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.
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.