Union group seeks quick ruling on Illinois pension reform lawsuit

CHICAGO Fri Aug 22, 2014 11:25am EDT

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CHICAGO Aug 22 (Reuters) - A coalition of public labor unions is seeking an expedited ruling in consolidated lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a new Illinois pension law.

We Are One Illinois and other parties filed a motion in Sangamon County Circuit Court on Thursday asking for a ruling in their favor in light of a July Illinois Supreme Court decision that underscored state constitutional protection for public sector retirement benefits.

The state's high court ruled on July 3 that health care for retired state workers is a pension benefit protected by a state constitutional provision prohibiting the diminishment or impairment of those benefits.

The same provision is the focus of the lawsuits filed against the pension reform law the Illinois legislature passed in December. The law reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions, raises retirement ages and limits the salaries on which pensions are based.

"We believe, then, that the state's defense is without merit and so have asked the court in this motion to rule in our favor on the state's defense that seeks to justify" the pension reform law, We Are One Illinois said in a statement.

The state has contended that its sovereign powers allow it to act in a fiscal emergency. Illinois has a $100 billion unfunded pension liability and the country's worst funded state retirement system. Illinois's credit ratings are also the lowest among U.S. states.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment on the union coalition's motion.

Sangamon County Judge John Belz suspended the law in May and the next hearing in the case is set for Sept. 4. In the meantime, the coalition said it is "ready to work with any legislator willing to develop a fair and legal solution to our state's challenges."

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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