THE STATE Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA) on behalf of its members and a group of active and retired University employees filed a lawsuit March 6 in Champaign County Circuit Court challenging Senate Bill 1, [PA 98 -599] which causes significant cuts to public pensions and affects State University and Community College employees who are paid through the State University Retirement System (SURS).
“WE WERE put in a position where our only course of action was to file this lawsuit,” said Linda Brookhart, Executive Director of SUAA. “We have a responsibility to represent the interest of our members and to also stand against a law we believe violates the Illinois Constitution in a variety of ways.”
SUAA’s LAWSUIT challenges the changes to the pension code on the basis that they violate three different clauses of the Illinois Constitution. The suits claims Senate Bill 1 violates the Pension Clause (Article 13 Sec. 5), which forbids diminishment of pensions, the Takings Clause (Article 1 Sec. 15), which forbids taking of private property for public use without just compensation, and the Contracts Clause (Article 1 Sec. 16), which forbids the State to breach contracts that it makes. Several other lawsuits making similar arguments have also been filed across the State on behalf of public employees, but SURS members are different in some significant ways, according to SUAA.
SURS MEMBERS have the ability to choose one of three different retirement options, but once they choose a retirement option, they are locked into their retirement plan. By changing the rules governing the various SURS retirement plans, SUAA believes the State is in breach of contract.
ADDITIONALLY SURS members have the ability to buy years off their retirement. Senate Bill 1 increases the retirement age requirements, which mean SURS members who bought years back thinking they would retire at a certain age will have to work longer as a result, which SUAA believes is a breach of the agreement these employees had with the State.
“SURS MEMBERS make an irrevocable choice between different kinds of pension plans, and many pay more into the system to ‘buy years,’” Brookhart said. “When the State then changes the rules, it puts our folks in a trick box. We appreciate that other groups are fighting this law, but we have an obligation to ensure that those issues which are unique to current and retired employees of State universities and community colleges are fully presented.”