occupations.

Again, we respectfully ask you vote no on HJRCA 49.

Linda Brookhart, Executive Director for the State Universities Annuitants Association; John Carr, Attorney for the State Universities Annuitants Association; Richard Lockhart representing the State Universities Annuitants Association

cc: Members of the Senate Executive Committee

from

HJRCA49 passed the House 113-0 on April 18, 2012; HJRCA passed the Senate 51-2 on May 3, 2012. The proposed amendment will be on the November 6, 2012 general election ballot.


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