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Judge halts Illinois pension overhaul until ruling

Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 11:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 11:57 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – A Sangamon County judge stopped Illinois' state pension overhaul law from taking effect Wednesday, issuing a stay on the law until the court can rule on its constitutionality.

Two lawyers representing plaintiffs in the case said that Circuit Judge Jon Belz issued the order to stop the pension law that reduces retirees' benefits and increases their contributions from taking effect this summer.

Parts of the law were to take effect June 1.

The overhaul was designed to close a $100 billion deficit in five state pension systems. It was signed into law last fall.

The House author of the changes, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, noted that none of the savings officials expect to reap from the changes are factored into the state budget for this year.

"I would have been shocked had there not been a stay," the Northbrook Democrat said, adding that, "it should have been stayed and we should wait to see frankly what the Supreme Court tells us."

Gov. Pat Quinn's assistant budget director, Abdon Pallasch, said Wednesday the governor was "confident the courts will uphold this critical law that stabilizes the state's pension funds while squarely addressing the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time by eliminating the state's unfunded pension debt."

Quinn, who considers the pension overhaul one of the biggest hallmarks of his tenure in office, is one of the defendants in the case.

Five lawsuits challenging the law were consolidated in Sangamon County court. State employees and retirees claim the law is unconstitutional, saying it would improperly reduce pension benefits they were promised.

One group of plaintiffs, represented by the We Are One Illinois Coalition of employee unions, was pleased with the action.

"This is an important first step in our efforts to overturn this unfair, unconstitutional law and to protect retirement security for working and retired Illinois families," Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said in a statement issued by the coalition.

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