SPRINGFIELD — Trying to trump Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address, a bloc of public-sector unions announced Tuesday they have sued the governor and other state officeholders in a long-expected bid to have last month’s pension-reform law declared unconstitutional.
“Our suit makes clear that pension theft is not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional,”said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, in a prepared statement. “Teachers, nurses, emergency responders and other workers and retirees will not stand by while politicians try to take away their life savings illegally.
“The Legislature and governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the Constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs. Promises must be kept, and the rule of law must prevail over politics,” Carrigan said.
The suit, involving the AFL-CIO, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federations of Teachers, AFSCME Council 31, SEIU Local 73 and other unions, was filed in Sangamon County, where thousands of current and past government workers live. The 25 named plaintiffs are current and retired state workers, Downstate and suburban teachers and university employees who belong to those and other unions.
The group alleges the pension law that proponents said would ease the state’s $100 billion pension crisis violates the pension clause of the state Constitution, which says public pensions can’t be diminished or impaired.
The named defendants in the lawsuit include Quinn; Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a GOP gubernatorial candidate; Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and the state’s retirement systems.
“Plaintiffs bring this action to correct the abdication by the governor and General Assembly of the state of Illinois … of their most fundamental duty — to uphold the Illinois Constitution,” the suit said. “In failing to fulfill that duty, the governor and General Assembly unlawfully harm hundreds of thousands of current and retired state employees and teachers and breach the trust that all Illinois citizens place in them.”
The timing of the lawsuit comes the day before the State of the State address that Quinn will deliver Wednesday before both chambers of the General Assembly. The filing appears aimed at trumping that speech in which the governor is expected to tout what arguably is his crowning legislative victory during his five years in office.
In a statement, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said: “These lawsuits come as no surprise. We believe it’s constitutional, and we’ll defend the interests of taxpayers.
“This landmark law was urgently needed to resolve the state’s $100 billion pension crisis, which was created over 70 years of financial mismanagement . . . This landmark law squarely addresses the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time by eliminating the state’s unfunded pension debt, a standard set by Governor Quinn two years ago. It had to be done to ensure retirement security for those who have faithfully contributed to the pension systems and support economic growth.”
By contrast, Rutherford is not a believer in the law that passed the House and Senate and that Quinn enacted into law. In a brief interview Tuesday, the treasurer said he believes it’s unconstitutional and that pension reform of any sort should be negotiated with the unions.
“We anticipated this latest lawsuit by the We Are One Illinois coalition regarding the new pension law,” Rutherford said in a prepared statement. “We will now wait and see how the Supreme Court rules.”
The filing is the latest setback for the pension law, which scaled back automatic, compounding 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees and raised retirement ages.
Late Friday, word emerged that the plan that had been expected to save the state $160 billion over three decades would wind up resulting in about $15 billion less in savings over the next 30 years than originally forecast.
The glimmer of good news out of those changed actuarial assumptions by the state’s pension systems was that the state’s $100 billion pension debt would drop immediately by $24 billion.