***CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL OPINION***
* Here it is…
A Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that Illinois’ pension reform law passed last year is unconstitutional.
Judge John Belz sided with employee and retiree organizations that argued that the law, passed Dec. 3, 2013, violates the state’s constitutional clause that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”
The state is expected to appeal Mr. Belz’s decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.
* 3:10 p.m. - From the Attorney General…
“We plan to immediately appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court so that we can obtain a final resolution of these important issues and allow the Governor and General Assembly to take any necessary action. We will ask the Court to expedite the appeal given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state’s fiscal condition.”
* 3:46 pm - Leader Durkin…
“Today’s ruling is not unexpected. I strongly urge both parties to seek an expedited review of today’s decision before the Illinois Supreme Court. The legislature needs certainty on this important issue sooner rather than later.”
* Civic Committee…
Statement of Ty Fahner, President of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago:
The finding of any lower Court is significant, however, only the determination of the Illinois Supreme Court will resolve the constitutionality of the pension reform law.
* Bruce Rauner…
“Today’s ruling is the first step in a process that should ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. It is my hope that the court will take up the case and rule as soon as possible. I look forward to working with the legislature to craft and implement effective, bipartisan pension reform.”
* We Are One Illinois…
“We are gratified by the court’s ruling today, which makes clear that the Illinois Constitution means what it says. The court held today, as our unions have long argued, that the state cannot simply choose to violate the Constitution and diminish or impair retirement benefits if politicians find these commitments inconvenient to keep.
“This is a victory for every Illinois resident who believes in the integrity of the Constitution. It is a victory for a basic principle of fairness, that working people and retirees who earned modest pensions and always paid their share should not be punished for politicians’ failures. And it is a victory for the members of our unions, who work hard every day in every Illinois community to teach kids, protect public safety, care for the most vulnerable and much more. Today they are more secure in the knowledge that their life savings can’t be taken away from them.
“Going forward, our union coalition repeats our longstanding commitment to work with anyone of good faith to develop a fair and constitutional solution to fund the state’s retirement systems.”
* Leader Radogno…
“As always expected, the issue of pension reform will be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. I remain hopeful the high court will find the comprehensive pension reform legislation constitutional. At the very least, the Court will be called upon to provide guidance. In my opinion, the sooner the better.”
* Senate President Cullerton…
Cullerton: The rule of law is absolute
SPRINGFIELD - Senate President John J. Cullerton today issued the following in response to the Sangamon County Circuit Court ruling regarding pension litigation:
“I have long believed there is a constitutional way to confront Illinois’ pension challenges. Today’s ruling confirms that, while the need for reform is urgent, the rule of law is absolute. I remain committed to working with all parties to address our budget pressures and pension problems in a manner consistent with the Illinois Constitution”
* Sen. Kwame Raoul…
Today’s ruling sends yet another signal that – as I have always maintained – our constitution does not allow state government to run roughshod over contractual rights, even in times of great financial hardship. The judicial evaluation of last year’s compromise pension reform plan is far from complete, and I await the guidance of the Illinois Supreme Court. I stand ready, once we receive that guidance, to continue the process of negotiating constitutional reforms that protect public employees as well as core services, such as education and health care.
* Gov. Pat Quinn…
We have always anticipated legal challenges to this critical law and urge the Illinois Supreme Court to take the matter up as soon as possible.
This historic pension reform law eliminates the state’s unfunded liability and fully stabilizes the systems to ensure retirement security for employees who have faithfully contributed to them.
We’re confident the Illinois Supreme Court will uphold this urgently-needed law that squarely addresses the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time.
* From our pension expert RNUG…
Judge Belz quoted Kanerva and a number of the earlier ISC decisions (Kraus, Felt). Not only did he slam the door shut on the State, he double-locked and barricaded it.
Game, set, and match to the retirees and current employees.
The language used in the opinion is short (for a judicial ruling), strong and clear:
“The Act without question diminishes and impairs the benefits of membership in State retirement systems, Illinois Courts have consistently held over time that the Illinois Pension Clause’s protection against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is absolute and without exception. The Illinois Supreme Court has “consistently invalidated amendment to the Pension Code where the result is to diminish benefits.” McNamee v. State, 173Ill. 2d433, 445 (1996)”
And here are the lines that matter:
a. The Plaintiffs’ Motions are granted. The defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment is denied, with prejudice, because the Court finds that there is no police power or reserved
sovereign power to diminish pension benefits. Pursuant to 735ILCS5/2-701,the Court enters a final declaratory judgment that Public Act 98-0599 is unconstitutional and void in its entirety;
b. The temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction entered previously in this case is hereby made permanent, The defendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing or implementing any provision of Public Act 98-0599;
c. Pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a),the Court finds that there is no just reason for delaying either enforcement of this order or appeal or both.
The “denied with prejudice” is a nice touch; basically slams the door shut on future attempts.
The ISC may decide to take the appeal just to eliminate any uncertainty, but I don’t see where they need to. Judge Belz was extremely clear on this.