To the Editor:
House Bill 6258, which was proposed by Illinois state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, would be, if passed into law, unconstitutional. It would, among other things, limit annual cost-of-living increases (3 percent) for current retired teachers to the first $25,000 of the employee’s pension.
Many taxpayers, I’m sure, will think that this is a great idea. I don’t. One could argue about the “fairness” of this proposition, but that would be missing the point.
The Illinois Constitution prohibits the arbitrary reduction of pension benefits for retired state employees. Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois State Constitution reads:
“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
What could be easier to understand? This section was included in the Constitution at a time when the authors were well aware of the General Assembly’s tendency to misappropriate state budgets and to underfund and raid the teachers’ pension system. The pensions of retired teachers are contractually guaranteed.
So what’s the point? This proposal would most certainly be litigated forcefully in the courts, and I wager that it would not pass constitutional muster. A teacher’s pension is an enforceable contract. Section 5 was written with the intention of protecting state employees against proposals like this.
I hope she can revise her proposal so we can avoid the cost of litigation and the ultimate failure of at least this portion of pension “reform.”
Paul R. Nitz