Madigan: Courts Could Pick And Choose On Pension Plan

Dec 4, 2013

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan presents the conference committee report on Senate Bill 1, the legislation overhauling Illinois pensions. Madigan says "hopefully the Court will rule in favor of the constitutionality of the bill."
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  Illinois legislators may have passed a pension overhaul, but unions representing teachers and public employees have vowed to sue to stop it from taking effect. If they're successful, that could force lawmakers to go back to the drawing board.

Lawmakers made preemptive efforts to fend off a legal challenge. The measure contains a statement that details the terrible condition of Illinois' finances and what lawmakers have tried to do about it -- a clear attempt to justify cutting pension benefits.

Even so, Illinois' Constitution has a clause that basically says pensions are a contract between the state and its workforce, and contracts can't be unilaterally broken. Unions say they're confident that's why the state Supreme Court will ultimately toss the pension changes.

House Speaker Michael Madigan says he's hopeful that won't happen. But also says a court order would serve as a blueprint for what the General Assembly might try next.

"It's a situation where the court has the ability to say absolutely no, or they could pick and choose and say some of this is okay and some of it is not okay, under those circumstances we could look at what’s okay and come back and go back to work again," Madigan says.

Many legislators say they voted for the pension overhaul so it can, at the very least, serve as a test case -- setting out the parameters for what pension changes would be legal.