One of the way the modern conservative movement has undermined progressive goals like reducing income inequality and universal health care is by limiting democracy itself. For example, conservatives were successful in getting California to require a 2/3 vote — not a simple majority — to raise taxes, essentially letting small minorities prevent tax increases and force major cuts to public services.
Now, Illinois conservatives are pushing a similar effort in Illinois to attack public employee pensions. Illinois’s November ballot will include Amendment 49, which would require a three-fifths vote in order to increase pensions or other public retirement benefits.
“For decades politicians skipped payments, running up the pension debt. Now that the bill is due, they’re trying to blame teachers, police officers, caregivers and other public employees and retirees. Instead of putting in place an ironclad guarantee that politicians will pay their share going forward, they’re clamoring to change the constitution in a way that won’t do a thing to fix the funding problem,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, in an interview with The Southern Illinoisan.
It’s not surprising that anti-union forces are pushing for a California-style attack on public pensions in the state. Stable private pensions that allow workers to retire with dignity have been in decline (partly due to the collapse of unions in the private sector). Public pensions remain the last real backbone for retirement security for workers, and if the right succeeds in crushing them, society’s responsibility to reward workers for a lifetime of hard work will be greatly undermined.
Illinois’s voters should soundly reject Amendment 49 because it is both an attack on public workers and an attack on democracy.