Wednesday, November 13, 2013

“A Possible Pension Legal Test?”: Senate Bill 1523

“…To listen to the Speaker Michael Madigan's introducing Senate Bill 1523 to the Illinois House, it's seemingly inconsequential to anyone that doesn't work for the Chicago Park District.

“‘This bill is concerned with the Chicago Park District pension fund,’ he said. ‘This is a local pension system. It's not a state pension system. There is no state money involved with this pension system.’ Given that, the package attracted little attention. Despite all of the controversy over pensions, this plan passed pretty easily: only 40 of the General Assembly's 177 members voted ‘no.’

“But the measure could prove significant. Like Illinois' retirement systems, the Chicago Park District's pension fund has far less money saved than it should. So much so that the park district warns it's careening toward bankruptcy in a decade. With an eye toward getting back on track, the Chicago Park District asked the state for permission to change its retirement offerings. The measure - now awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's action - reduces the size of workers' and retirees' pension payouts, raises the retirement age (for workers age 45 and younger), and requires both the park district and its employees, to incrementally pay more money into the pension fund.

“All are concepts that have come up at some point or the other in state legislators' talks over what to do about Illinois' own pension situation, and all of which could be seen as a breach of a line in the state constitution that says government pensions -- from the state's to a park district's -- shall not be diminished nor impaired.

“‘We here in the Senate are not the Supreme Court and unless we pass a bill that someone can challenge we are never going to know,’ said Senate President John Cullerton, who sponsored the measure in that chamber. ‘If these unions object to this bill, they can go to court. We know what their arguments would be. They would say that we are unilaterally increasing employment contribution rate without any benefit increase, and there's no consideration -- all of those arguments would be made; there's no funding guarantee. But let them make that in court. In the meantime we should pass this bill and recognize the face that this pension system has come together to try to improve their finances and they need our support.’ …

“‘Until we pass a bill for the Supreme Court to consider -- it might by the Park District bill, I don't, I'm not in charge of lawsuits, I'm sure the unions, you know, would be doing that -- but until you get in front of the Court you don't know that for sure,’ Cullerton said. ‘If the court does strike down the law, then at least we'd know what we can come back and work on as soon as possible…’” (Vinicky, Amanda. A Possible Pension Legal Test).

A Commentary on Civic Learning 
and Legislative Irresponsibility and Thievery:

“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (The Illinois State Constitution, Article XIII—Pension and Retirement Rights, Section 5).

To possess a right to a promised deferred compensation, such as a pension, is to assert a legitimate claim with all Illinois legislators to protect that right. There are no rights without obligations. They are mutually dependent. Fulfilling a contract is a legal and moral obligation justified by trust among elected officials and their constituents.

When legislators swear an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions (Article XIII, Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois), then citizens of Illinois have also acquired the right to expect that they will uphold that pledge. This is a matter of important moral concern for all citizens of a state, for all legal claims will be validated by a moral framework since the concept of justice is grounded in ethics.

The significant issue of pension reform is its attack on public employees’ rights to constitutionally-guaranteed, earned compensation and the legislators’ obligation to safeguard those promises. An unconscionable constitutional challenge of those rights and earned benefits generates a serious threat to all citizens. Read the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 10) and the Illinois State Constitution (Article I, Section 16 and Article XIII, Section 5).

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