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State

Pension ruling may have to wait until next year

SPRINGFIELD — A ruling on whether Illinois' pension overhaul law is constitutional could be delayed until next year after a Sangamon County judge decided Thursday he wants to hear all the arguments raised on the issue.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reported Friday that Circuit Judge Jon Belz rejected the proposal by lawyers for retiree groups challenging the law to first rule on whether the plan violates the state Constitution's prohibition on diminishing or impairing pension benefits.

Belz ruled that it could lead to piecemeal opinions on various aspects of the law, actually prolonging the final resolution.

The schedule the judge laid out would take the case into December.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law last fall. It increases employee contributions and reduces benefits such as cost-of-living adjustments to close a $100 billion deficit in five state retirement plans. Retired state employees, teachers and others filed four lawsuits, since consolidated, raising the constitutional question and more.

Lawyers for those groups asked Belz to first consider the question about whether the plan violates the constitutional protection.

"The plaintiffs felt we should deal with the threshold issue of the pension protection clause," said Aaron Maduff, who represents the State Universities Annuitants Association, "because if we are correct on that, then the case is done. It's over."

Lawmakers and state officials have said that Illinois' fiscal crisis is bad enough to warrant the plan despite the constitutional clause. And they say that while benefits would be cut, employees also would see reduced contributions to the retirement plans and a guarantee that the state would make its payment.

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