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Pension battle likely to end up in court

SPRINGFIELD -- Even though lawmakers passed pension reform, the fight is far from over.
SPRINGFIELD -- Even though lawmakers passed pension reform, the fight is far from over. Governor Quinn hasn't signed pension reform into law yet, but when he does, the state's unions say they plan to take it to court. WCIA-3's Ashley Michels keeps us Connected to the Capitol.

They say it goes against the Illinois Constitution. It says you can't change retirement benefits, but lawmakers agreed, without changes, they couldn't fix the state's finances. They're arguments both sides will likely have to take before Illinois' Supreme Court.

As pension reform heads to the governor's desk, state unions are gearing up for a major lawsuit. Don Craven is an attorney. He says all sides are going to have their work cut out for them.

"The big issue is what is the meaning of the pension clause in the Constitution?"

He's talking about the line, with regards to pensions, which reads, "the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

The state and unions interpret it two different ways.

"Is taking away a cost-of-living increase a diminishment of a pension benefit? Or, is the pension benefit that is protected simply the initial amount that you are awarded?"

Leaders on the pension issue say they've built in safeguards to help it get through the court either way; like a preface explaining why there need to be changes and letting workers keep an extra one percent of their pay. But, Craven says it could be a long shot.

"In the past, the Supreme Court has not been taken by that argument."

On the flip side, the unions will likely stick to what's written in black-and-white.

"The Constitution is there to guide us through fiscal crises. Not to be used as a Kleenex when the system needs to be repaired."

Craven says it's too close to call which way the decision will go. In the meantime, the state and its workers' futures hang in the balance.

We're still about six months out from when the law would kick in. Experts say, if the lawsuit moved quickly, there could be a decision in time.

One other thing to note, it wouldn't have to be one way or the other. They could strike parts of it down and keep the rest.
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