Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Daniel Biss’ Wishful Thinking and Disregard for the Illinois Constitution

 “…The debate over Biss' [pension reform] bill seemed to turn on the question of constitutionality because the bill imposed a reduced COLA as well as increased employee contributions and raising the retirement age incrementally for any employee younger than 45. Biss admitted he was pinning his hopes on the fact that the courts would take Illinois' fiscal crisis into account and 'balance' the pension protection language in the Illinois Constitution against the other obligations of state government under the constitution…” --IASA Capitol Watch, March 20.

Daniel Biss:

“… [There are those among us who want to abandon] the fundamental principle that the rules of the game for contracting parties are not to be changed midstream… This is especially hard to comprehend when public employees have diligently and faithfully paid their contributions while their government employers have failed to pay their required share. Indeed, for decades, states have treated pension systems as a credit card to pay for government services and avoid tax increases or service cuts (p. 194)... For lawmakers, it is simply politically more palatable to unilaterally cut pension benefits for public employees and retirees than to raise taxes, cut services, or both…” (Eric M. Madiar (2012). Public Pension Benefits under Siege: Does State Law Facilitate or Block Recent Efforts to Cut the Pension Benefits of Public Servants? ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law, V. 27, no. 2, 179-194. Retrieved December 7, 2012 (Also reprinted in Defending and Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions against the Legislative Siege). 

“…One thing we cannot do… is ignore the Constitution of Illinois… No principle of law permits us to suspend constitutional requirements for economic reasons, no matter how compelling those reasons may seem…” (from Ann B. Jorgensen et al., Appellees, v. Rod R. Blagojevich, Governor, et al., Appellants). (Also reprinted in COLA: a Guarantee for Illinois Judges).

“… [T]he Supreme Court would most certainly reject Sidley [Austin’s] public policy argument that the State somehow retains a reserved police power to abscond on its obligations to pension recipients should a pension system default. (565) …Illinois courts have concluded that the Clause affords the legislature no such reserved power. (566) Relying on Kraus [v. Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Niles (1979], the Supreme Court explained in Felt [v. Board of Trustees of the Judges Retirement System (1985)] that to accept the Attorney General’s argument ‘we would have to ignore the plain language of the Constitution of Illinois, reject the New York decisions on the constitutional provision which was the model for section 5 of article XIII, and overrule this court’s decision in Bardens [v Board of Trustees of the Judges Retirement System (1961)].’ (567) As a New York court noted, ‘although fiscal relief is a current imperative, an unconstitutional method may not be blinked.’ (568) (from IS WELCHING ON PUBLIC PENSION PROMISES AN OPTION FOR ILLINOIS? AN ANALYSIS OF ARTICLE XIII, SECTION 5 OF THE ILLINOIS CONSTITUTION by Eric M. Madiar, Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate, pg. 69). (Also reprinted in What happens if the Illinois public pension funds are “on the verge of bankruptcy?”)

Illinois citizens are tired of those members of the Illinois General Assembly who lack ethical responsibility and moral courage; they are also tired of those members who are willing to challenge the State and U.S. Constitutions. These “so-called” representatives and senators are incompetent cowards.

Every article, every interview, and every legislative session about Illinois public pension reform should begin with these statements: The public pension systems were not, and are still not, the cause of the state’s budget deficits. The state’s budget deficits were triggered by past policymakers’ corruption, arrogance and irresponsibility: the main reasons why the State of Illinois has revenue and pension debt problems.

Past Illinois General Assemblies have created the severe unfunded liability for the five public employees’ retirement systems over several decades. The legitimacy of the current Illinois General Assembly is dubious. The current state government is attempting to isolate and sacrifice one group of people for hardship and, for many of these public employees, create a dispossession by way of intentionally-diminishing laws while perpetuating special exceptions and windfalls for the wealthy elite. This is a mockery of justice, Daniel Biss.

It is critical that today’s policymakers protect legitimate expectations and concerns for all the state’s citizenry, especially for people who must be defended against those with excessive economic clout and inequitable schemes to pass prejudicial legislation that benefits the financial elite at the expense of everyone else.

-Glen Brown