Judge Rules Illinois’ Pension Law Unconstitutional

 
Several legal challenges to the pension law were consolidated in Sangamon County. The county's courthouse is in downtown Springfield.

Several legal challenges to the pension law were consolidated in Sangamon County. The county's courthouse is in downtown Springfield.

Credit: Amanda Vinicky/IPR

An Illinois judge has ruled that a law intended to fix the nation's worst state employee pension crisis violates the state Constitution.

University of Illinois professor Bruce Reznick, who's taught math at the school for 35 years, says the state's pension system is what attracted him to the job in the first place.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled Friday in favor of state employees and retirees who sued to block the state's landmark pension overhaul.
 
The state is expected to appeal the ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.  The overhaul was approved by lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last year.

Years of underfunding had put the state's pension systems roughly $100 billion short of what they need to cover benefits promised to employees.
 
The law reduces benefits for retirees, but also reduces employee contributions.

The lawsuit argued that the Constitution prohibits reducing benefits or compensation.  The state argued that pensions can be modified in times of crisis.

Gov. Pat Quinn says legal challenges were expected with a pension overhaul that's been found unconstitutional by a Sangamon County judge and he'll urge the Illinois Supreme Court to take it up.

In a statement Friday, Quinn's spokesman Grant Klinzman says the historic law eliminates the state's unfunded liability and stabilizes the systems. 

Gov-elect Bruce Rauner issued a statement of his own.

"It is my hope that the court will take up the case and rule as soon as possible," said Rauner.  "I look forward to working with the legislature to craft and implement effective, bipartisan pension reform.”

"We plan to immediately appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court so that we can obtain a final resolution of these important issues and allow the Governor and General Assembly to take any necessary action," said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  "We will ask the Court to expedite the appeal given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state’s fiscal condition.”

Story source: AP