Voters asked to amend constitution to address pension changes
Choosing the next president and lesser federal and state offices won’t be the only crucial decisions made on Nov. 6.
Voters will also be asked if they favor amending the state constitution to make it harder for legislators to alter public pensions.
The lesser-known ballot item would require a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the House and other municipal entities on items that would enhance or reduce publicly funded pensions. The amendment requires a three-fifths majority of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election to become effective on Jan. 9, 2013, according to literature from the Secretary of State Jesse White’s office.
According to the secretary of state’s office, arguments in favor of the proposed amendment include: it would make for a greater consensus, provide greater accountability and help prevent unfunded future liability for pension benefits.
“A greater consensus would provide for better decisions and more serious deliberation,” said White’s office in a pamphlet mailed to voters.
White lists possible arguments against the amendment, also. They include: disagreement over what constitutes a benefit increase, could reduce amount of people interested in working for the government and also could limit the bargaining power of employers and employees.
Per state ethics laws, legislators are not allowed to advocate either way for the amendment. That leaves many of them in the position to merely answer constituent questions on the issue. Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said she sees how it could work to prevent future underfunding of pensions while also limiting employee bargaining powers.
She said voters will have to decide whether the amendment, which requires all governing bodies in the state to abide by the three-fifths majority clause, is reaching too far.
“Is it overreaching?” she asks.
Both Hammond and Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said they have spoken to constituents and interest groups on the issue. Hammond said labor unions like AFSCME are generally opposed to it.
There are also doubts as to how effective such an amendment might be. When asked if a pension item could get attached to a bill likely to garner a three-fifths majority, Sullivan said he was unsure. He said the intention of the constitutional amendment was for standalone bills.
Hammond said there are a number of reasons as to why this amendment might have been proposed. She said one possibility is that it was due to Gov. Pat Quinn’s promise to raise or enhance public pensions without consulting the General Assembly first.
“There perhaps are many motives behind this amendment, but ultimately on Nov. 6 we will let the voters decide,” she said.