*** UPDATED x1 *** A way forward?
Friday, May 8, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller
* The Illinois Supreme Court gave us a sort of road map for what pension reforms would be acceptable. Emphasis added…
The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and, as reflected in the SEC order, it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible.
Moreover, no possible claim can be made that no less drastic measures were available when balancing pension obligations with other State expenditures became problematic. One alternative, identified at the hearing on Public Act 98-599, would have been to adopt a new schedule for amortizing the unfunded liabilities. The General Assembly could also have sought additional tax revenue. While it did pass a temporary income tax increase, it allowed the increased rate to lapse to a lower rate even as pension funding was being debated and litigated.
That the State did not select the least drastic means of addressing its financial difficulties is reinforced by the legislative history. As noted earlier in this opinion, the chief sponsor of the legislation stated candidly that other alternatives were available. Public Act 98-599 was in no sense a last resort. Rather, it was an expedient to break a political stalemate.
The United States Supreme Court has made clear that the United States Constitution “bar[s] Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole [citations].” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) United States v. Winstar Corp., 518 U.S. 839, 883 (1996). Through Public Act 98-599, however, the General Assembly addressed the financial challenges facing our State by doing just that. It made no effort to distribute the burdens evenly among Illinoisans. It did not even attempt to distribute the burdens evenly among those with whom it has contractual relationships. Although it is undisputed that many vendors face delays in payment, the terms of their contracts are unchanged, and under the State Prompt Payment Act, vendors are actually entitled to additional compensation in the form of statutory interest if their bills are not paid within specified periods. 30 ILCS 540/3-2 (West 2012). In no sense is this comparable to the situation confronted by members of public retirement systems under Public Act 98-599, which, if allowed to take effect, would actually negate substantive terms of their contractual relationships and reduce the benefits due and payable to them in a real and absolute way. Under all of these circumstances, it is clear that the State could prove no set of circumstances that would satisfy the contracts clause. […]
The State protests that this conclusion is tantamount to holding that the State has surrendered its sovereign authority, something it may not do. The State is incorrect. Article XIII, section 5, is in no sense a surrender of any attribute of sovereignty. Rather, it is a statement by the people of Illinois, made in the clearest possible terms, that the authority of the legislature does not include the power to diminish or impair the benefits of membership in a public retirement system. This is a restriction the people of Illinois had every right to impose.
As the ultimate sovereign, the people can, “within constitutional restrictions imposed by the Federal constitution, delegate the powers of government to whom and as they please. They can withhold or [e]ntrust it, with such limitations as they choose.” … The powers they have reserved are shown in the prohibitions set forth in their state constitutions. Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113, 124 (1876).
Reamortize the debt, raise taxes, spread out the pain evenly, and/or pass a constitutional amendment that doesn’t violate the Federal constitution’s “contract clause.”
If there is an attempt by the governor at passing a constitutional amendment, I’d bet it would be challenged in federal court. This thing is nowhere near over.
*** UPDATE *** Greg Hinz…
City Hall and the Rauner administration had no immediate reaction to the decision, but it implies bad things for them.
Emanuel last year negotiated reductions in benefits with unions covering about half of city workers and is working with police and firefighters for further changes. But the language of today’s decision appears to allow no exception for “negotiated” reductions in benefits. Rather, the benefits are owed, as in any contract.
Rauner, in turn, has proposed shifting all current workers into a new system with reduced benefits. But the court decision suggests that a worker is entitled to accrue benefits at the old rate until he or she leaves the payroll.