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Illinois voters will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment this election day. The amendment is in regards to benefits paid to government workers at all levels in the state. In short, if passed House Joint Resolution 49 (link:http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09700HC0049lv&SessionID=84&GA=97&DocTypeID=HJRCA&DocNum=0049&print=true ) will require a 3/5 majority vote to increase the benefits accorded to public sector employees. Not only would this apply to the state level, but also for our local governing bodies such as county boards and school districts. On the surface this sounds like a good, worthwhile thing, right? AFSCME and the other unions hate it so it must be a step in the right direction. Think again.

At first glance, HJR 49 looks like it would help Illinois’ growing pension and benefit obligations, but a little quick analysis shows that the public sector unions have nothing to worry about. First, the amendment in no way relieves the burden these benefits have on the budget and taxpayers. Reductions are not mentioned at all. Second, the 3/5 majority requirement does next to nothing. If you look back at the votes held in the Illinois General Assembly, you will see that all benefit increases passed with over 60% of the vote. A 3/5 vote does very little at the local level as well. The 3/5 stipulation is not much different from the simple majority. Here are a few examples:

  • 2/3 majority vote is equal to 66%
  • 3/4 majority vote is equal to 75%
  • 3/5 majority vote is equal to 60%
  • 4/6 majority vote is equal to 66%
  • 4/7 majority vote is equal to 57% – FAIL
  • 5/8 majority vote is equal to 62%
  • 5/9 majority vote is equal to 56% – FAIL
  • 6/10 majority vote is equal to 60%

The point is that most local governing bodies number 10 or less, so a simple majority grants benefit increases in the same way they always had. HJR 49 has had no affect at all.

In addition, the very first sentence provides a way for legislators to avoid even a 3/5 majority. “(a) No bill, except a bill for appropriations, …” What is to stop savvy legislators from burying benefits into an appropriations bill? Nothing.

This amendment is a masquerade for real pension reform. This amendment does nothing more than allow lawmakers to grab some headlines and falsely declare that they are serious about tackling the debt that threatens to bankrupt Illinois. While there are many representatives and senators that recognize that HJR49 isn’t much of anything, there is a genuine reason to believe that other legislators will take the opportunity to say that their mission is accomplished and they will have little incentive to do any substantial reform.

On November 6th, vote NO on Amendment 49. Vote NO for a meaningless promise and vote yes to showing that you are intelligent and won’t be fooled by this sham.

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5 Comments

  1. I feel that is one of the so much important info for me. And i’m satisfied studying your article. However want to remark on few general issues, The website taste is ideal, the articles is really excellent : D. Excellent task, cheers.

  2. I agree with what you are saying, however, if it passes and if the Dems continue to do nothing to reform pensions and go around it by accomodating state pensions via appropriations bills then they have a majority of the public on record as against them and we can use it against them in the next election. On the other hand, if it doesn’t pass then the dems can make excuses that they didn’t reform pensions because the electorate didn’t want them to, or that their hands were tied by the amendment failing, or some other nonsense like that. In other words, this may be only a litmus test of public opinion concerning the over-compensation of public employees, and certainly no real reform is present, but the general public doesn’t know that; therefore passage should act as a mandate to reform pensions at each individual governing body’s opportunity, including local governments.

    • Jeanne,
      You make a valid point. My concern with passage of this amendment is that politicians will use it as cover to say that they did enact reforms. Some may even declare that their mission is accomplished. That is why it is so important for the people in favor of real pension reform to grab hold of the narrative and not let go. We must shout from the mountain tops that this is a joke and never let them off the hook.

  3. Good piece, Ron. I know people yearning for good government in Illinois can easily see through this as a mostly meaningless gesture. I get that. But apart from some Democrats in contested races and/or career politicians looking for cover, I have heard no serious person call this proposed amendment “pension reform.” Not one. I have heard members of the press bill it as “reform” (usually a bit sarcastically), but the wording in the text of the bill/amendment does not use the word “reform.” Anywhere. Here’s the actual language: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=84&GA=97&DocTypeId=HJRCA&DocNum=49&GAID=11&LegID=67098&SpecSess=&Session=

    For me, this is a baby-step toward something more. Public awareness about our pension problems, believe it or not, is still minimal. Requiring a 60% majority for future State provided pension benefit improvements makes sense (even if in the past they were regularly granted unanimously). The local provisions are more meaningful than you suggest. Many local boards consist of 7 or more people. Using 7 as an illustration, if this amendment is enacted, going forward 5 affirmative votes would be needed to approve a local CBA for teachers or public safety personnel that contained benefit enhancements. That can’t be a bad thing.

    Last point. The public sector unions are fighting this amendment, hard. If for no other reason than continue to reasonably re-align public sector benefits to fit into the real world most taxpayers daily face, this amendment requires more contemplation.

    • Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your point of view on the matter, and I wouldn’t consider it “wrong” or a vote in favor of 49 as being harmful. I just don’t see any tangible benefit in this amendment. I believe that a constitutional amendment should bring more of an impact than raising awareness. To raise awareness, we need more of our legislators to step forward into the public eye. We need groups like the Illinois Policy Institute and For the Good of Illinois to contine to broadcast their message. I think these groups and the vocal politicians like yourself have done more to carry the banner for pension reform than the buzz around this amendment.


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