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Lawsuit a given whatever bill passes

Wed, May 29, 2013


I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the news that the Illinois Retired Teachers Association says it will sue even if the most wimpy pension reform bill – backed by the government worker unions – becomes law.

Political pundits were busy wringing their hands and bemoaning the “loss of momentum” for this bill backed by Senate President John Cullerton.

After all, his argument has always been that his bill is more likely to pass constitutional muster than others proposed. 

But now there is the threat of a lawsuit.

Folks, there is going to be a lawsuit no matter what the Illinois General Assembly does.

It is as inevitable as House Speaker Mike Madigan asking for the same seat at Saputo’s Italian restaurant, bad food being served in the Stratton state office building cafeteria or lobbyists kvetching about lying politicians while standing around The Rail of the Capitol rotunda.

In our litigious society, lawsuits are inescapable.

So let’s quit thinking that this matter won’t inevitability be settled in court.

The question worth asking is: What do we want to be the test case to go before the Illinois Supreme Court?

Should it be a law that, if it passes constitutional muster, will solve the pension crisis once and for all, or one that will simply kick the issue down the road for some future General Assembly to address?

Consider these numbers:

If the state were to convert to a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k) it would save $218 billion over the next 30 years.

If the state were to adopt Madigan’s reform measure, he contends it would save $150 billion over the next 30 years.

And if the union bill backed by Cullerton and passed by the Senate May 9 were to become law it, would save only $46 billion over the next 30 years.

As I’ve said many times, pensions by their very nature are nearly impossible to sustain. That’s why 80 percent of private industry has switched to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s or IRAs.

This is a solution worthy of government emulation.

It would get the state out of the pension business altogether. And yet the measure has gained little momentum because its critics – government worker unions – argue it’s unconstitutional.

Guess what – the critics don’t get to decide what is or isn’t constitutional.

In fact, here is what state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, had to say May 9 during floor debate on the union-backed bill:

“Folks, there isn’t anybody in this room who has an opinion on constitutionality that matters even a little. There are seven people on the Illinois Supreme Court whose opinions are the only ones that matter. … We don’t know whether it is constitutional or not and the only ones who are going to tell us are on the Supreme Court.”

He’s right.

So why go to the Supreme Court with a half-measure or even a three-quarter measure?

 Lawmakers need to legislate boldly and present the justices with a full solution.

By Scott Reeder,
StreetWise Contributor


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