Should it be harder to increase pension benefits for government employees? We’ll decide on Election Day. A constitutional amendment is on the ballot which, if it passes, would require a three-fifths vote from the governing body to increase benefits. This includes city councils, county boards, school board, community college and university trustees – any body of government that has control over pension benefits.
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State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) supports the measure. She says a three-fifths majority for pension benefit increases is no different from the constitutional requirement of a three-fifths vote to incur bonded indebtedness, and this is a similar proposition in that obligations are being created for generations yet to come. All but two state lawmakers voted to put this on the ballot. “The point here is not the worker. This is not an anti-worker issue, it’s only one that says let’s, as we do with long-term bond obligations, let’s make sure we offer some protection to the taxpayers of tomorrow,” Currie said.
If you look at history, though, it would have made no difference, says Henry Bayer, head of AFSCME, the public employees’ union, who is urging a “no” vote. “Every pension bill that has passed in recent memory – and when I say recent memory, [I mean] over the last two or three decades – every one that’s passed has passed with more than a three-fifths majority, which is what this amendment would require,” he said.
Bayer characterizes the amendment as a “politicians’ protection plan,” allowing lawmakers to pretend they’re doing something about the state’s unfunded pension liability, now estimated at $85 billion.
To be enacted, the amendment must receive yes votes from 60 percent of those who vote on the question, or 50 percent of those who vote in the election, even if they skip voting on the question.