September 24, 2012

Constitutional Amendment Could Strip Away Pension Protection

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton
were among sponsors of Constitutional Amendment #49.
By William S. Bike

A CONSTITUTIONAL amendment that will be on the November 6 ballot, “CA #49,” if approved by voters, could empower the Illinois General Assembly “to modify our benefits any way they want,” said Jack Hall, President of the Illinois Central College Annuitants’ Association. “If this amendment passes, it will do away with the contract protection clause in the current Illinois Constitution, which states that a contract cannot be impaired.”

CURRENTLY, THE Illinois Constitution states in Article XIII, Section 5, that “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

CA #49 is about 700 words long, but its crux is that it would allow restricting or eliminating a benefit with a simple majority vote of a governing body, which in the case of the University would be the Illinois General Assembly. If passed, the amendment would overturn and supersede Article XIII, Section 5’s clause prohibiting benefits from being diminished or impaired.

OBSERVERS BELIEVE the amendment was crafted for the purpose of eliminating the constitutional protection of the State Universities Retirement System. Often, constitutional amendments pass with the public not fully understanding them because of their length and complexity.

“AMENDMENT 49 contains more words than the entire first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution—the Bill of Rights,” said John Kindt, Emeritus Professor of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The obvious intent of the verbose Amendment 49 is to hide its true impacts from voters in a 700-word avalanche of unnecessary and deceptive words. Marketing experts know that few voters will read beyond the benign first sentences and that voters will be inclined to vote ‘yes.’”

THE STATE Universities Annuitants’ Association (SUAA) recommends a “no” vote on HCA #49.

“WE ARE under attack, like never before, by a majority of powerful legislators who control the way things roll in Springfield and by an uninformed and unsympathetic private sector,” said Bruce C. Appleby, member of SUAA’s Constitutional Amendment #49 Committee and Executive Committee.

“WADING THROUGH the language that seems to purposely mislead and misdirect, it appears that Clause 1 says that a 60% majority of both houses is needed to increase any pension benefit of any unit of government in the State,” Appleby continued. “Clause 2 appears to say that the General Assembly may take any action that restricts benefit increases, which would include the COLA (cost of living adjustment) or any other aspect of our pensions and benefits—at any time and in any way.

“TALK TO your family and all your friends,” Appleby added. “Let everyone you know that Constitutional Amendment #49 must be defeated for your sake and for that of thousands of Illinois residents.”

SUAA’S LIST of talking points for defeating Constitutional Amendment 49 notes that it “is the latest in a series of attacks on you and other public employees and retirees,” would “grant unprecedented power to State and local governments to make changes to pension benefits and existing law,” will “not result in savings to taxpayers,” and will “do nothing to address the State’s financial crisis.”

THE AMENDMENT was introduced in the Illinois House by Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), and Representatives Andre M. Thapedi (D-Chicago) and Fred Crespo (D-Streamwood). In the Senate, it was introduced by Senators John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), and Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston). It was adopted for placement on the November 6 ballot by both houses on May 3.

APAC CHAIR Michael Moss said, “I’ve read the language of the amendment as well as the argument crafted by SUAA. I understand that there are those who support SUAA’s perspective, but acknowledge there are others who disagree. What is clear is to me is that the language of the amendment is confusing and there is no consensus on what it means.  All of the arguments aside, what I don’t see is any benefit to the amendment if it is passed. Without any clearly defined benefit, I will personally be voting ‘no’ in light of all of the confusion.” 

APAC ENCOURAGES all employees to read the amendment (available here), better understand the arguments supporting and opposing the amendment, draw their own conclusions, and to vote accordingly.


  1. After reading through this amendment I must concur with APAC Chair Michael Moss. The wording is very confusing and written to dissuade the lamen from understanding they are giving away the rights of the retirements for all university and goverment employees in Illinois. I don't live in IL any longer; however, most of my family does. This is a bad Amendment with no true force of status or stance on what the new governing body plans to address or strip with it. DO NOT PASS THIS AMENDMENT....

  2. Constitutional Amendment #49 (HJRCA49) will appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot. Learn more about “Constitutional Amendment #49” /“HJRCA49” at

  3. Another way to cheat the workers. Vote no on #49