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‘No’ vote is wisest on proposed amendment to state constitution

The following editorial appeared in the (Decatur) Herald & Review on Saturday, October 27:
(MCT) — ILLINOIS VOTERS will be asked to amend the state constitution Nov. 6 to, among other things, require more lawmakers to sign off on proposed improvements to public-sector pensions. We are recommending a “no” vote on this amendment.

We have spent a considerable amount of ink over the past few years pleading for some kind of reasonable pension reform. The state’s budget woes are solidly tied to its pension funding problems, so the idea proposed in the amendment sounds good on its face.

But changes to the basic frame of government should be well-reasoned and solidly outlined with facts, and this proposed change to the constitution contains neither.

Opponents also make a valid point when they argue that any law or amendment written for one specific situation, in this case for pension reform, is a bad idea. The standard “majority rules” to enact new legislation should apply here, too.

The proposal is further weighed down by the support of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, D-Chicago, told H&R Springfield Bureau Chief Kurt Erickson last month that the amendment is a “commonsense” way to address future pension abuses.

“There is no claim that this is some kind of solution to the pension problem. It’s just another step in what is going to be a long road to keep the pensions stable and viable,” Brown said.

The ballot question asks whether a three-fifths vote should be required when any unit of government wants to increase pension plans, and whether the constitution should require a two-thirds vote to override a governor’s veto or accept a governor’s proposed changes to pension increase proposals. Currently, it takes a three-fifths vote to override an outright veto and only a simple majority to accept a governor’s changes.

But the damning phrase from Brown, in our opinion, is when he says, “There is no claim that this is some kind of solution to the pension problem.” The bottom line is Illinois needs a solution to its pension problem, but this amendment does nothing substantive to make that more likely.

Even the union representing a majority of state workers, AFSCME, has asked its members to vote “no” on the amendment. AFSCME says the funding problem should be addressed by “an ironclad guarantee that politicians will pay their share going forward.”

Illinois government has an overabundance of problems, but they are not the type of problems that can necessarily be solved by changing the state’s constitution. Rather than posture and thump their chests, Illinois legislators need to work as a group, not as firmly entrenched combatants on opposing sides, with the governor to make meaningful reforms to help dig Illinois out of its $83 billion pension hole.

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