Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday asked the state’s top court to reverse a lower court’s ruling that the 2013 pension reform bill is unconstitutional.
Madigan’s office filed a notice of appeal less than a week after a Sangamon County judge ruled the 2013 law violated the Illinois State Constitution’s clause on state pensions. Her move begins the appeals process and paves the way for a legal showdown before the Illinois Supreme Court.
On Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled in favor of state employees and retirees who sued to block the state’s landmark pension overhaul.
In his ruling, Belz found that the constitution’s “protection against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is absolute and without exception.”
“The Act without question diminishes and impairs the benefits of membership in State retirement systems,” Belz wrote in the ruling, finding the state had no legally valid argument.
Madigan’s brief filing on Wednesday asked for a “reversal of the Judgment.”
In addition to filing the appeal, Madigan — who is acting as the lawyer for Gov. Pat Quinn and other defendants in the case — is expected to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to rule on an expedited basis.
Lawmakers and Quinn approved the pension overhaul last year. Years of underfunding has put the state’s pension systems roughly $111 billion short of what they need to cover benefits promised to employees and retirees.
The law reduces benefits for retirees but also reduces employee contributions. State employees argued that the Constitution prohibits reducing benefits or compensation.
If the Illinois Supreme Court upholds the decision, lawmakers will have to work together to come up with another plan.
Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, who inherits the state’s pension mess, said Monday that he hoped an appeal would supply a blueprint for what type of reform might pass constitutional muster.
“Hopefully they will give us some feedback that will help guide the discussion for future modifications as appropriate for the pensions,” Rauner said.
Contributing: Tina Sfondeles, Sandra Guy, Brian Slodysko