Public pension amendment on Illinois ballot

2012-09-23T00:00:00Z Public pension amendment on Illinois ballotKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau
September 23, 2012 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A pamphlet explaining the ins and outs of a proposed constitutional amendment should begin arriving in mailboxes across Illinois within the next two weeks.

The Illinois Secretary of State’s office is gearing up to mail 5.6 million of the fliers at a cost of about $1.7 million beginning on Oct. 5.

The taxpayer-paid pamphlets, which are being printed in English, Spanish, Chinese, Polish and Hindi, will outline a proposal designed to make it harder for state and local governments to sweeten public-sector pensions.

The question on the ballot asks whether a three-fifths vote should be required when city councils, school districts, state lawmakers or other local government officials want to increase employee retirement plans.

The proposal comes as the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn remain at loggerheads over how to resolve an $83 billion-plus gap in the state’s pension funding.

With the legislature unlikely to take any action to overhaul pensions for school teachers, university workers and other state employees until next year, the constitutional amendment question could serve as a referendum on what Illinois residents want the House and Senate and Quinn to do.

But, unions representing government workers say they are educating their members to vote “no” on the “phony” amendment.

“For decades politicians skipped payments, running up the pension debt. Now that the bill is due, they're trying to blame teachers, police officers, caregivers and other public employees and retirees. Instead of putting in place an ironclad guarantee that politicians will pay their share going forward, they're clamoring to change the constitution in a way that won't do a thing to fix the funding problem,” noted Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the amendment is a “common-sense” way to address future pension abuses.

“There is no claim that this is some kind of solution to the pension problem. It’s just another step in what is going to be a long road to keep the pensions stable and viable,” Brown said.

In addition to setting a higher threshold for approving pension sweeteners, the proposal also asks whether the constitution should require a two-thirds vote for lawmakers to override a governor's veto or accept a governor's proposed changes in a rewrite of pension increase legislation. Currently, it takes a three-fifths vote to override an outright veto and only a simple majority to accept a governor's changes.

The history of constitutional amendments shows that voter approval is not guaranteed.

Kevin Semlow, director of legislative services for the Illinois Farm Bureau, recently looked at the numbers and found that over 900 proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced in the General Assembly since the state’s current constitution was adopted in 1970.

Of those, just 16 have been placed on the ballot. One other initiative was placed on the ballot through the voter initiative provision of the constitution.

“Of the 17 proposed amendments placed on the ballot, only 10 have been ratified by the voters,” Semlow wrote in a recent report.

In addition to the mailers, Henry Haupt, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White, said the office will begin paying for newspaper advertisements about the amendment to run on Oct. 1. The ads are supposed to be printed in one newspaper in each of Illinois’ 102 counties.


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