The opinion site Zocala has a wonderful article today about how California pensions do the opposite of what progressives usually claim. It’s about the “California Rule,” which is their term for a judicial rule that bars pension reform. Think of it as comparable to Illinois’ constitutional pension protection clause.
Read the article but substitute Illinois for California and most of it fits. In fact, the argument is stronger in Illinois.
Prohibiting pension reform, says the article:
[V]iolates the state constitution’s most basic promises of self-government. The rule mocks the people’s right to information—since true pension costs have long been hidden by laws and accounting practices. And it even abrogates the constitutional requirement that California’s people are sovereign under our direct democracy. Citizens in San Jose and San Diego have voted to save their public services by altering pensions, only to be told by the courts that the California Rule matters more than their ballots.
Ditto on that for Illinois, but not quite for this:
The rule also reduces even our most well-intentioned leaders to liars; they may talk about the need to embrace sustainability and fight inequality, but they are powerless to change the state’s most unsustainable and unequal rule.
In Illinois, we do have the power to change – through a constitutional amendment. Here, it’s about lack of political will.
And the article summarizes the consequences, which sure apply to Illinois:
At best, this will be a steady, decades-long degrading of services, as more and more tax dollars that should go to today’s citizens is diverted to cover the retirements of former workers.
Worst case, a big recession or a huge stock market decline could combine with the California Rule to create an epic fiscal calamity. With pension funds falling short, cash-strapped governments would have to put even more money into shoring up retirement benefits as required by the California Rule, leaving little money for anything else. Hundreds of schools would close, local governments would go bankrupt, and new taxes and budget cuts to cover funding gaps would further undermine the economy. The public could erupt in fury at pensions and even pensioners, and some governments might dare to abandon payments to pensions funds, putting the public retirement system at risk.
Illinois’ pension system is particularly regressive for reasons Wirepoints documented in detail. Rich school districts stiff the rest of the state by passing off their particularly large pension costs to the state as a whole. Read our detailed report linked here.
None of this stops defenders of our pension system from forever claiming to be the champions of the little guys. We critics of the system, you see, just want to push granny off a cliff. Same story for issue after issue.