Judge says lawsuits challenging the law must be decided
By CARL GREEN
Springfield IL – Illinois’ ever-contentious public employees pension issue now sits in a Sangamon County courtroom in the form of five lawsuits challenging the law passed late last year that would reduce future cost-of-living increases for the retirees.
The law was to go into effect June 1, but Sangamon County Judge John Belz put it on a shelf in May until its legal status can be determined. That could take until next year.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan issued a statement on behalf of the We Are One Coalition, which opposes the law: “This is an important first step in our efforts to overturn this unfair, unconstitutional law and to protect retirement security for working and retired Illinois families.
“We are pleased the court prudently chose to halt implementation of these sweeping changes, which have caused so much fear and uncertainty and are likely to be overturned,” Carrigan said.
The law would affect state workers and office holders as well as university employees. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the various groups and then consolidated at the direction of the Illinois Supreme Court, which is ultimately expected to hear the case.
NOT TO BE ‘DIMINISHED’
The Illinois constitution states that public employee pensions are a legal, contractual relationship and that the agreed-upon benefits are not to be “diminished or impaired.”
But the state government for decades failed to make sufficient payments into the pension fund and now finds itself with a $100 billion liability.
That led legislators to approve the law, which would make reductions in the 3 percent annual COLA, raise the retirement age and reduce the amount of salary upon which the pensions are based. It would affect not only new hires, but also employees who have been working for many years under the old rules.
The law is designed to save some $160 billion in pension payments over 30 years.
Unions opposed to the law say it amounts to “theft” from state workers who paid into the system.
The Illinois AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Education Association and other public unions say workers upheld their end of the bargain by paying into the pension systems throughout their careers but that governors and lawmakers short-changed the systems for decades, causing the shortfall that led to the current crisis.