Monday, January 25, 2016

Is there really a Rauner/Cullerton pension deal? A weapon of (m)ass distraction by Fred Klonsky

Watching veteran Democratic legislator State Representative Lou Lang on Chicago Tonight last week, I had to laugh. Sure. Lang had voted for pension theft before. But he knew it was unconstitutional when he voted for it. He even admitted that when we met with him.

“Now the Illinois Supreme Court had confirmed its illegality, so Lang just smiled as the Republican legislators Matt Murphy and Jeanne Ives hailed the governor for his movement towards the pension-choice position of Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.

“Even if the Governor and the Senate President overcome the Governor’s anti-union overreach from last week, the proposal is doomed. Even if the Illinois House were to agree to it, which Michael Madigan currently says won’t happen, it is doomed. It is doomed even if a lower court were to ignore the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling. Which it won’t.

“I want to be in the Illinois Supreme Court chambers when the state’s lawyers try to argue that a choice between less salary or reduced COLA is anything other than a diminishment. I’m pretty sure Justice Thomas will laugh them out of the room. Lang said what some of us have said for years. It just took him longer. It won’t pass constitutional muster.

“Said the Illinois Supreme Court in its unanimous decision: ‘Moreover, no possible claim can be made that no less drastic measures were available when balancing pension obligations with other State expenditures became problematic. One alternative, identified at the hearing on Public Act 98-599, would have been to adopt a new schedule for amortizing the unfunded liabilities. The General Assembly could also have sought additional tax revenue. While it did pass a temporary income tax increase, it allowed the increased rate to lapse to a lower rate even as pension funding was being debated and litigated.’

“That the State did not select the least drastic means of addressing its financial difficulties is reinforced by the legislative history. As noted earlier in this opinion, the chief sponsor of the legislation stated candidly that other alternatives were available. Public Act 98-599 was in no sense a last resort. Rather, it was an expedient to break a political stalemate.

“Now that the court has ruled that the constitutional prohibition against benefit diminishment applies to a state employee from the moment we are hired and enter the pension system, the union leadership has no incentive to agree to any part of a deal between Rauner and Cullerton.

“So, what are these guys up to? As the budget stalemate gets worse, they want to blame it on the pensions. As they have always tried to blame the pensions. The court explained what they needed to do, even if legislators, the governor and Springfield observers either never read the court decision or have forgotten what it says. Re-amortize the debt. Raise revenue. But they won’t. They’re hoping regular folks will buy the blame-the-pension story instead. More foolish distraction.”

For more of Fred Klonsky’s Prodigious Blogging, click here.

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