Super-majority vote required for referendum on pension benefit hike
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org October 29, 2012 11:42PM
Updated: December 1, 2012 6:24AM
When Sändra Woolcott reads the proposed amendment as it will be worded in a statewide referendum question on ballots this Election Day, she said, she scratches her head.
And Woolcott, president of the Elgin Area Retired Teachers’ Association, is a retired school teacher.
That question reads, in part:
“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.”
Woolcott and both the Elgin Area and Illinois Retired Teachers’ associations are urging voters to reject the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would require that super-majority vote of government bodies to increase benefits for public employees.
That includes votes by each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly, as well as the governing body of each unit of government, school district or pension or retirement system, according to a statement from the retired teacher group.
It would impact pensions for local government officials and public school teachers, among others.
“This is a serious threat to young people who aspire to enter the teaching profession,” Woolcott said in the written statement
“If approved, a constitutional amendment would inject severe restrictions into the collective bargaining process and teachers’ rights to fight for fair contracts.”
The EARTA president said it is unclear what the amendment’s impact would be on those public employees who already have retired. It probably would “not be significant, if at all,” she said.
But, she said, this is about young people struggling to pay off college loans so they can pursue a dream of teaching. And it’s “unconscionable” to require 60 percent approval by a government body to reward those teachers, among others, and a mere 51 percent to penalize them, she said.
Meantime, legislators like state Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, say the proposed amendment “is something that is going to allow both state and local taxpayers to gain more control over the purse.”
And it’s “not going to make much of a difference at all” to votes in the General Assembly, Noland said, noting past votes to increase benefits all have been by a super-majority.
Where it could make a difference, he conceded, is in local school board votes, “especially as we talk about the cost shifting of the pensions.”
Legislators have discussed shifting the cost of pensions from the state to local school districts, and the Elgin state senator said he expects to “see something in the January session,” after the November elections, on that issue.
Illinois House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 0049 was adopted by both the House and Senate in May, according to the Illinois General Assembly website. In fact, only two senators voted against it.
Both Noland and state Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, had voted for the proposed amendment. The resolution was sponsored by state Reps. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates; Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago; and André M. Thapedi, D-Chicago; and state Sens. John J. Cullerton, D-Chicago; Iris Y. Martinez, D-Chicago; and Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
“Ultimately this is a decision for the people to make,” Noland said.
“This is democracy in its purest form, when the people are deciding what they want their constitution to mean. If they’re talking about wanting more local control, they will now have the opportunity to weigh in on that,” he said.