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Article updated: 11/8/2012 3:23 PM

State pension amendment fails

Voters decided the fate of an amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution that would require a three-fifths majority vote of each chamber of the General Assembly, or a unit of local government, school district, or pension or retirement system, in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system.

Voters decided the fate of an amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution that would require a three-fifths majority vote of each chamber of the General Assembly, or a unit of local government, school district, or pension or retirement system, in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system.

 

Bloomberg News

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Editor's note: A proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have made it more difficult to expand public employee retirement benefits had support from 56 percent of voters. But that fell short of the two criteria needed for passage. The measure needed a favorable vote from either three-fifths of those voting on the measure, or 50 percent of the total number of votes cast in Tuesday's election. Nearly 5 million people voted in the election, but only about 2.1 million said "yes" to the pension question.

Associated Press

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With 80 percent of the precincts reporting, 56 percent of voters in Illinois favor amending the Illinois Constitution to make it more difficult for officials to improve retirement benefits for public employees.

The amendment can be approved two ways. It can get "yes" votes from at least three-fifths of the people voting on the amendment itself, or it can be approved by a majority of everyone voting in the election overall.

Basically, the amendment would require a three-fifths vote instead of a simple majority for any pension increase. To the consternation of public employee unions, cutting benefits would still require just a simple majority.

Illinois pension systems are in a financial mess, and some critics say legislators too often grant better benefits without worrying about the cost. The amendment is intended to encourage consensus and keep the majority party from ramming a bill through the legislature.

It's also a reaction to cases of special benefits being provided to well-connected people, such as two union lobbyists who qualified for teachers' pensions after spending just one day as substitute teachers.

But it's not clear how much the amendment could help.

Most pension "sweeteners" have been approved by overwhelming majorities, and the increases are a small part of the financial problem. They account for only 9 percent of growth in the pension shortfall over the past 15 years.

Besides raising the vote requirement in the legislature, the amendment also would raise the requirement for city councils, school boards and other public bodies to pass anything that would increase pension costs, aside from higher wages. Critics say this invites a storm of lawsuits over exactly what would be covered by the amendment.

Some voters seemed confused by the wording of the ballot measure Tuesday, uncertain whether a "yes" vote represented support for public employees or support for fiscal restraint.

But other voters said they felt well-informed on the issue.

In Springfield, Lynn McClanahan, 42, a retail grocery manager, said she voted yes because she doesn't believe public workers should be entitled to more benefits than other workers.

"We all work hard and we should all share the burden together," McClanahan said.

But 67-year-old John Taylor of Chicago voted against the amendment because his wife is a retired teacher. He said he doesn't understand why a "supermajority" should be needed to increase benefits.

Erika Miner, 34, of Champaign, a stay-at-home mother of three also voted against the amendment.

"I do have some friends that are teachers (and) my mom was a teacher," Miner said. "Anything that's going to affect their pensions -- that's a big deal to me.

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