When Gov. Pat Quinn signed state employee pension reform into law in December 2013, everyone knew it would face a tough legal test. Last week, almost a year later, a judge in Sangamon County ruled those reforms unconstitutional.
Fortunately, that’s not the final word. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide the matter, and the sooner the better. Lawmakers dragged their feet for years before passing the reforms, letting the pension debt mushroom to $100 billion. Every day that this question goes unresolved, the burden on current and future taxpayers increases. Illinois spends 26 cents of every dollar on state employee pensions; according to the Commercial Club of Chicago, that would increase to 41 cents per $1 if pension reform is scuttled.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she will ask for an expedited hearing, so best-case scenario the Supreme Court would hear the case by the end of January. Madigan’s argument, that the state’s sovereign powers trump the state constitution’s promise on pensions, should prevail. This crisis puts funding for vital state services at risk; reducing future benefits of current state employees is the only reasonable way to start paying down the state’s $100 billion in pension debt.
If the court throws out the law, it needs to give lawmakers and new Gov. Bruce Rauner a clear blueprint of what would be acceptable so they can get to work on Plan B.