One big case
Less is more in the case of public employees and retirees challenging changes to their pensions.
Before the Illinois courts can make a decision on the constitutionality of last year's controversial pension reform legislation, they had to get procedures straight.
The Illinois Supreme Court addressed that issue earlier this week when it consolidated four lawsuits challenging the new pension law into a single case and ordering it be heard in Sangamon County rather than Cook County.
Ultimately, this case will be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. But it will start with a single judge in a Springfield courtroom and progress from there.
The pension legislation is designed to save taxpayers $160 billion over the next 10 years by implementing changes that will slow the increase in public pension costs. But critics are challenging the legislation's constitutionality, charging it violates the Illinois Constitution's guarantee that pension benefits cannot be decreased.
If the challengers win, and they well may, the governor and legislators must start over in fashioning a solution to the state's pension and budget woes. The state's public pensions are underfunded by roughly $100 billion, prompting legislators to approve changes that modify the 3 percent annual cost-of-living increases, raise retirement ages and limit salaries on which pensions are based. The bill also reduced by 1 percent the amount current workers pay into the system.
There is considerable concern among Gov. Pat Quinn and other pension bill supporters about how the court will rule. But one way or the other, it will be useful to finally have an answer as to the meaning of the state Constitution's non-diminution clause and the lengths legislators may go in fashioning a solution to the problem.