-By Glen Brown. Glen blogs here.
Cullerton, Rauner, and Emanuel will be breaching a contract by forcing public employees to make a choice to diminish their originally-vested guarantee. They will be breaking an enforceable promise, one that is bilateral and emphasizes an agreement between the State of Illinois and its public employees as to their future rights and benefits.
To impair the obligation of a contract is to lessen its value. “Any law which changes the intention and legal effect of the original parties, giving to one a greater and to the other a less interest or benefit in the contract, impairs its obligation” (115 A. 484, 486). State statutes which do so are prohibited by Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.
It was not too long ago that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Public Act 98-599 (the Illinois General Assembly’s attempt to diminish public employees’ and retirees’ pensions) violated the Pension Clause, the Contracts Clause, and the Takings Clause… of the Illinois Constitution, including article XIII, section 5 on May 8, 2015:
“…[The] plaintiffs’ challenges to the new law were predicated on the Illinois Constitution of 1970. In all five actions, plaintiffs’ principal contention was that the reduction in retirement annuity benefits for Tier I employees was void and unenforceable as a violation of the constitution’s pension protection clause (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, § 5). Four of the complaints (RSEA, ISEA, Harrison, and SUAA) also alleged that the annuity reduction provisions violated article I, section 16, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 16), which provides, inter alia, that no law impairing the obligation of contracts shall be passed. Two of those four complaints (RSEA and ISEA) included separate impairment of contract claims on behalf of a specific subset of employees who elected to participate in early retirement programs offered by the State in 1991, 2002 and 2005. Violations of article I, section 15, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 15), which prohibits the taking or damaging of private property for public use without just compensation, were alleged in Harrison and SUAA. In addition, RSEA and ISEA asserted that the annuity reductions violated equal protection under article I, section 2, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2) because they did not also include members of the JRS system, i.e., judges…” (In re Pension Reform Litigation (Doris Heaton et al., Appellees, v. Pat Quinn, Governor, State of Illinois, et al., Appellants, May 8, 2015).
Instead of Illinois politicians seeking to change the pension code in order to impair the rights of individuals and to force a choice between two negative alternatives, Illinois politicians should stop ignoring their moral responsibility and legal obligation to fund public pension systems. It is their moral duty and legal concern to find ways to increase the state’s revenue so that the public pension systems of Illinois are properly funded.
Of course, we knew that Illinois politicians would continue to dispute one of the Bill of Rights contained in both the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions instead of addressing the real causes of the state’s budget deficits: the pension ramp, the resultant pension debt, and the state’s insufficient flow of revenue. What they should have been doing after the Illinois Supreme Court rulingwas reexamining the concept of justice and what lawfulness demands: that people must keep their covenants with one another.
Any modifications of the Pension Protection Clause by the Illinois General Assembly will be seen for what it is: an accommodation for “only” the General Assembly who have stolen money from the public pension systems for decades and are, thus, avoiding a pre-existing duty rule.
Read the entire post here.