Removing The Pension Protection Clause

Oct 13, 2014

Credit Hannah Meisel

Illinois' ability to change retirement benefits of government workers is limited because of a provision in the state Constitution. But what about trying to make that a non-issue, by doing away with that clause?

Article XIII, Sect. 5 of the Illinois Constitution is direct: pension benefits, it says, "shall not be diminished or impaired."

Nevertheless, a law passed last year cuts benefits for current workers and retirees. Whether that squares with the Constitution is currently the subject of a lawsuit.

Both men running for governor say the pension plans are too rich and need to be changed. So why not go all the way and suggest changing the Constitution?

Asked about it, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn would only say he’s optimistic the new law will be upheld.

"If the court acts in a way that says contrary, we'll take necessary steps, obviously,"Quinn said.

He didn't rule out a constitutional change, though he called the clause "a good one."

Republican nominee Bruce Rauner says the Constitution's framers were right to include the guarantee.

"I think pensions are a contractual obligation, and what is agreed to should be paid into and honored by all parties," he said.

Rauner wants to freeze pension plans where they are and have workers start private accounts.

Removing the clause would do nothing to ease the massive pension liability Illinois has already incurred.

*The original version of this article identified the pension clause as Art. VIII, Sect. 5; it's actually Art. XIII.