SPRINGFIELD – State and national labor unions are cranking up the fundraising in an attempt to kill a proposed change to the Illinois Constitution.
Members of the We Are One coalition, originally formed to stop legislative efforts to overhaul the state’s massively underfunded employee retirement systems, created a special campaign committee last week and have raised over a half million dollars in just a matter of days.
The money is fueling an advertising campaign aimed at convincing Illinoisans to vote “no” on the constitutional amendment question that leads off the Nov. 6 ballot.
The proposal, approved by lawmakers during the spring session of the General Assembly, is designed to make it harder for state and local governments to sweeten public-sector pensions.
The question asks whether a three-fifths vote should be required when city councils, school districts, state lawmakers or other local government officials want to increase employee retirement plans.
Supporters like the Illinois Municipal League, which lobbies in Springfield on behalf of city governments, say a “yes” vote makes sense.
“The constitutional amendment will not reduce any existing unfunded pension liability, but it may be enough to make it more difficult for future General Assemblies to add to the existing pension debt with more costly benefit increases,” the league said a statement.
Union officials argue the proposal is a “phony” way of addressing the state’s $83 billion pension underfunding problem.
And, in the newly commissioned ads running on the Internet and on radio throughout the state, the labor organizations say the proposed amendment is an “attack” on public employees.
“While the measure would do nothing to fix the state's pension debt, it would strip local control from school boards and city councils, lead to more political gridlock and wasteful court battles, and weaken the collective bargaining rights of workers,” the campaign notes.
Among the groups paying for the anti-amendment campaign are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Supporters say the opposition is overblown.
“The only opponents are people who are willing to do nothing to deal with the pension problem,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. “Once we’re all done pointing fingers and blaming each other, then the challenge becomes, `How do you sustain the systems?'”
“This is just one step in what will be a very long journey,” Brown added.