Monday, November 24, 2014

Court ruling not the final say when it comes to pension funding reform

Organized labor is pleased with itself these days; they were able to get a judge to say that the state’s attempt to revise the way it funds pension programs for government retirees was flawed and qualifies as “unconstitutional.”

They’d probably use a more profane phrase to describe the reform, believing that it taps into previously promised benefits that retired state government employees were promised.

THERE ALSO ARE the people who were so eager NOT to vote for Pat Quinn in his recent unsuccessful bid to get re-elected as governor. They wanted to blame Quinn for the reform measure getting passed into law in the first place, and I’m sure they view the ruling of a Sangamon County judge last week as vindication of the justness of their position.

I’m not as willing to consider this issue done. Not by a long shot.

In fact, my reaction to the ruling issued Friday was something along the lines of “ho-hum.” This is a legal battle that is far from resolved. There are a lot of things that could change before we know whether the General Assembly has to start all over in trying to figure out how to close the gap in funds that could cause all of state government to come up short financially.

The ruling by a circuit judge was merely the first step in a lengthy process. No one should be assured of what the outcome of this case ought to be.

IN FACT, THE one positive I saw in the news coverage of Judge John Belz’ ruling was that the Illinois attorney general’s office said it plans to take its appeal directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Not having to endure hearings, deliberations and a ruling at the appellate court will save a lot of time – particularly if the state’s high court follows the desires of the attorney general’s office for an expedited ruling.

For the sooner we get the Supreme Court to rule, the sooner we can resolve the funding shortfall that threatens the future of state government – one in which the pension obligations cost so much of the state’s money that the state can’t do much of anything else.

And anyone who watches court activity knows that judicial panels should never be regarded as predictable. Who’s to say how this case will turn out – even though I’m sure the labor interests are convinced the Supreme Court will merely reaffirm what happened last week.

MY OWN THOUGHTS about this issue are to realize how serious it is for officials to act on bringing pension program funding under control; and sooner rather than later. If the high court does wind up striking down what happened in the Legislature a couple of years ago, it means more wasted time.

And the attitude I get from some of the people upset with pension funding reform is that they’re not all that concerned with the financial status of the state – they’d be more than willing to accept the reform measure if they thought their pension could be exempt.

Then again, to someone who has worked a lifetime with certain expectations and who did not spend a lifetime paying money into Social Security, hearing talk of having their “fixed” incomes slashed to make up for past screw-ups by government officials has to be a bit insulting.

So where do we go from here?

I’M NOT ABOUT to predict how this problem will be resolved by the court, or if it will be resolved at all.

Labor interests got a victory in that when the appeal is heard, the burden of proof will be on state government to justify why their reform proposal should be taken seriously – rather than on unions to argue why it should be rejected.

I also suspect that by the time this situation is resolved, nobody is going to be all that pleased!


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