The Illinois Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of Illinois’ pension law in March, in line with Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s request that the case be heard on an expedited basis.
Last month, a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled the law was unconstitutional. Ms. Madigan’s office appealed that decision to the Supreme Court on Nov. 26 and requested one week later that the case be heard on an accelerated timeline.
In a Dec. 4 motion, Ms. Madigan’s office requested oral arguments start as early as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10.
A prompt ruling is critical “because the state must either implement the act, or, in the alternative, significantly reduce spending and/or raise taxes,” the motion states.
Earlier this week, the plaintiffs, a group of employee and retiree organizations, argued that an expedited ruling was unnecessary and that scheduling oral arguments before March would not give them sufficient time to make their case.
“While the state claims to want a decision before the end of May for budget-making purposes, our filing points out that the state’s own appeal seeks only to return the case to the circuit court, where a decision would certainly not come before the supposed May deadline. In short, the state’s argument is based on trying to create ‘a false sense of urgency,’” said the We Are One Illinois coalition, one of the plaintiffs, in a statement.
If the law is upheld, state pension contributions in fiscal year 2016 could be reduced by roughly $1 billion. The state’s budget process for fiscal year 2016 ends May 31, 2015.
The pension law, which was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Dec. 5, 2013, is aimed at bringing the state’s retirement systems to full funding and reducing contributions by roughly $145 billion over the next 30 years by lowering cost-of-living adjustments, capping pensionable salaries and raising retirement ages.
On Nov. 21, Judge John Belz sided with employee and retiree organizations that argued the law violates the state's constitutional clause that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”
We Are One Illinois maintains that “the constitutional pension protection clause is absolute and the Sangamon court ruling should be affirmed,” said John T. Shapiro, lead attorney for the We Are One Illinois Coalition.