* The City Club hosted a pension discussion yesterday. The moderator and two of the three panelists are of the “Do something!” ilk who demand that legislators fix the pension mess, but don’t really have any ideas of their own beyond variations on the same failed strategies from the past. A new Tribune editorial today is a prime example of this. Lots of complaining about inaction, but no ideas.
Sen. Steans tried to inject a bit of reason and sanity, but nobody seemed to care much…
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who joked about being the only lawmaker brave enough to sit on the panel and take the criticism, didn’t agree with the others that Springfield hasn’t tried to fix the issue. She said trying to change the state’s constitution would be a waste of effort because there are other constitutional protections, including the federal contracts clause, that would keep lawmakers from altering existing and retired worker pension arrangements.
“I’d much rather have our limited ability to focus on what we’re going to do here to be pragmatic, reasonable and something we actually hope to be able to achieve,” she said.
She also mentioned the federal Constitution’s “Takings Clause” as an impediment to cutting legally earned benefits.
* One Illinois…
Steans offered a series of actual proposals, beginning with raising additional money for pensions, including through Gov. Pritzker’s “fair tax,” a graduated income tax, scheduled to go before voters to amend the state constitution with next year’s general election.
But she warned that “there will be a well-funded campaign against it,” no doubt to be led by the IPI, and other potential solutions had pitfalls as well.
She mentioned a “consideration model,” meant to give public workers a choice between pensions based on raises on the job or on cost-of-living increases after retiring, but not both.
Other attempts to alter benefits for public pensions have been rejected by the Illinois Supreme Court, and it’s not clear it would allow those benefits to be negotiated in any case. Msall bemoaned how the Supreme Court had simply struck down previous attempts to change pension benefits, while offering “nothing” in the way of guidance on how to proceed without reductions.
Regardless, Steans said, “I do believe we should have labor at the table working with us on this.”
The Supreme Court’s role does not include advising the legislature how to specifically write bills to avoid violating the state’s Constitution. Its role is to say “this is unconstitutional,” or “this is not unconstitutional.” Even so, the justices have been pretty darned clear on multiple occasions about what the Consitution says: Pension benefits are a contractual promise that cannot be undone.