By Pat Hughes
Today, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Senate Bill 1, the pension reform bill that was signed into law in December 2013, was unconstitutional. In his decision, Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote, “The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and… it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible.” Although we disagree with the court’s ruling, we agree with Karmeier’s statement.
Politicians, in collusion with public sector unions, rewrote the state constitution in 1970 to include a pension protection clause. For decades pension payments were skipped and public sector salaries and cost of living adjustments increased without a plan to pay for them.
There were warnings all along the way that were not heeded by our ruling class politicians. As a result of this crisis we have:
- The largest unfunded pension liability in the nation
- The worst credit rating in the nation
- The highest unemployment in the Midwest
- Our ability to deliver services has deteriorated
- One-quarter of the state budget is spent on pension payments (most states only spend 5%)
The decision today makes it clear that the ruling class’ commitment to Illinois’ failed status quo has been more important than services to our most vulnerable populations; more important than childcare, education, or the homeless. This court ruling makes it clear that those in power in this state care very little for the quality of life of middle-income families or for the success of the businesses that have made Illinois home.
The Chicago Tribune called for leaders to GO BIG on pension reform at the height of the pension debate in 2013, because Illinois simply cannot tax, borrow, or invest our way out of a debt this big. The editors included the following statement, “The legislative leaders need to come up with a solid, substantial, heavy-on-savings reform plan for the state’s pension funds. Then they need to use that as a template for the cities, school districts and other government agencies that face their own pension crises. All that debt is on the taxpayers. It grows and grows.” If left unreformed, our severely underfunded pension system will swallow up the state budget.
However, the people of Illinois have an opportunity today to demand that the state moves in a new direction. As the Chicago Tribune suggested, let’s GO BIG on pension reform by creating a sustainable 401 (k)-style pension system that offers certainty to retirees and fairness to taxpayers. True pension reforms will require legislators with the political will to implement them. It is important that voters keep this in mind as the 2016 election-cycle approaches.
Join our Policy Revolution today and stand up for families, state workers, and businesses. Stand up to those in the General Assembly who would conspire with special interests even as a fiscal crisis cripples their communities. Stand up for those in the General Assembly who refuse a public pension. Stand up for an Illinois Comeback.