A Constitutional Amendement is on November's ballot. (photo by Chris Phan/flickr)
By Laurie Bergner
If you’re a registered voter, you received a blue pamphlet last week from the State letting you know that there will be an Illinois Constitutional Amendment on the ballot and describing it to you. If you’re like most people, this was a big surprise. There has been almost no information or publicity about this. Yet any Constitutional amendment is important. The blue pamphlet is supposed to inform voters about the amendment, to help them understand how to vote. Yet if you took the time to read it, you probably came out scratching your head in confusion. It’s a long, wordy amendment – in fact, this one amendment has more words than the entire first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
This amendment to our Illinois State Constitution changes the requirements to enhance any public pension in Illinois and amends the existing constitutional protections of those pensions. But parts of it are so ambiguous that there’s general agreement that it will have to go to the courts for a decision on what it really means. And this means years of costly litigation, something our debt-ridden state surely doesn’t need. It also means that if already we know it’s ambiguous, if we vote in favor, we don’t know what we’re voting for. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to vote yes to something I don’t understand.
As I studied what this amendment means, I found that different people, who all thought it a bad amendment, had different reasons. Here’s one take:
It may seem, at first glance, to be a good way to control our pension system, which we all know is in great need of reform. But in fact, it doesn’t. What it does do is try to keep any further changes from being enacted by changing the usual majority needed for enacting new laws to a 3/5 vote. This would mean that the power shifts from a majority to a minority: the 40% would have the power to vote down future pension laws. Majority rule, which is what it takes to pass or change all other laws, preserves the representative, responsive nature of our government.
Something that should give us instant concern is that this amendment is fashioned to refer only to pension laws; all other laws require a majority for changes. Any law that is written for just one specific situation is a bad one, and it usually means there’s an underhanded effort behind it.
Finally, John Kindt, who has three graduate degrees in law and has testified many times before Congress and state legislatures, writes that this amendment concentrates more power in Springfield’s legislative leadership, the same leaders who bankrupted our treasury. Why would we do that?
There is a three letter word for this amendment: B-A-D. Bad. It deserves to be voted down!
Laurie Bergner is a clinical psychologist in private practice, working with individual adults, families and couples. She also works with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, helping organize candidates forums, educational programs, and many issues in the field of law and justice. She has received many recognitions in both fields, including YWCA's Women of Distinction in the Professions, Leaguer of the Year, LWV Special Project Awards, and the LWV of Illinois's prestigious Carrie Chapman Catt award. Laurie has a wonderful husband and two grown children - also wonderful. She loves biking in the countryside, reading, and traveling.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Forum are solely those of the Forum’s author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.