The Illinois Supreme Court must decide whether or not the state's pension crisis is dire enough to override the constitutional mandate that public workers will not see cuts to their pension benefits. The seven justices have been tasked with judging whether or not the state's failing pension systems can be saved by adopting the 2013 pension reform law. The law, which would dial back some of Illinois' public pension system benefits, was found unconstitutional in a lower court. Now, the highest court in the state will have its say. Jacob Huebert, a lawyer at the Illinois Policy Institute's Liberty Justice Center, said he thinks this is a big job.
That reform bill, Senate Bill 1, reduced annual increases in retiree benefits, commonly referred to as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs; increased the retirement age for some government employees, and put a cap on the amount of an employee's salary that can be considered when calculating his or her pension payments. It did not reduce core pension benefits.
In the case before the Illinois Supreme Court, the plaintiffs, who are participants in public pension systems, argue that even these modest adjustments violate the Illinois Constitution's pension clause, which says that pension benefits "shall not be diminished or impaired." They claim that the pension clause provides an absolute guarantee against any changes in the law that would result in pensioners receiving less money than they expected.
That's a stretch.
(Read the rest of Huebert's thoughts on the Supreme Court case at Reboot Illinois.)
The outcome of the case could depend on the opinions of just a few of those seven judges.
(Check out an infographic at Reboot Illinois to learn about each judge, including their education and electoral history.)