SPRINGFIELD, IL â€” Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the Illinois Supreme Courtâ€™s decision, handed down today, that a 2013 measure reducing retirement benefits for teachers and state workers is unconstitutional and will not take effect:
Today, the stateâ€™s highest court affirmed that, as in all matters, we are bound by the plain language of the Illinois Constitution on the question of public employee benefits. This is not surprising news, nor is it an unwelcome reminder; constitutional limits protect us all â€“ especially in times of fiscal crisis. The Court effectively illustrated the cyclical nature of economic fortunes, noting that Illinois faced a pension funding emergency at the time our current constitution was drafted. The rule of law remains a guiding constant.
This decision is a call to go back to the negotiating table and get serious about the range of options available to us to repair the stateâ€™s finances and meet its obligations in ways consistent with the constitution, sustainable for the future and fair to all concerned.
A number of approaches remain open to us, but the Court has made clear that the constitutionâ€™s prohibition on unilateral modifications applies to the lifetime of the contract made at the time of employment, not merely to benefits already accrued.
We return to our task aided by the insights of the Court, fully aware of our constitutional responsibilities as well as the severity of our fiscal condition, in partnership with all affected and open to new ideas.
Each local pension system is unique and there is no â€œone-size fits allâ€ approach to pension reform. A number of aspects of todayâ€™s decision re-affirm our view that the legislation introduced last year to reform the pension fund for Cook County employees and retirees is constitutionally sound. First and foremost, our proposed reform legislation is not based on the â€œpolice powersâ€ argument or the other arguments put forth in defense of Senate Bill 1.Â Our plan, which was the product of over two years of negotiations with a cross section of unions and stakeholders, also confers on participants significant new value in return for changes in the pension system.Â For example, current employees and retirees will receive dedicated healthcare funding and a secure healthcare program, both of which they donâ€™t have today under current law.
The fact is that the current statute that governs the pensions of Cook County employees and retirees is broken, through no fault of the County or its taxpayers. The County has always budgeted the maximum statutory payment and yet the fund remains in a precarious financial state. For each month that passes, the unfunded liabilities grow by roughly $30 million and the window of time to enact the mutually agreed upon options to fix the status quo narrows. It is critical that our pension reform legislation be passed immediately.
We will continue working with the General Assembly and Governor Rauner on advancing our equitable legislation through bipartisanship.