Ep. 60: How the ‘workers’ rights amendment’ hurts 93% of Illinois workers

Ep. 60: How the ‘workers’ rights amendment’ hurts 93% of Illinois workers

With only a few days left until Election Day, Illinois’ government unions continue to tout Amendment 1, a proposed constitutional amendment at the top of the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1’s chief sponsor admitted the amendment cannot protect all Illinois workers — so why are proponents still saying it can? Mailee Smith, director of labor policy at Illinois Policy Institute, explains why Amendment 1 is a “legal trick” that would hurt more workers than it would help if it passes.

This week’s Policy Shop comes from Mailee Smith, staff attorney and director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Illinois’ financial soul suffers from an ever-growing public pension crisis, which shows up as sky-high property taxes for homeowners and business owners. The pension crisis is glued firmly in place by a clause in our state constitution that was added back in 1970 at the behest of politically powerful government unions.

This election, government union bosses are deploying a war chest of about $14 million to add another constitutional clause to cement their power.

We should learn from our past mistakes. Amendment 1 would further drive up the cost of government and mean even more taxes for Illinoisans. It would stop lawmakers from fixing the problem after the damage becomes clear – and costly.

One rigid, tax-driving constitutional clause is already too much.

The spin: “[The] pension protection clause in the Illinois Constitution saved retirement security for hundreds of thousands of workers in the state of Illinois, many of [whom] live in your listening area. And so, we need constitutional guarantee for workers’ rights,” said Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, to WMAY radio earlier this fall.

Drea later went on public television claiming, “We don’t have any nefarious plan to come in and take over the world.”

The reality: Editorial boards are seeing through this spin.

“We recommend a ‘No’ vote on Amendment 1 because it is not needed and because unneeded Constitutional provisions unwisely tie the hands of the people’s representatives and the representatives of future generations to deal with problems we may not even foresee today.” – The Daily Herald editorial board

“Moreover, since the public sector also has to raise funds to cover its cost, the amendment seems likely to put pressure on property taxes and other sources of government revenues. We’ve not heard a viable counterargument to that. It certainly won’t reduce the size or expenses of government.” – Chicago Tribune editorial board

The pension clause is the handcuffs that have kept Illinois from investing in education in favor of government retirements, pushing local governments to the brink and forcing ongoing property tax hikes that price people out of homeownership.

We’ve already shared that Amendment 1 would open up Illinoisans to a barrage of property tax hikes, conservatively estimated at more than $2,100 for the typical Illinois homeowner during the next four years.

That one provision in 1970 locked Illinois and its taxpayers into funding unsustainable retirement promises for government workers. Even though Illinoisans continue to make pension payments that eat into funding for other critical services, the state’s pension funds have still built up $130 billion in debt, according to government data.

Amendment 1 would give that same special interest, government unions, the power to make broad new demands that would drive up the cost of government and force taxpayers to pay the bill.

The ballot: Voters will see this issue at the top of their ballots as “Proposed Amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution.” Voting your pocketbook is important, but voting to save your state is noble.

Here’s how Amendment 1 would perpetuate a cycle of decreased government services and tax hikes for decades.

  1. Amendment 1 would be the only amendment of its kind in the country and would allow government unions to invalidate more than 350 state laws. These include laws that protect students and children in state care.
  2. The amendment could allow negotiation of secret government contracts, making it more difficult to tackle corruption.
  3. The amendment could also prevent reforms needed to reduce property taxes, practically guaranteeing a $2,100 property tax hike for the typical Illinois family with a house currently worth $248,000. But the tax damage would likely be far worse as a result of significantly greater government union power to make broader demands that taxpayers would be required to fund.

First, do no harm: Gov. J.B. Pritzker defended his record on pensions in a candidate questionnaire with the Chicago Tribune, giving a dismal outlook on pension reform.

“There are no silver bullet solutions that address the pension mistakes made by previous officeholders over the last few decades, and it’s important to recognize that the state is obligated to pay retirees what they are owed,” Pritzker said.

True, there is no such thing as a silver bullet. But constitutional pension reform – which Pritzker has routinely ignored – is the only way to undo decades of damage that the 1970 pension clause has wrought, and the real path toward protecting the funds from insolvency in the long term.

Amendment 1 would only get in the way of saving our state.

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