Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Amendment 49 Would Change Rules For Raising Pensions




    It’s not getting much publicity, but there is a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot that would raise the threshold for increasing public employee pensions. Right now, it only requires a majority vote of the General Assembly, a school board or a city council to sweeten the retirement deal for teachers, cops, nurses…or politicians. If Amendment 49 passes, a three-fifths vote would be required. Instead of 26 votes in the City Council, you’d need 30. Instead of 60 votes in the House of Representatives, you’d need 71. Instead of four votes on a school board, you’d need five. (Unaffected would be five-member boards of townships, where some of the worst featherbedding takes places. They’d still require only three votes.)

    Amendment 49, however, does not change the requirement for reducing public employee pensions. That would still only require a majority vote. The ballot language passed the House 113-0 and the Senate 51-2.

    Upon approval by the voters, the proposed amendment, which takes effect on January 9, 2013, adds a new section to the General Provisions Article of the Illinois Constitution. The new section would require a three-fifths majority vote of each chamber of the General Assembly or the governing body of a unit of local government, school district, or pension or retirement system, in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system. At the general election to be held on November 6, 2012, you will be called upon to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.
    If you believe the Illinois Constitution should be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote YES on the question. If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote NO on the question. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election must vote "YES" in order for the amendment to become effective on January 9, 2013.

    Needless to say, public employee unions hate it. AFSCME is encouraging Illinoisans to vote no on 49 because it:

    Is undemocratic--all other laws, ordinances, etc. can be enacted with a simple majority vote; Requires a 3/5 majority vote for improvements to pension benefits, but any reduction in pension benefits will still only require a simple majority;
    Could cause more labor disputes at the local government and school district level because even if the union and management reach agreement on a contract, a minority of a city council, county board or school district could block its implementation; and Will make it even more difficult to improve the very low Tier 2 benefit schedule that currently exists for employees hired after January 1, 2011.    

    But the Pekin Times is in favor:

    We realize such a provision might be a hard pill to swallow for those who receive publicly funded pensions, but we believe it just makes good financial sense. These are tough economic times — particularly in Illinois, where sky-high pension costs amount for a good chunk of the state's growing debt. Adding more of a burden on the state, and, as a result, on all of us taxpayers, should not be a decision made lightly.
    Requiring 60 percent of a governing body to approve an increase isn't unreasonable. If it is truly necessary, the votes will be there. But the world is changing, and the days of everyone retiring on a comfortable pension are long gone. The private sector realized this long ago, and it's high time workers in the public sector began grasping this reality, too.
    Being able to enjoy a cushy retirement at age 50 while those employed in the private sector work until they're 70 to pay for it is patently unfair. Americans are living much longer lives these days, and that's a good thing. But it also means pension funds and programs such as Social Security are being drained much more quickly than anticipated.