Wednesday, October 3, 2012

UIC UNITED: HJRCA49 Creates New Problems, Doesn't Address Current Problems

To:        Newspaper editors
From:    State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA)
Re:        Proposed Constitutional Amendment 49

For Immediate Publication

On November 6, the citizens of Illinois will be asked to vote on a proposal to amend the State constitution. The changes wrought by this Constitutional Amendment 49 would affect every local government, every school district, every State university, and every community college.  (The cost to taxpayers for putting this issue on the ballot is at least $70 million.) If approved, it would have a profound and long-lasting effect.

The amendment will impose a mandate on every governmental unit in Illinois. It will require that every increase in a pension benefit must pass the governing body by a three-fifths vote.  This would be a departure from other governmental decisions which are normally made by majority vote.  In effect, this would allow a minority to control decisions affecting pension benefits.

What are some possible consequences?  We can anticipate many governmental meetings where absenteeism by elected officials could become a tactic to avoid decision-making.  Would local elections become more divisive and more partisan?  Could this result in governmental decisions being made by judges?

What about State universities, including the University of Illinois?  The amendment will give pension-benefit authority to the³ governing body.²  What is the governing body of a State university?  Is it the Board of Trustees or the General Assembly?  (Both the Illinois House and Senate have Higher Education oversight committees, and the House also has a Committee on Higher Education Appropriations).  If this amendment is approved, what effect would it have on the ability of State universities to attract and retain high quality personnel?  We believe the effect would be adverse.

Cryptic Language in the Amendment
Section (d) of the amendment states: ³ Nothing in this Section shall prevent the passage or adoption of any law, ordinance, resolution, rule, policy, or practice that further restricts the ability to provide a benefit increase, emolument increase, or beneficial determination as those terms are used under this Section.²  Would local governments be enabled to require more than a three-fifths vote to increase pension benefits?  Would governmental bodies be able to diminish existing benefits?

Note the words ³rule, policy, or practice.²  Those words have broad meanings and extend beyond the bounds of government.  Are they appropriate for a constitution?  Are they not invitations for the State to enter the private sector to determine the applicability of a ³policy² or a ³practice?²

The last sentence of Section (b) in the amendment reads:  ³An increase in salary or wage level, by itself, shall not constitute a ³benefit increase² unless that increase exceeds limitations provided by law.² Suppose there are no limitations?  This could lead to protracted litigation.

We have some very serious public pension issues in Illinois.  It would be more meaningful if this amendment dealt with them in a direct and rational way but it IS clear that it will create new issues which will likely produce costly and extended litigation.  For example:  this proposed amendment inserts some terminology that has no statutory or case law behind it: e.g. ³emolument increase,² ³benefit increase,² and ³beneficial determination.²

We believe that after you have read the proposed Constitutional Amendment 49, together with our comments, you will come to the conclusion that it should be rejected at the polls on November 6.  The basic reason is that it will create many new pension problems without dealing with any of the current ones.  A future amendment would be needed to correct the problems created by this current one and would cost taxpayers another $70+million.


UIC UNITED, the UIC Chapter of the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA)
Contact persons:
Merrill Gassman, President
Brenda Russell, Publicity Director

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