Maag is not all wrong: Vested retiree rights must be preserved

The Madison County Record Aug. 9, 2012, 6:00am

To the Editor:

Constitutions, the foundation of our government, are nothing more than "parchment barriers."

"Both depend on a judicial [and legislative] culture that understands its constitutionally assigned role, has the courage to persist in that role when it means announcing unpopular decisions, and has the modesty to persist when it produces results that go against the judges' [lawmakers'] policy preferences." (Justice Antonin Scalia)

Governor Quinn, and a majority of the Illinois legislature fell far short of living up to that obligation when they passed a law requiring vested state employees to pay for health insurance. This is the act of a cash-strapped, authoritarian state government trampling what should be protected individual rights.

As signed by the Governor, the bill gutted 1998 constitutional amendments aimed at cutting costs of the state employee health insurance program that required new participants (ones that had no vested rights) to contribute to premiums. It replaced these amendments with an overreaching rule requiring all participants in the program to contribute. It declared that the financial difficulty of the program constituted an "emergency."

We cannot disregard the Constitution every time our elected representatives find that their past spending has created an "emergency." Article I, §10 of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, §16 of the Illinois Constitution prohibits the passage of an "ex post facto" law, a law impairing the obligation of contracts. And, Article XIII, §5 of the Illinois Constitution makes membership in any retirement system of the state an enforceable contractual relationship.

Suffice it to say, government cannot, by legislation, take away contractual rights that are established (vested).

There are indeed hard choices that need to be made. Solutions that sacrifice constitutional limitations cannot be part of those choices. Without those limits, there is no end to the power of the state.

I, for one, believe in a limited constitutional government, the protection of people, their rights and their property. I know I am not alone.

Tom Burkart
Republican candidate for Madison County circuit judge

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