In a win for public workers and retirees, a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that Illinois' controversial pension reform law is "unconstitutional and void in its entirety."
Judge John Belz sided with the We Are One Illinois coalition of unions and other plaintiffs, who argued that the measure violates the Illinois Constitution's pension clause, which states that contractual pension benefits cannot be reduced.
The We Are One Coalition issued a statement after today's decision:
We are gratified by the court's ruling today, which makes clear that the Illinois Constitution means what it says. The court held today, as our unions have long argued, that the state cannot simply choose to violate the Constitution and diminish or impair retirement benefits if politicians find these commitments inconvenient to keep.
This is a victory for every Illinois resident who believes in the integrity of the Constitution. It is a victory for a basic principle of fairness, that working people and retirees who earned modest pensions and always paid their share should not be punished for politicians' failures. And it is a victory for the members of our unions, who work hard every day in every Illinois community to teach kids, protect public safety, care for the most vulnerable and much more. Today they are more secure in the knowledge that their life savings can't be taken away from them.
Going forward, our union coalition repeats our longstanding commitment to work with anyone of good faith to develop a fair and constitutional solution to fund the state's retirement systems.
The state is likely to appeal decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Outgoing Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is calling on the high court to "take the matter up as soon as possible."
"This historic pension reform law eliminates the state's unfunded liability and fully stabilizes the systems to ensure retirement security for employees who have faithfully contributed to them," a statement from his administration reads, according to the Chicago Tribune. "We're confident the Illinois Supreme Court will uphold this urgently-needed law that squarely addresses the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time."
State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), who co-chaired the pension reform conference committee, issued this statement in response to Belz's decision:
Today's ruling sends yet another signal that - as I have always maintained - our constitution does not allow state government to run roughshod over contractual rights, even in times of great financial hardship. The judicial evaluation of last year's compromise pension reform plan is far from complete, and I await the guidance of the Illinois Supreme Court. I stand ready, once we receive that guidance, to continue the process of negotiating constitutional reforms that protect public employees as well as core services, such as education and health care.