Why Illinois needs a constitutional amendment to save itself

A former U.S. Comptroller General, David Walker, has  added his voice to the many who say that Illinois must amend its constitution "to defuse a ticking retirement time bomb" for Chicago and the state.

David M. Walker

David M. Walker

He wrote in Truth in Accounting that the amendment should be based on a federal law-- the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)--that would "would prevent an involuntary reduction of a pension benefit based on service rendered to-date but would allow for reductions or caps in future benefit accruals and cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to such future accruals."

He argued that an ERISA-based amendment would:

... require certain minimum funding standards to provide reasonable assurance that promised benefits will be paid. Importantly, under ERISA, retiree health care arrangements are not deemed to be retirement plans. As a result, needed changes can be made to make them more affordable and sustainable over time. 

A constitutional amendment, he said, is the only solution because the Illinois Supreme Court has twice made rational reforms impossible by rigidly interpreting the provision that retirement benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired”.  He called those decisions "...unprecedented and unduly restrictive since they do not allow for the type of reasonable reforms that can be achieved in the private and non-profit sectors under ERISA....Those decisions prevent reasonable reforms that can be achieved in the private and non-profit sectors under ERISA."  

Walker was comptroller general from 1998 to 2008 under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He joins outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in calling for a constitutional amendment. The Illinois Policy Institute said in response that an amendment is required  "to  allow changes to future, unearned pension benefits [that] is the only way to stop rising property taxes and income taxes, as well as prevent annual pension contributions from crowding out government spending on education and social services, both at the state and local levels."



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    Oh, we'll get a constitutional amendment, all right. Just not the one proposed by Mr. Waker. Instead, we'll get one that abolishes the only reason to stay in Illinois -- the flat income tax -- and imposes a progressive income tax. So many people buy the myth that "the rich" should pay "their fair share" that promoting it will be easy. People will buy the lie that ONLY the rich will pay. Sure...and when they run out of rich people guess who will get the tab?
    By the way, the interpretation of "shall not be diminished" should NEVER have applied to benefits that aren't yet earned by people who are not yet hired. The SCOI tied reformers' hands and stuck it to all taxpayers.

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