For those of us – and there were many – who hit the pension lobbying circuit, we would hear common talking points from legislators.
Prior to the December 3rd vote for Senate Bill 1 and pension theft, it was, “I’m voting for it even though I think is is unconstitutional. Then the courts will tell us what to do.”
As my mother always told me when my older brother got me to do something that got me into trouble, “If he told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?”
Always follow the logic of mothers.
Apparently our legislators have no sense of right and wrong unless someone tells them how to behave.
Now Judge Belz has ruled Senate Bill 1 in its entirety unconstitutional. He based his ruling on case-law and so there is very little doubt that the Illinois Supreme Court will do one of three things.
They could not hear the case and let the Belz ruling stand.
They could agree to AG Lisa Madigan’s request for an expedited ruling, find it unconstitutional so that the legislature will understand what the law is before they have to produce the next budget and vote on keeping the 5% income tax.
Or they can hear it and rule it unconstitutional in due time.
The near universal expectation that the ISC will rule that pension theft is unconstitutional is symbolized by the slight shift in the recent statements of Bruce Rauner.
The Republican investor said on the campaign trail earlier this year that he’d slash benefits to retirees and current workers and lead a transition into a corporate-esque 401(k) arrangement. But as he prepares to take over the governorship, and see his ambitious election-season statements clash with political realities, Rauner has apparently softened his views on pension reform to pardon those who’ve invested income—placing money (and trust) in a dysfunctional system.
“What we should change is the future—the future accruals, the future benefits for future work,” he said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “That is constitutional. It’s also fair and appropriate for the taxpayers and the workers themselves.”
“Hopefully (the state Supreme Court) will give us some feedback that will help guide the discussion for future modifications as appropriate for the pensions,” noted Rauner.
Yes. He said he will pardon us.
Like Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon.
Perhaps Rauner should wait for the results of the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of pay-to-play deals between his campaign and pension investment managers before he decides who needs a pardon.
Rauner now says he would leave current retiree pensions alone.
That’s the pardon part.
He says he would change current employees pensions only going forward.
However, based on Judge Belz ruling last week, and the opinion of former Senate Democratic Party attorney Eric Madiar, contractual benefits and their contractual and constitutional protections begin on the day employees entered a contractual relationship with the pension system.
Rauner simply cannot go there. He can try. But the courts have given every indication that the pension protection clause of the Constitution is a locked box.
If memory serves me right, there were those in the union leadership and their supporters who lectured those of us in the rank-and-file who opposed the failed compromise, SB 2404.
SB 2404 would have, among other things, reduced our guaranteed post retirement yearly pension increases.
Their argument was that it was better to cut a deal with the likes of Cullerton, Madigan and Quinn than to risk a court decision.
Further, they argued that if we didn’t agree to sacrifice our constitutional and contractual rights, Madigan would pass something much worse.
That is exactly what happened. Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan pushed through SB1 last December.
It was worse that SB 2404.
So much more worse that Judge Belz could barely contain himself. He quickly – far more quickly than anyone expected – threw out every word of it and rejected every twisted piece of legal argument that Lisa Madigan could come up with.
The union leadership’s argument for compromise and conciliation of our pension protection rights turned out to be wrong.
They will never say that.
But it is true.
Some of my friends fear that once the legislature faces the results of the court rulings, they will come back to the table with our union leadership and the leadership will cut another deal that compromises our pension rights.
But the courts are sending a message to union leadership, legislators and Bruce Rauner:
“The State of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits. Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the state of Illinois cannot break this promise.”
So said Judge Belz.