Can the State of Illinois do indirectly what the Pension Protection Clause prohibits it from doing directly? Isn’t the State’s obvious intent and effect of shifting certain pension costs to school districts a de facto cap on increases in pensionable salaries? So what will the IEA and IFT do about this attempt to reduce TRS members’ pensions by limiting pensionable salaries?
This is from an earlier blog post. It was written by the Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC:
“…As the Illinois Supreme Court has explained, ‘once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual.’ In re Pension Reform Litigation (Heaton v. Quinn), 2015 IL 118585, ¶ 46; see also Kanerva v. Weems, 2014 IL 115811, ¶ 38; Jones v. Municipal Employees’ Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago, 2016 IL 119618, ¶¶ 36-47.
“Applying this constitutional rule, our courts have repeatedly invalidated amendments to the Illinois Pension Code that would change the calculation of a pension system member’s pensionable salary so as to diminish that member’s pension benefits. In Heaton, the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated legislation which, among other things, ‘cap[ped] the maximum salary that may be considered when calculating the amount of a member’s retirement annuity.’ Heaton, 2015 IL 118585, ¶ 27 (describing P.A. 98-0599).
“Likewise, in Felt v. Board of Trustees of Judges Retirement System, our Supreme Court invalidated legislation that changed a judge’s pensionable salary from the ‘salary of the judge on the last day of judicial service’ to ‘the average salary for the final year of service as a judge.’ See Felt, 107 Ill. 2d 158, 161-63 (1985).
“Likewise, in Kraus v. Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of Village of Niles, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a police officer on disability could not constitutionally be denied his right under the Pension Code to ‘receive a pension of one half the salary attached to his rank for the year preceding his retirement on regular pension.’ While the Pension Code had been amended so as to change that formula, that Pension Code amendment could not be applied to the officer because it was enacted after he joined the pension system. See Kraus, 72 Ill. App. 3d 833, 843-51 (1979). In other words, it is clear that variables in the pension formula that are tied to a pension system member’s salary cannot be changed to that member’s detriment after he or she has joined the pension system…
“Under existing law, pension system members’ salary increases are factored into the formula that is used to calculate their pension annuities. By way of example, under section 16-121 of the Pension Code, a TRS member’s salary is defined as the ‘actual compensation received by a teacher during any school year and recognized by the system in accordance with rules of the board.’ That ‘actual compensation’ will incorporate any salary increases a teacher has earned over the course of his career, and that teacher’s ‘salary’ will be a variable in the formula used to determine his pension annuity…
“[A] pensionable salary freeze does not stand on any different footing from the pensionable salary changes that were held unconstitutional in Heaton, Felt and Kraus. The principle is simple: One’s pensionable salary is a key variable in the pension formula. A pension system member currently enjoys the right to have any future salary increases factored into his or her pensionable salary. The Cullerton proposal would change that statutory formula so as to freeze pensionable salaries as of a date certain and thereby reduce pensions. That is a violation of the Pension Protection Clause of the Illinois Constitution.
“Of course, public sector employers generally may simply decide not to give their employees a raise. But that is beside the point… Changing the law to provide that future salary increases will not count towards one’s pensionable salary constitutes a diminishment of one’s constitutionally protected pension rights. Such a change would suffer the same fate as other changes to the Pension Code’s formulation of one’s pensionable salary…
“[M]embers of Illinois public sector pension systems have an existing legal right for any salary increases that they may earn between now and their retirement to be factored into their pensionable salary…”
About the authors: Gino L. DiVito and John M. Fitzgerald are partners at the Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC. Mr. DiVito is a retired justice of the Illinois Appellate Court.
For the original article, click here.