We conclude our discussion of the July 21, 1970 debate on the Pension Protection Clause at the Illinois Constitutional Convention. Today, we’ll take a look at more statements by opponents of the measure, the summations by the co-sponsors, and the vote.
After Delegate Kinney’s remarks, Delegate Lyons, the Vice-President of the Convention, spoke. “I am not shocked at the notion of vesting contractual – enforceable contractual rights in these pension beneficiaries,” he said. The Clause didn’t “refer to upfunding,” he said, “nor does it seek to establish some sort of administrative elite to administer these various funds.”
Delegate Whalen spoke next. He suggested that perhaps characterizing pension benefits as contractual rather than proprietary rights might ultimately be to the disadvantage of pension beneficiaries if, for example, a fund were ultimately to go bankrupt. He argued that the Clause “in no way vests any pension rights for pensioners. All it does is say that the pension is a contractual interest which the pensioner has; and the line of cases again has repeatedly held that there is a contractual right and may be subject to any contingency built into the contract.” Delegate Whalen suggested that the pension protection could better be addressed in the Bill of Rights, which at the time had already had provisions barring ex post facto laws, special privileges and immunities and laws impairing the obligation of contracts approved. He suggested that the words “or pensions” be added after the word “contracts” in the contracts clause. Delegate Weisberg echoed the suggestion that pensions be addressed in the contracts clause, and Delegate Davis suggested that the clause be either rejected outright, or at least postponed until the Convention could consult the actuary who advised the Pension Laws Commission. Delegate Bottino suggested that “a good number of people” would be satisfied with Delegate Whalen’s proposal that pensions be folded into the contracts clause.
Delegate Green, a co-sponsor of the Clause, rose next to give his summation. “[O]ne of the overwhelming reasons to mandate this contractual status,” he explained, “is based on a Supreme Court decision from New Jersey in 1964 that has a very, very similar pension problem to that of Illinois” – the Spina case with which we began this series.
Green noted the Supreme Court’s comment that all funds have “in common the promise of inevitable doom,” since benefits are never directly tied to income. “Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is basically what the people of Illinois – or the public employees of Illinois – are very fearful of.”
Delegate Green explained the intent of the Clause:
What we are trying to merely say is that if you mandate the public employees in the state of Illinois to put in their 5 percent or 8 percent or whatever it may be monthly, and you say when you employ these people, ‘Now, if you do this, when you reach sixty-five, you will receive $287 a month,’ that is, in fact, what you will get.
“What we are trying to do,” he explained, “is to mandate the General Assembly to do what they have not done by statute.” The state should “live up to the laws that they pass,” Delegate Green argued. “If we are going to tell a policeman or school teacher that, ‘Yes, if you will work for us for your thirty years or until whenever you reach retirement age, that you will receive this’ . . . [the state] ought to live by their own rules. And this is all in the world this mandate is doing.”
Delegate Kinney followed with her summation. Like Delegate Green, she argued that New York had adopted a similar provision in 1938, and public employees’ pension programs had been funded without bankrupting the state. “The thrust of it,” she said, “is that people who do accept employment will not find at a future time that they are not entitled to the benefits they thought they were when they accepted the employment . . . All we are seeking to do is to guarantee that people will have the rights that were in force at the time they entered into the agreement to become an employee, and as Mr. Green has said, if the benefits are $100 a month in 1971, they should not be less than $100 a month in 1990.”
The roll call vote on the Pension Protection Clause then began. When it concluded, the Clause had been approved by the Convention, 57-36.