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Judges Excluded in Recent Pension Reform Plans
The steps lawmakers are taking to reform the state's public pension systems are significant, according to a local political expert. But recent changes don't include all state employees.
UIS Political Studies Professor Kent Redfield said one reason is to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Nearly everyone agrees any reform lawmakers pass will be challenged in court. If the changes apply to judges' pensions, they'd potentially be forced to rule on plans that affect their own retirement.
In a 66-to-50 vote, the House passed changes to state employee pensions.
The reforms include applying annual cost-of-living increases to only the first $25,000 of a pension, delaying the adjustments until a worker reaches age 67, the fifth year of retirement, and capping the salary used to calculate a pension at about $113,000.
"Those are significant changes," Redfield said.
But the changes apply to only four of the state's five public pension systems. Judges are excluded.
It's something one Republican lawmaker questioned on the floor last week.
"If this is such a good piece of legislation, it should include all five of our major pension systems," Rep. Dan Brady, a Republican from Normal, said.
After voting for the changes, House Minority Leader Tom Cross said he'd like to include everyone. But:
"I think there's a concern that constitutionally or legally they shouldn't be in there," Cross said. "And you don't want to jeopardize the whole bill because of that."
"The judges are a separate branch of government," Redfield said. "They have constitutional protection in the judicial articles that their salaries can't be diminished during their term of office. There have been questions in what constitutes salary, but there have been court cases judges raising challenging the ways pensions were figured."
In addition to a potential conflict of interest in any court challenge, Redfield said it's a matter of politics.
"If you leave the judges out, they might be less likely to declare the bills coming as unconstitutional," Redfield said.
Although they're well-paid and receive sizable pensions, Redfield said judges make up a small number of employees and retirees.
House Speaker Michael Madigan said he's close to finalizing one comprehensive plan to move to the Senate for consideration.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the capitol in a week and a half.
In the meantime, the unfunded liability continues to balloon to almost $100 billion.