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August 14, 2015

By: Chicago Tribune Staff

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to quickly consider an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down pension fund changes Mayor Rahm Emanuel engineered to lower taxpayer costs but also hit current and retired city workers in the pocketbook.

In a brief order, the court agreed to a sped-up briefing cycle that would lead to oral arguments in November — a schedule city attorneys hope leads to a final decision before the year is out.

Last month, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak overturned a 2014 state law that reduced cost-of-living benefit increases for retired city workers and laborers and increased contributions by current employees. Those changes were coupled with increases in taxpayer payments to the pension funds.

Novak based her decision on a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling in May on a similar pension case. The court struck down a law changing state pensions, saying the Illinois Constitution’s protection against “diminished or impaired” pension benefits for public workers and current retirees was absolute. Novak concluded that ruling provided “crystal-clear direction” in the city pension case.

Although union representatives and lawyers for retired workers have urged the city to drop the appeal, Emanuel has defended it, saying city pension changes “will stand the test of time.”

If the appeal fails, the city eventually would have to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars more each year to restore financial soundness to two pension funds for city workers and laborers. Those workers, however, would pay less into the fund, and retired workers would not see their benefits reduced.

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