Illinois residents will face a question of amending the state constitution when they head to the voting booth on Nov. 6.
The proposed amendment has created a lot of confusion since it deals with pensions. But it does not affect the current status of public employee systems, and does not affect pensions that retirees currently receive.
The amendment is fairly simple. It says that any time the state, a school district or a unit of local government — such as a city, town or county — decides to take an action that would increase a public pension or retirement benefit, that action must be approved by a three-fifths vote of the governing body — such as the legislature, a school board, a city council or a county board.
Currently, a proposal that would increase a public pension or retirement benefit requires a simple majority for passage.
If the governor vetoed or changed such a measure, the proposed amendment would require a two-thirds vote to override the veto or to accept the changes. Currently, a three-fifths vote is needed to override a governor's veto, while only a simple majority is needed to accept a governor's changes.
A traditional pay raise, or a wage level increase, is NOT considered to be a public pension or retirement benefit increase under the proposed amendment.
The amendment defines a "benefit increase" as a change to any pension or other law that results in a member of a pension or retirement system receiving a new benefit or an enhancement of a current benefit. A "benefit increase" also includes any changes that increase the amount of a member's pension, or reduce or eliminate the eligibility requirements a member must meet to receive a pension.
A "benefit increase" also includes a change to any pension or other law that expands the class of persons who may become members of any pension or retirement system.
Again, a traditional pay raise, or a wage level increase, is NOT considered to be a public pension or retirement benefit increase under the proposed amendment.
The following arguments for and against the proposed amendment are offered by the office of the Illinois Secretary of State, which has published and mailed a brochure on the amendment to every registered voter in Illinois.
Pros: Advocates of the amendment say a higher vote requirement would create fiscal responsibility and prevent future unfunded liabilities of public pensions, such as we have now in an unfunded $83 billion liability. They also say that requiring more votes provides more accountability, and also creates a greater bipartisan consensus among those voting for any measure that would increase benefits.
Cons: Critics of the amendment say a higher vote requirement may limit the bargaining power of both employees and employers. Union employees may find it more difficult to gain certain increased benefits, while employers may find it more difficult to offer certain incentives. This potential decrease in bargaining power may limit the quality of employees the state can attract. Critics also say disagreements will most likely arise on what determines a "benefit increase."
The Catholic Conference of Illinois is not taking a position on this amendment.