SPRINGFIELD | A group of retired state employees Thursday filed the second of what could be at least four lawsuits seeking to dump the state’s controversial new pension law.
The Retired State Employees Association, representing over 9,000 former workers, filed the 19-page suit in Sangamon County, arguing recently enacted changes to the state’s pension systems are unconstitutional.
The complaint names four retirees -– each from Sangamon County, home to the state’s capital city -- as plaintiffs representing 60,000 retirees in a class action against Gov. Pat Quinn and other top state officials. A separate part of the suit singles out more than 10,000 employees who took up the state’s offer of early retirement benefits beginning in 2000.
The suit is similar to one filed in Cook County last month by retired educators who allege the new law – designed to erase years of underfunding – violates a clause in the state constitution that says pension benefits may not be reduced.
Two other lawsuits against the new law are expected to be filed in the coming weeks, including one financed by a coalition of the state’s public employee unions.
The lawsuits come in response to pension legislation signed into law last month aimed at fully funding the pension systems by 2044. The new law addresses a nearly $100 billion shortfall in funding by cutting annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raising the retirement age for workers, teachers, lawmakers and university employees age 45 and younger.
The measure, which doesn’t go into effect until June 1, also reduces the amount workers must pay toward their pensions by 1 percentage point.
Without the changes, Quinn and lawmakers said the state’s annual pension payments were eating up too much of the state’s budget, forcing them to make cuts in education, social services and other state programs.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the lawsuits are not a surprise.
But, she said, “This historic law squarely addresses the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time by eliminating the state's unfunded pension debt.”
In the latest suit, retired employees say the law is invalid because it not only reduces their benefits, but exempts the Judges Retirement System – a move designed by supporters to eliminate potential conflict of interest claims should the judiciary be called upon to rule on the law.
The new law covers the State Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System and the General Assembly Retirement System.
Among the plaintiffs are former Illinois Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources employees, each with over 25 years of service.
Bruce Strom, a former Springfield alderman and ex-state employee who now serves as president of the retired employee group predicted the lawsuits could take a long time to resolve.
In a prepared statement Strom added, “For too long, our members have had to endure being scapegoated for the State's financial problems. The complaint demonstrates not only that the General Assembly has violated the Constitution, but has ignored its own statutes in using money owed to SERS and other pension systems to fund daily operations of State government."