Union Coalition Wants Illinois Court To Act Faster In Case Against Reform Law


A coalition of some of the largest labor groups in Illinois filed a motion today calling on the court to speed up its ruling regarding the constitutionality of Illinois’ pension reform law.

The coalition, We Are One Illinois, says the Supreme Court’s July decision—where the court ruled retirees’ health benefits are protected under the state’s constitution—confirms that Illinois’ pension reform law is illegal.

From CapitolFax:

Yesterday, the We Are One Illinois coalition, along with other plaintiffs, filed a motion in Sangamon County urging the Circuit Court to enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor on the State’s affirmative defense in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Kanerva v. Weems. The We Are One Illinois coalition and other plaintiffs assert that the Kanerva decision confirms that the Pension Protection Clause in the Illinois Constitution is absolute and without exception, even with respect to the fiscal circumstances alleged by the State in its defense.

Illinois says its dire fiscal situation gives it the authority to cut to pension benefits, even if they are constitutionally protected. From Reuters:

The state has contended that its sovereign powers allow it to act in a fiscal emergency. Illinois has a $100 billion unfunded pension liability and the country’s worst funded state retirement system. Illinois’s credit ratings are also the lowest among U.S. states.

But the court’s July decision doesn’t bode well for the state’s case. At the time, the court wrote:

“[I]t is clear that if something qualifies as a benefit of the enforceable contractual relationship resulting from membership in one of the State’s pension or retirement systems, it cannot be diminished or impaired … Giving the language of article XIII, section 5, its plain and ordinary meaning, all of these benefits, including subsidized health care, must be considered to be benefits of membership in a pension or retirement system of the State and, therefore, within that provision’s protections.”

We Are One Illinois issued the following statement after filing the motion:

“The Kanerva decision confirms what we have always argued, that the state’s constitutional language guards against any diminishment or impairment of pension benefits that Senate Bill 1 imposes. We believe, then, that the State’s defense is without merit and so have asked the Court in this motion to rule in our favor on the State’s defense that seeks to justify Senate Bill 1. We maintain that the constitution protects the hard-earned and promised retirement savings of our members and remain ready to work with any legislator willing to develop a fair and legal solution to our state’s challenges.”


Photo credit: “Gfp-illinois-springfield-capitol-and-sky” by Yinan Chen, Via Wikimedia Commons

New Jersey Bill Would Make Corrupt Politicians Pay For Court Costs—From Their Pensions


In 2013, New York paid $600,000 in pension benefits to politicians who were occupying jail cells instead of offices.

That’s because New York’s constitution makes it nearly impossible to take away a person’s pension benefits—even if that person is a corrupt politician who was booted from office and sent to jail.

The same is true around the country, as at least six states protect pension benefits under their constitutions. It’s a well-meaning provision, but in the case of corrupt politicians it often has unintended consequences.

New Jersey has been paying attention to New York’s conundrum, and it wants no part of that game.

Three state legislatures (Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove) recently proposed two initiatives that would shield taxpayers from the expenses that come with corrupt politicians—and force those politicians to pay for their court costs, among other things, by garnishing their pensions. From The Sand Paper:

The delegation’s first reform measure would make public officers or employees convicted of crimes affecting their office or found at fault in certain civil actions liable for the cost of prosecution and legal representation if received through the expense of public funds. Under the legislation, convicted persons would be subject to pension garnishment to satisfy the liability.

The second measure would allow a public employer to levy a judgment for restitution of illegally obtained funds against a convicted public employee’s retirement allowance. Provisions of the legislation would apply to any official’s or employee’s pension contribution to principal state-administered retirement systems.

One interesting segment from the lawmakers’ joint statement on the initiatives:

“When holding public office, you are answerable to the people whose tax dollars fund the operations of government,” the statement said. “Therefore, it would be appropriate to garnish the public pension of convicted politicians as a means of recovering the cost of their prosecution and legal defense as well as funds illegally obtained through the use of their government position. To do so would mitigate the cost of corruption on taxpayers, whose interests should be put first as the victims of such crimes.”