Eager to get a decision on a significant pension reform law, Attorney General Lisa Madigan successfully nudged Illinois Supreme Court to hurry things up and hold hearings sooner rather than later.
Last month a Springfield judge declared unconstitutional the 2013 pension reform bill passed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who'll be replaced by GOP successor Bruce Rauner in mid-January. The legislation—now in the hands of the Supreme Court—would freeze cost-of-living increases for retired state employees an raise the retirement age in efforts to reduce crushing debt within 30 years. Illinois is short some $111 billion in promised payments to five underfunded pensions after decades of fiscal irresponsibility.
Madigan, a Democrat, submitted an appeal with the Supreme Court last week, also requesting it fast-track the process to deliver a ruling on what she deemed an urgent matter for which a "prompt resolution" could help the state better organize its finances. The court granted her request on Wednesday, setting a March 10 deadline to hear oral arguments amid heavy backlash from labor lawyers who want to buy more time to take on the case.
Attorneys for current state employees and retirees said Tuesday that Madigan's motion "rests upon a false sense of urgency" and they wanted further evidence to support a sped-up Supreme Court hearing. Lawmakers are expected to pass a new budget on May 31 for the fiscal year starting July 1; Quinn's pension plan was slated to kick in June 1 until Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz ruled against it Nov. 21, thereby punting the law over to the Supreme Court for action.
Gov.-Elect Rauner softened his views on pension reform after the fact, declaring: "Don't modify or reduce anybody's pensions who has retired, or has paid into a system and they've accrued benefits. Those don't need to change."