Monday, August 26, 2013

On Illinois Pension Reform and the U.S. Constitution

It is a matter of public interest when current policymakers attempt to rob public employees of their constitutionally-guaranteed contracts, for punishing and victimizing public employees through a breach of contract instead of addressing the state’s inadequate revenue system and underfunding of the public pensions is a form of violence upon a group of people who have faithfully served the citizens of Illinois. It is a violation of due process and equal protection.

“…No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV—Due Process and Equal protection, Section 1).

It is reprehensible when Illinois policymakers choose not to uphold their oath of office and protect the state’s constitutional contracts. It is deplorable when Illinois policymakers support and listen to wealthy interest groups instead – those organizations that drain state contracts of their legal and moral content and, thus, exploit the citizenry of Illinois. 

-Glen Brown

This letter was published by The State Journal-Register.


  1. “It is worth noting the inequity inherent in cutting pensions promised to state and local public servants…, underfunding that was substantially caused, in many cases, by funding ‘holidays’ that government employers awarded themselves…” (Greenfield, Douglas L., Lahne, Susan G. How Much Can States Change Existing Retirement Policy? In Defense of State Judicial Decisions Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions).

  2. “No State shall…pass any…ex post facto law or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts…” (The Constitution of the United States, Article 1—Limitations on Powers of States, Section 10).

  3. “The Pension Clause [Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution] not only makes a public employee’s participation in a pension system an enforceable contractual relationship, but also constitutionally protects the pension benefit rights contained in the Illinois Pension Code when an employee joins a pension system, including employee contribution rates. The Clause also safeguards pension benefit enhancements that are later added during employment. Further, the Clause ensures that pensions will be paid even if a pension system defaults or is on the verge of default. Finally, while the Clause bars the General Assembly from adversely changing the benefit rights of current employees via unilateral action, these rights are 'contractual' in nature and may be modified through contractual principles. In sum, while welching on public pension promises is not an option for Illinois as some legal and civic commentators have suggested, legitimate contract principles provide a solution to mitigate this crisis” (Eric M. Madiar, Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate, Abstract for Is Welching on Public Pension Promises an Option for Illinois? An Analysis of Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution).