Il Supreme Court decision puts pension overhaul in doubt

Jul 3, 2014

The Illinois Supreme Court says the free health insurance enjoyed by state retirees is protected by the Illinois Constitution. As IPR's Brian Mackey reports, the opinion could have significant implications for Illinois’ hugely underfunded pension system.

Illinois used to pay the health insurance premiums for retirees with 20 years of service. But as of last year, those former workers had to chip in.

A group of retirees sued, saying that’s prohibited by the Illinois Constitution's guarantee of government pension benefits.

In a 6-1 ruling, the Supreme Court agrees. Justice Charles Freeman writes that the framers of the Illinois Constitution were mindful that pensions had been “made a political football.”

Illinois’ state finances are in bad shape, but Freeman writes the state Constitution is "aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of the funding to pay for them.”

The opinion gives hope to opponents of the benefit-cutting pension law passed last year, which is being challenged in a separate case. Indeed, the government union AFSCME praised the decision.

But a spokeswoman for the attorney general says she’ll continue to "vigorously defend” the pension law.