Illinois House Leaders Propose Public Pension Changes

May 17, 2017

Illinois House leaders of both parties have introduced legislation to change the state’s public pension systems. But some constitutional lawyers say it has little chance of getting through the Illinois Supreme Court.

Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie are pushing a plan to effectively lower pension benefits for public employees by giving them a choice: agree to lower raises in retirement, or have your pension based on your salary today, no matter how much more money you make in the future.

Durkin says the last time he sat with Currie in a committee hearing, it was to impeach then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"So, draw your own conclusions on how this is going to go,” he said, “whether or not this is a positive sign of momentum or a harbinger of doom.”

But Law Professor Allen Shoenberger, of Loyola University, says both choices are unconstitutional in Illinois.

“It’s my opinion that what are referred to as the consideration model options are both unconstitutional,” he said.

He says workers also would have to be given the option to keep what they have, or get offered something they don’t yet have -- like a car.

“I think that probably would fly through the Supreme Court,” Shoenberger said, “but I haven’t heard anybody offering a car, be it an American-made or foreign-made car as well.”

The legislation also would move pension obligations to local school districts and public universities.

The consideration model has support from Senate leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Many rank-and-file lawmakers have yet to take a position, but labor unions have vowed to challenge the proposal should it become law.