Pension reform opponents challenge speedy appeal

Bob Galuski, Editor-in-chief

Public labor unions and other opponents of the 2013 pension reform law protested on Tuesday the speeding up of the Illinois Supreme Court’s normal procedure, which they call unconstitutional.

The motion, filed by State Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office last week, would have the Illinois Supreme Court hurry the appeal Sangamon County Court Judge John Belz’s Nov. 21 ruling, requesting oral arguments as soon as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10.

The pension reform law, which was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn a year ago, was quickly attested and ruled unconstitutional by Belz earlier this month.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers stated they have asked the Supreme Court to “adhere to its normal schedule for hearing appeals, allowing all parties adequate time to respond.”

The filing by Madigan’s office states that it needs time to properly plan out the fiscal-year 2016 budget, which begins July 1, 2015.

“The Court should accelerate this appeal to facilitate a resolution enough in advance of the May 31, 2015 deadline for passage of the State’s fiscal-year 2016 that the General Assembly and the Governor may take the Court’s decision into account when adopting the fiscal-year 2016 budget,” the motion states.

However, the union coalition’s motion states the defendants have “failed to establish that the normal appellate process is inadequate here.”

“Their motion rests upon a false sense of urgency that is not supported by the history of this litigation or by any factual record,” the motion opposition states. “In addition, their motion attempts to impose an emergency briefing schedule that would be manifestly unfair to the plaintiffs.”

The motion for accelerating the appeal process also states that the circuit court’s ruling creates uncertainty about whether the State must find alternative means to cover the budget shortfall if the contribution reductions provided by the Act are unavailable.

The motion also argues that “prompt resolution of this appeal will therefore facilitate critical budget-related decisions that depend on whether the Act is valid, including whether the State must make corresponding long-term reductions in other spending or increases in taxes.”

The motion opposition, however, states the defendants made “no effort to consult with plaintiffs on any agreed briefing schedule prior to filing their motion. The reason is obvious. The defendants seek to impose a manifestly unfair briefing schedule on the plaintiffs.”

The widely controversial pension reform law, signed last year, was almost immediately met with a lawsuit, as union coalitions declared the law itself unconstitutional.

In his ruling in November, Belz applied Kanerva v. Weems, a Kansas case that decided the whether or not retiree health benefits can be reduced, to the pension reform law.

Belz also struck down the argument that the pension reform law is an exercise of Illinois’ reserved sovereign powers and policing powers.

“The Court finds as a matter of law that the defendants no legally valid defense,” Belz stated in his ruling. “The Pension Protection Clause contains no exception, restriction or limitation for an exercise of the State’s police powers or reserved sovereign powers.”

 

Bob Galuski can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]