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For the first time in recent history, those on the left and the right fervently agree on an issue. And that issue is to vote NO on Illinois Amendment HJRCA 49 (HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT HC0049), which states:

Upon approval by the voters, the proposed amendment, which takes effect on January 9, 2013, adds a new section to the General Provisions Article of the Illinois Constitution. The new section would require a three-fifths majority vote of each chamber of the General Assembly or the governing body of a unit of local government, school district, or pension or retirement system, in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system. At the general election to be held on November 6, 2012, you will be called upon to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.

If you believe the Illinois Constitution should be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote YES on the question. If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote NO on the question. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election must vote “YES” in order for the amendment to become effective on January 9, 2013.

Sounds like a real conservative deal, doesn’t it? Unions and pensions are eating this country alive and the taxpayers are caught in what has been called a “web of greed.” Why wouldn’t a responsible citizen vote YES to make it harder to increase the size of the state’s massive pension pockets? The simple answer is that this amendment will not only not solve the pension problem but give more power to those who created the problem. The Herald-Review sums it up well: “…this amendment does nothing substantive to make [a pension solution] more likely.”

Often what sounds like a solidly good idea has, when you look deeper, more than a few holes.

First, a little background:

One might assume from listening to other pension stories across the country that our grossly mismanaged pension problem in IL is the fault of teachers and unions. The fundamental problem with our pensions stems not from the workers who have faithfully funded their pensions (and are not eligible for Social Security), but rather from the legislature who raided those funds for personal agenda and gain.

As state employees paid their scheduled share into the pension systems, the state often failed to do likewise, using the money elsewhere. Retirement costs were covered through borrowing. Everyone, including state employees, should have complained more loudly. The resulting debt service now dwarfs current retirement costs and cripples the state.

There were many reforms put forth by various factions but none better, in my opinion, than the plan put out by IL Senator Chris Lauzen. You can read more about this reform acclaimed by Forbes here, but for the record, it was ignored by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and his followers for political reasons.

Pensions must be reformed to avoid bankruptcy in Illinois, but the legislature has failed to do the hard work of developing a workable solution. Stage left enter Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton who are behind this amendment “head-fake,” and the Advocate Press says it best:

It’s ironic that Madigan is the chief sponsor of the amendment to make it harder for people like Madigan to use the legislative process to pay off political friends with taxpayer money.

What do Madigan and his buddies stand to gain by this amendment? “Power” comes to mind–more power over taxpayer money to steer toward his list of cronies.

A 2010 Tribune examination of public records and a review of more than 20,000 tax appeals filed by Madigan’s {law} firm since 1998 raises substantial questions about where Mr. Madigan draws the line between the state’s interests and his clients’ gains. The article gives many examples of how Madigan’s clients stood to gain by state monies.

As stated by the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA), this constitutional amendment “would grant unprecedented powers to government…[Article XIII, Section 5] and eliminate the uniform laws that now exist.”

This section of the amendment is a trojan horse giving Madigan his real power. Do we really want Madigan to have more control over our tax dollars?

Furthermore, besides giving Madigan and his friends more power and not reducing the state’s pension systems’ current $83 billion unfunded liability, the amendment would also do the following:

  • limit the bargaining power of both employees AND employers–employees who work towards incentives AND employers who use those incentives.
  • make it nearly impossible to remedy the Social Security issues with the recent passage of Senate Bill 1946 in April, 2010. The passage of this bill created a two-tier program connecting newly hired teachers to the Social Security wage base causing disparity and a whole host of other issues yet to be solved.
  • make it easier for a majority “Yes” vote due to legislative absence.

Rather than posture another piece of wool over the Illinois taxpayers’ eyes, the Illinois legislature should do the hard work of working in unison to create real reforms to our pension woes removing us from the fiscal cliff and back on a road to recovery. That is the real reason to vote NO on this amendment.

Before voting for this bill, you need to ask yourself–do you trust Springfield? If so, vote yes. If not, vote no.

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