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Illinois Supreme Court rules against pension reform

ILLINOIS -- Thousands of retired state employees are breathing a sigh of relief after the state's highest court ruled in their favor.
ILLINOIS -- Thousands of retired state employees are breathing a sigh of relief after the state's highest court ruled in their favor. WCIA-3's Matt Porter keeps us Connected to the Capitol.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled 6 - 1 in favor of state employees who say the state overstepped its bounds by asking retirees to begin paying for their health plans. Pensioners' attorneys argued their benefits are protected in the Illinois Constitution and the state needs to find a different solution for its deficit dilemma.

"The promise was, if you work for the state of Illinois for 20 years, you will not pay health insurance premiums in your retirement," said Donald Craven, an attorney for the employees.

It's a promise the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the state broke when it enacted a law requiring state retirees to pay for health insurance.

"The state had argued that this was not a core retirement benefit," Craven said, "And the supreme court said, 'No.'"

The deal means thousands of Illinois workers will stay on their old health plans, but it also means the state will have to look somewhere else to solve its $100 billion pension crisis.

"The Supreme Court said very clearly today," Craven said, "you don't welsh on the contracts you've made with your workers to solve your problems going forward."

For retirees like Darlene Edwards, she feels relieved.

"It was the best news we could ever hope for, to begin with," Edwards said.

After 20 years working for the Department of Public Health, she said she's earned her benefits.

"We need healthcare and we have paid into this every month for years and years and years," Edwards said.

The fight is not over. The court sent the case to be tried in a lower court. The office of Governor Pat Quinn released a statement saying it hopes the lower court will reverse the decision made Thursday. Opponents say the Supreme Court's opinion will make it difficult for the trial court to reverse the decision.
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