Tag: Illinois Constitution

Bruce Rauner pushing more unconstitutional pension theft bills in Illinois

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is publicly pushing for more pension theft legislation here in Illinois, despite the fact that the legislation appears to blatantly violate the Illinois Constitution:

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday announced a massive pension overhaul bill that he said would save billions of dollars while incorporating reform ideas from various leaders.

The lengthy bill — all 500 pages of it — would cut retirement benefits for police officers, firefighters and public teachers. It would also give local governments a way to file for bankruptcy “as a last resort” after a review or the declaration of a fiscal emergency.

Cutting pension benefits that have already been guaranteed to our state’s public employees is explicitly unconstitutional, according to Article XIII, Section 5 of the our state’s constitutional, which states the following:

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 Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this year that a pension theft bill signed into law by then-Democratic Governor Pat Quinn in 2013 violates the Illinois Constitution because it cut pension benefits that are supposed to be guaranteed to those who are currently publicly employees once they retire. Bruce Rauner, State Senate President John Cullerton, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are supporting more pension theft legislation that is likely to get struck down by the courts for cutting constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefits to our state’s public employees. While our state has a major pension debt problem, it should be dealt with without cutting benefits to current public employees and retirees.

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The Bruce Rauner shutdown begins in Illinois

Starting today, Illinois state government employees won’t get their paychecks that they earned because Republican Governor Bruce Rauner shut down our state’s government and is holding the people of Illinois as political hostages because he wants a series of non-fiscal political policy proposals, which don’t belong in the state budget, to be rammed into law as part of the state budget.

The political ransom that Rauner is demanding includes:

  • Changes to rules pertaining to liability lawsuits and workers’ compensation designed to make it harder for Illinoisans to receive compensation from those who legally wronged them and to pay for medical expenses related to on-the-job injuries.
  • Enacting term limits for high-ranking Illinois politicians, which, depending on the specific language of the legislation on that subject, I may or may not support as a separate measure to put a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution on the ballot, but not as part of the state budget.
  • Enacting a more impartial and/or more independent method for congressional and/or state legislative redistricting, which is something that I would support as a separate measure to put a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution on the ballot, but not as part of the state budget.

None of these items that Rauner is demanding have very little, if anything at all, to do with the state’s budget or the state’s finances, and policy proposals, regardless of my opinion on the policy proposals themselves, should be dealt with as separate legislation from the state budget.

Sadly, Rauner has repeatedly advocated for shutting our state’s government down as part of his hostage politics scheme. Rauner needs to realize that the State of Illinois is not his plantation, and that he can’t buy and bully his way to enacting a right-wing, anti-worker political agenda.

Illinois Supreme Court UNANIMOUSLY throws out pension theft scheme

This is a couple of days old, but I have great news to share:

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled unconstitutional a landmark state pension law that aimed to scale back government worker benefits to erase a massive $105 billion retirement system debt, sending lawmakers and the new governor back to the negotiating table to try to solve the pressing financial issue.

The ruling also reverberated at (Chicago) City Hall, imperiling a similar law (Chicago) Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through to shore up two of the four city worker retirement funds and making it more difficult for him to find fixes for police, fire and teacher pension funds that are short billions of dollars.

At issue was a December 2013 state law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn that stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously struck down the pension theft scheme despite Democratic Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan basically arguing that politicians don’t have to abide by the Illinois Constitution, which contains provisions protecting the pension benefits that our state’s public employees pay into one of several public employee pension systems, if there’s a significant pension shortfall. The Illinois Supreme Court, which has four Democrats and three Republicans, ruled unanimously that the provisions of Illinois Constitution pertaining to public employee pensions do, in fact, apply to politicians who try to screw over retirees.

Make no mistake about it, the fight against the Quinn-Rahm-Ranuer pension theft scheme is far from over.

Bruce Rauner wants to amend the Illinois Constitution in order to steal pension benefits

With the possibility that the Illinois Supreme Court may strike down at least part of former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn’s pension theft legislation looming, incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is already pushing for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that, if ratified, would steal pension benefits from our state’s public employees. While a formal amendment has not been proposed yet, the amendment would, if ratified, force at least current public employees to choose between reduced pension benefits or a 401k-type plan.

Make no mistake about it, the Rauner pension theft amendment would be disastrous for Illinoisans.

First off, the amendment would effectively force our state’s public employees to make a lesser-of-two-evils decision: either take lower pension payments once they retire, or take payments from 401k-type plan once they retire. Lower pension payments would mean less money for retirees to spend on goods and services, resulting in many of them becoming impoverished and dependent on social safety net programs in order to survive. On the other hand, 401k-type plans provide no lifetime guarantee of payments, meaning that it’s possible for a beneficiary of a 401k-type plan to outlive their benefits.

If the Rauner pension theft amendment were to be ratified by voters, it would likely result in the loss of thousands of Illinois private-sector jobs. That’s because many Illinois businesses, even businesses located hundreds of miles from Springfield and/or Chicago, are dependent on retired public employees spending money on goods and services in order to survive. While our state’s pension system is badly underfunded, pension theft would leave our state even worse off than it currently is.

60% of all members of both houses of the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by supermajorities of Democrats, would need to approve of the Rauner pension theft amendment in order for it to appear on the Illinois ballot. If that happens, Illinois voters will be able to vote yes or no on the Rauner pension theft amendment in a ratification referendum. Either 60% of those voting on the referendum or 50%+1 of all votes in the election in which the referendum is held for the “yes” option would ratify the amendment. If the Rauner pension theft amendment appears on an Illinois ballot at any time in the future, I strongly encourage a “no” vote on the amendment.

The Progressive Response to the State of the State of Illinois Address

Earlier today, Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of our state that we instinctively know as Illinois, outlined his plan to drive down wages, infringe on the rights of Illinois workers, and destroy an already weak Illinois economy.

Prior to giving his State of the State address, Rauner went around the state using PowerPoint slides to publicly bash our state’s public employees, whine about public employees being, in his view, overpaid, spread lies about worker’s rights and public employee pay, and blame public employees for our state’s fiscal problems. Additionally, it was reported yesterday that Rauner strongly hinted that he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for our state’s public employees. Given that Rauner has given his top administration officials pay raises and appointed a $100,000/year chief of staff to his wife despite the fact that his wife has no official duties whatsoever, for Rauner to give his cronies pay raises while wanting to drive down public employee salaries is blatantly hypocritical.

In his State of the State address, Rauner called for gutting our state’s workers’ compensation system, lowering property taxes while our state and local governments have billions of dollars in unpaid bills, allowing local governments and/or voters to bust unions at the local level, prohibiting project labor agreements, eliminating prevailing wage laws, and privatizing public education to benefit his political cronies. Rauner did have a few good ideas that he talked about in his address to the people of Illinois, such as banning trial lawyer donations to judicial campaigns, merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer, and increasing funding for early childhood education.

While there is no disputing the fact that our state is in a fiscal mess for a large number of reasons, the primary reason why our state is in such a fiscal mess is because the wealthiest Illinoisans, such as Rauner himself, don’t pay enough state income taxes thanks to an ridiculous provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the General Assembly from passing legislation to tax the incomes of wealthier Illinoisans at a higher rate than the incomes of poorer Illinoisans. The flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution prohibits our state from raising the revenues that would be needed to pay off our state’s unpaid bills and put our state on solid financial footing. I would strongly support a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution to allow the General Assembly to levy a progressive state income tax in order to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Illinoisans, cut income taxes for the poorest Illinoisans, and put our state’s finances back on track. Additionally, I would strongly support eliminating all tax breaks for businesses, such as the ridiculous tax break that Sears and CME Group received a few years ago, as this would also bring in more revenue to the state that can be used to pay off unpaid bills.

Regarding public employee pensions, another reason why our state is in a fiscal mess, I would strongly support a pension reform proposal that would phase out the current public employee pension systems in our state, but still allow public employees who have paid into the current pension systems to still receive the benefits they’ve earned once they retire, and require all new state and local elected officials, appointed officials, and hired public employees who receive a full-time salary but had not previously paid anything into the current public employee pension systems in our state to pay into a newly-created public employee pension system that is designed to be fully-funded and provide our state’s future elected officials, political appointees, and public employees with a steady retirement income once they retire. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose any pension reform proposal that cuts benefits for those who have currently paid into the pension systems, creates a 401(k) system for public employees, and/or turns an existing pension system into a 401(k) system.

Regarding cutting spending, I would support an audit of the entire state government and every single county, township, city, town, village, and other type of local government entity in our state in order to find actual wasteful spending and propose common-sense solutions to cut actual wasteful spending and help save the state money in both the short term and the long term. Make no mistake about it, I will strongly oppose cuts to public education, social services, and other government services that reduce the quality of service by our state and local government agencies.

Regarding strengthening our state’s economy, I strongly support raising the state minimum wage here in Illinois to $15/hour and indexing automatic, annual minimum wage increases to productivity. Additionally, I strongly support creating a North Dakota-style economic development bank here in Illinois to issue and/our guarantee loans to factories, farms, small businesses, and other types of businesses that have to be repaid in full with interest. These two proposals would lift thousands of Illinoisans out of poverty, establish a minimum wage that values work, and help entrepreneurs start up new businesses and create jobs without pocketing government benefits to simply pad profits. Busting unions and driving down wages is something I strongly oppose because those policies would do absolutely nothing to strengthen our state’s economy or empower Illinoisans.

Regarding campaign finance, ethics, and government reform, while a federal constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped Rauner and his cronies buy the last gubernatorial election would be required to allow Illinois to enact meaningful campaign finance reform, I strongly support eliminating the conflicts of interest that are currently allowed by our state’s campaign finance system, such as a couple of conflicts of interest that Rauner mentioned, prohibiting unions from donating to candidates for public office that they’d have to collectively bargain with if said candidates are elected and prohibiting trial lawyers from donating to judicial candidates, and one that Rauner did not mention because he’s effectively opposed to it, prohibiting business owners and managers from donating to candidates for public office that could use the public office in question to directly benefit said business owners and managers if elected. Additionally, I would support setting the maximum campaign contribution for a statewide office here in Illinois at $250 and enacting even lower limits for state legislative and local offices. Additionally, I strongly support implementing a pair of public campaign finance systems, one for judicial elections and one for other non-federal elections. The judicial public campaign finance system would prohibit judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from other people and/or funding their own campaigns, require that all judicial candidates receive a set amount of campaign funds from the state, and require that judicial candidates receive the same amount of campaign funds from the state that their opponents receive. The public campaign finance system for other offices would allow candidates for those offices to receive $4 of state funding for every $1 they receive in contributions and/or self-fund their campaigns with. Additionally, I would support enacting what I like to call the Bruce Rauner Rule, which would outright prohibit candidates for statewide office here in Illinois from donating or loaning more than $100,000 of their own wealth to their campaign, and set even lower self-funding limits for other offices. On term limits, I would support limiting the offices of governor and lieutenant governor to one elected term, limiting the other state executive offices to two elected terms, limiting state senators to five elected terms, and limiting state representatives to eight elected terms, and anything stricter than that would receive my opposition. Some other government reform ideas I support include allowing Illinois voters to recall all non-federal elected officials, converting the Illinois General Assembly into an unicameral legislature with at least 177 members via a state constitutional amendment, and amending the Illinois Constitution to establish a truly non-partisan redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts.

Regarding reforming the criminal justice system, I strongly support legalizing, taxing, and regulating recreational marijuana, which would reduce the incarceration rate in our state and provide our state with much-needed tax revenue. Additionally, I’m open to various ideas to reform the criminal justice system in order to make our prison system more about rehabilitating convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them and make our criminal justice system more fair. For example, one idea that I strongly support would be requiring independent investigations of deaths that occur in the hands of state and local police here in Illinois.

Regarding education, I strongly oppose implementing school voucher programs here in Illinois, expanding charter schools, or any other school privatization scheme. I strongly support repealing Common Core State Standards and replacing them well-rounded, developmentally appropriate K-12 academic standards developed by the state and are held accountable by measures other than assessments and standardized tests. Additionally, I strongly support getting rid of the emphasis on career preparation in K-12 education, since I believe that career preparation should be the responsibility of higher education institutions, not the K-12 system. Also, I strongly support increasing funding for public schools in our state and making our state’s K-12 school funding system fairer to poorer school districts.

Illinoisans are worth more than speeches, political buzzwords, and PowerPoint presentations about driving down wages, busting unions, and making our state’s economy even weaker than it currently is, and Illinoisans are certainly worth more than Bruce Rauner’s far-right policies to drive down wages, bust unions, and destroy our state’s economy. It’s time for Illinoisans to push for progressive policies to protect workers’ rights, strengthen our state’s economy, put more money into the pockets of poor and working-class Illinoisans, provide a world-class education system for our state’s K-12 and college students, and provide for a more perfect Illinois.

How the vacant office of Illinois Comptroller will be filled

Judy Baar Topinka, the Republican Comptroller of Illinois, died early this morning after suffering a stroke. She was 70 years of age at the time of death.

I’m not an attorney, but here’s the part of the Illinois Constitution that deals with filling vacancies in the state comptroller’s office (Article V, Section 7):

If the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller or Treasurer fails to qualify or if his office becomes vacant, the Governor shall fill the office by appointment. The appointee shall hold office until the elected officer qualifies or until a successor is elected and qualified as may be provided by law and shall not be subject to removal by the Governor. If the Lieutenant Governor fails to qualify or if his office becomes vacant, it shall remain vacant until the end of the term.

This is an instance in which both the incumbent comptroller failed to qualify for a new term after being elected to a second term and died in office before completing her first term in office. Since I’m not sure if Illinois state law allows for a special election to fill the vacancy (the Illinois Constitution appears to allow the General Assembly to provide for special elections for comptroller if it wishes to pass a law in order to do so, but doesn’t require special elections for comptroller), I’m going to provide two scenarios for filling the vacancy in the Illinois Comptroller’s office; one scenario involves a special election being called and the other scenario involves no special election being called.

SCENARIO #1: SPECIAL ELECTION

  • Either Democratic Governor Pat Quinn (if he makes the appointment before he leaves office) or Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (if Quinn does not make the appointment before Rauner is sworn into office) appoints someone until a successor chosen by voters in a special statewide election for comptroller is sworn into office.
  • The special election would be held either in the spring of 2015 (possibly at the same time as the Chicago mayoral election and other local elections across the state), the fall of 2016 (possibly at the same time as the presidential and U.S. Senate elections), or on some other date as specified by any law allowing for a special election for comptroller.

SCENARIO #2: NO SPECIAL ELECTION

  • Either Democratic Governor Pat Quinn (if he makes the appointment before he leaves office) or Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner (if Quinn does not make the appointment before Rauner is sworn into office) appoints someone to fill the vacancy in the comptroller’s office.
  • The next general election for comptroller is scheduled for November 2018, meaning that whoever is appointed by either Quinn or Rauner would, depending on the date that the appointee takes office, serve slightly more or less than a full four-year term as comptroller.

If someone can definitively tell me what procedure is used for filling a vacancy in the Illinois Comptroller’s office, let me know by leaving a comment on this blog post.