First, let me say that I love Steve Rhodes’ Beechwood Reporter blog.
And I love Ken Davis and his Chicago Newsroom. I have been a guest several times, although not lately.
What’s up with that?
Although to be fair, I was invited recently and had a scheduling conflict.
But watching this week’s show I let out a noise that caused Anne to come running down the stairs to see if I had suffered a stroke. Or worse.
Discussing the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that threw out Rahm’s attempt at pension theft, Ken wondered about the intent of those who insisted on the language that clearly says that pension benefits may not be diminished or impaired, a guarantee that starts on the day an employee is hired.
At 4:05 of the show my friend Ken Davis says he has always wondered about the intent of those at the 1970 Constitutional Convention when they included the language of the pension protection clause. And Steve wonders too. “Someone should write a story,” says Ken.
Concern over ongoing funding deficiencies and the attendant threat to the security of retirees in public pension systems eventually led directly to adoption of article XIII, section 5, the pension protection clause, when the new constitution was adopted in 1970.
Delegate Green, one of the provision’s sponsors, introduced it to the Constitutional Convention by reminding his fellow delegates of the poor job governmental entities had done in meeting their pension obligations over time.
He pointed out that: “[i]n the past twenty-two years the unfunded accrued liabilities of these pension plans in Illinois have increased from about $359,000,000 to almost $2,500,000,000, and the unfunded accrued liabilities are real and are not theoretical obligations based upon service already rendered. Despite the consistent warnings from the Pension Laws Commission, the current budgeting of pension costs necessary to ensure the financial stability of these funds, the General Assembly has failed to meet its commitments to finance the pension obligations on a sound basis. In 1967 the General Assembly approved Senate Bill 515 which provided for the appropriation to one state university retirement system, to at least equal to an amount which would be necessary to fund fully the current service costs and to cover the interest on the past service; and despite this legislative mandate, the General Assembly refused to appropriate the necessary funds. Now, during this two-year period alone the appropriations under this system were $67,000,000 less than the minimum required by the senate bill. Now, what we are proposing is being carried out in some other states ***. Our language is that language that is in the New York Constitution which was adopted in 1938, really under a similar circumstance. In 1938 you were about at the end of the Depression, but there was a great consideration on the part of the New York General Assembly to really cut out some of the money that they were giving to the pension programs in New York; and it was for this reason that the New York Constitution adopted the language that we are suggesting. Since that time, the state of New York—the pension funds for public employees have been fully funded, and so I think we have good reason to believe that this type of language will be a mandate to the General Assembly to do something which they have not previously done in some twenty-two years.” 4 Record of Proceedings, Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention 2925 (statements of Delegate Green) (hereinafter Record of Proceedings).
Delegate Green’s remarks were followed by statements from Delegate Kinney, who noted in further support of the provision that the proposed creation of broad home rule powers for municipalities had led to concerns that, unless they were constrained, municipalities who preferred to use retirement money for other public purposes such as street repair might abandon their pension obligations, leaving police officers, firefighters and other civil servants unprotected. Id. at 2926 (statements of Delegate Kinney).
Delegate Bottino, in turn, observed that: “participants in these pension systems have been leery for years of the fact that the—this matter of the amount the state has appropriated [for pensions] has been made a political football, in a sense. In other words, in order to balance budgets, you see, the party in power would just use the amount of the state contribution to help balance budgets, and this had gotten to the point where many of the so called pensioners under – 6 – this system were very concerned; and I think this is the reason that pressure is constantly being placed on the legislature to at least put a fair amount of state resources into guaranteeing payment of pensions.” Id. at 2930-31 (statements of Delegate Bottino).
The solution proposed by the drafters and ultimately approved by the people of Illinois was to protect the benefits of membership in public pension systems not by dictating specific funding levels, but by safeguarding the benefits themselves.
So, Ken and Steve. It is no secret what the Constitutional Convention delegates meant or what the voters approved.
They simply did not trust the legislature and politicians to do what they were entrusted to do.
They were smart men and women who lived in Illinois.
They wrote with unequivocal clarity that the promised pensions must be paid, no matter what.
In fact, they pretty much knew exactly that what has happened would happen.
And still they said that the promised pensions must be paid.
The writers of the Illinois Constitution wrote it down.
And the voters of Illinois approved it.
And the highest court in the state confirmed it.