Of course, Illinois public employee unions will sue.
That foregone conclusion, affirmed by union leadership almost immediately after the Illinois House and Senate voted Tuesday for pension reform, makes absolute sense for the organization that derives its power from state employees.
Those unions have worked hard to protect members from reforms that will significantly diminish pension benefits over time, mainly by raising retirement ages and restricting cost-of-living increases.
But Tuesday’s pension reform is intended to protect taxpayers, not the state’s organized employees. That’s why we salute Rep. Pat Verschoore and Sen. Mike Jacobs for voting with the majority in support of taxpayers, not public employee union members.
Verschoore, a former union business agent, said it was his most difficult vote in his 10 years as a legislator. Verschoore has toed the union line his entire career. His deep union support assured his re-election and scared off tough challengers. Perhaps that invincibility gave him the political courage newer lawmakers lacked. First year Rep. Mike Smiddy cited the unions’ constitutional concerns in his “no” vote against reform. They believe it won’t survive challenges based on state constitutional interpretations that say public employee pensions are off-limits to legislators.
Hence the unions’ expected lawsuit, a needed step to affirm how far lawmakers can go on behalf of taxpayers. We’ve seen how far they’ll go on behalf of public employee unions.
Sen. Mike Jacobs explained his “yes” vote for pension reform this way:
"I can't help but think we're paying for the sins of the fathers here.”
He would be referring to his father, former state Sen. Denny Jacobs, and the entrenched Democratic House majority which buried taxpayers with billions in pension debt. We can’t blame public employees for seeking generous, guaranteed pensions that have all but disappeared in the private sector. But we can blame complicit Democratic leaders for bowing to that union pressure.
That’s what makes Verschoore’s and Jacobs’ vote with the majority so astounding. This deal – concocted in secret and hustled through with little floor discussion in the inimitable Michael Madigan way – requires sacrifices from public employees by shaving $160 billion off the anticipated pension debt over 30 years. But it still leaves taxpayers on the hook for $214 billion over the same period.
And it requires future legislatures to live up to a commitment to add $1 billion in annual pension funding by 2020.
So Illinois’ pension concerns haven’t disappeared. But on Tuesday, majorities in the House and Senate put taxpayers ahead of public employees. Illinois Quad-Citians can salute Verschoore and Jacobs for voting with that majority.