SPRINGFIELD — After a period of dire warnings and scandal, voters will decide next month whether to change the Illinois Constitution so that it’s harder to improve retirement benefits for public employees. The amendment would require a three-fifths vote instead of a simple majority when legislators want to increase retirement benefits.
Illinois pension systems are in a financial mess, and some critics say legislators too often grant better benefits without worrying about the cost. The amendment is supposed to encourage consensus and keep the majority party from ramming a bill through the Legislature. But it’s not clear how much the amendment could help.
The concept is simple, but it still raises plenty of questions:
Q: What prompted the idea of an amendment?
A: Illinois retirement systems don’t have the money they’ll ultimately need for pensions. Officials are trying to come up with a plan to reduce that shortfall without taking much-needed money away from other state services, but they haven’t reached a deal yet. While that wrangling continues, many legislators see pension increases as a problem they can address, or at least give voters a chance to address.
The benefits issue also is getting attention because of special deals given to well-connected people, such as two union lobbyists who qualified for teachers’ pensions after spending just one day as substitute teachers.
Q: How many votes would it take to pass a pension increase?
A: It would take 36 votes in the state Senate, up from 30. In the House, it would take 71, up from 60. To the consternation of public employee unions, cutting benefits would require just a simple majority.
Q: Would this amendment have blocked previous pension increases?
A: Not often. Generally, pension legislation passes by overwhelming margins.
Q: Are benefit increases a big part of the state’s pension problem?