CHICAGO, March 19 An Illinois judge on Tuesday
ruled that healthcare for retired state workers does not have a
constitutional guarantee, a decision that could help lawmakers
who are trying to pass reforms of the state's badly underfunded
The ruling dismissing class-action challenges to a 2012 law
that gave the state the ability to change health care premium
rates for retirees was a setback for public labor unions opposed
to any changes in retirement benefits.
Senate President John Cullerton wants to allow state
workers to choose between keeping current pension benefits or
maintaining access to state retiree health care insurance.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Associate Judge Steven
Nardulli found that health insurance is not a guaranteed pension
benefit protected by the Illinois Constitution.
Unions, including the American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees Council 31, had backed the lawsuits,
contending the law would saddle state and university retirees
with unaffordable premium increases. They also argued that
health care coverage carried the same constitutional protection
"We continue to believe this law impairs the rights of men
and women who retired after careers with state government or
state universities to obtain health insurance coverage according
to the terms in place when they retired," AFSCME Council 31
Executive Director Henry Bayer said in a statement.
He added that the union will consult with the plaintiffs and
other unions about options in the wake of the ruling.
Illinois lawmakers are struggling to rein in burgeoning
pension costs that threaten funding to core state services such
as education and public safety. The lack of a solution to the
state's huge $96.8 billion unfunded liability and low 39 percent
funded rate for pensions had led to downgrades of Illinois'
credit ratings and higher borrowing costs.
Cullerton, a Democrat, said the ruling reinforces his
position that health care access can be negotiated in exchange
for pension reform.
"While I acknowledge that there are a number of ways to
structure a bill, I believe that a reform based on contractual
principles of offer, consideration and acceptance is the best
way to ensure that the legislation is upheld in court," he said
in a statement. "I will continue to advocate that giving state
employees and retirees a choice between cost of living
allowances and access to health care is the best way forward".
Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, called the ruling "good news
for the taxpayers and another step forward in our effort to
restore fiscal stability to Illinois."