UNITED STATES NEWS

Illinois high court hands lawmakers a rare pension-overhaul victory

Jan 19, 2024, 1:49 PM | Updated: 2:26 pm

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday endorsed the consolidation of local police and firefighter pension systems, a rare victory in a yearslong battle to find an answer to the state’s besieged retirement accounts.

The court’s unanimous opinion rejected claims by three dozen working and retired police officers and firefighters from across the state that the merger of 649 separate systems into two statewide accounts violated the state constitution’s guarantee that benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

For years, that phrase has flummoxed governors and legislatures trying to cut their way past decades of underfunding the retirement programs. Statewide pension systems covering teachers, university employees, state employees, judges and those working for the General Assembly are overturned a lawmakers’ money-saving overhaul approved two years earlier.

Friday’s ruling deals with a law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in late 2019 intended to boost investment power and cut administrative spending for hundreds of municipal funds. The Democratic governor celebrated the unusually good pension news.

“We ushered in a new era of responsible fiscal management, one aspect of which has been consolidating over 600 local pension systems to increase returns and lower fees, reducing the burden on taxpayers,” Pritzker said in a statement.

It would appear to be working. As of 2021, the new statewide accounts together had a funding gap of $12.83 billion; a year later, it stood at $10.42 billion, a decline of 18.7%.

Additionally, data from the Firefighters’ Pension Investment Fund shows that through June 2023, the statewide fund had increased return value of $40.4 million while saving, through June 2022, $34 million in investment fees and expenses.

But 36 active and former first responders filed a lawsuit, claiming that the statewide arrangement had usurped control of their retirement benefits. They complained the law violated the pension-protection clause because they could no longer exclusively manage their investments, they no longer had a vote on who invested their money and what risks they were willing to take, and that the local funds had to pay for transitioning to the statewide program.

The court decreed that none of those issues concerned a benefit that was impaired. Beyond money, the pension-protection law only covers a member’s ability to continue participating or to increase service credits.

“The ability to vote in elections for local pension board members is not such a constitutionally protected benefit, nor is the ability to have local board members control and invest pension funds,” Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis said in writing the court’s opinion. The remaining six justices concurred.

Matters concerning benefits are still decided by remaining local boards, and the nine-member panels operating the statewide programs are a mix of executives from the member municipalities, current employees elected by other current employees, retirees elected by other beneficiaries and a representative of the Illinois Municipal League, the opinion noted.

The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ contention that the law violated the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause which allows government to take property in return for just compensation. It decided the pension law involved no real property of the type the federal constitution envisioned.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Hillside, called the measure a “commonsense reform” borne of collaboration.

“Smart decision making can produce real savings for taxpayers, while protecting what workers have earned,” Welch said in a statement. “We’re continuing to rebuild Illinois’ fiscal house and move our state forward.”

United States News

Associated Press

Ford recalls over 550,000 pickup trucks because transmissions can suddenly downshift to 1st gear

DETROIT (AP) — Ford is recalling more than 550,000 pickup trucks in the U.S. because the transmissions can unexpectedly downshift to first gear no matter how fast the trucks are going. The recall covers certain F-150 pickups from the 2014 model year. Ford’s F-Series pickups are the top-selling vehicles in the U.S. Ford says in […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Wildfire prompts evacuation orders for rural community in northern California

PALERMO, Calif. (AP) — Authorities in rural northern California have ordered evacuations due to a fast-moving fire threatening the community of Palermo, which is near where the state’s deadliest wildfire struck six years ago. The fire covered about 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers) in the initial hours Monday after the flames were first reported, […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Former pro surfer known for riding huge Pipeline waves dies in shark attack while surfing off Oahu

A well-known Hawaii lifeguard who was killed in a shark attack while surfing off Oahu’s North Shore was a former professional surfer with acting credits to his name, including a role in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Tamayo Perry, 49, was killed Sunday near Goat Island, Shayne Enright of the Honolulu Emergency […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

More rain possible in deluged Midwest as flooding kills 2, causes water to surge around dam

NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. (AP) — More storms are possible in parts of the deluged Midwest, where flooding after days of heavy rains has killed at least two people, sent a river surging around a dam and forced evacuations and rescues. Severe storms were forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening with large hail, damaging winds […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Lawsuit challenges new Louisiana law requiring classrooms to display the Ten Commandments

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Monday to block Louisiana’s new law that requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom, a measure they contend is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs in the suit include parents of Louisiana public school children with various religious backgrounds, who are represented by […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

A look at Julian Assange and how the long-jailed WikiLeaks founder is now on the verge of freedom

WASHINGTON (AP) — News that the U.S. Justice Department has reached a plea deal that will lead to freedom for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange brings a stunning culmination to a long-running saga of international intrigue that spanned multiple continents. Its central character is a quixotic internet publisher with a profound disdain for government secrets. A […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Illinois high court hands lawmakers a rare pension-overhaul victory