Alexander Hamilton described the judiciary as “the least dangerous” branch of government, but the Illinois Supreme Court may prove him wrong. Consider its decision last week that invents constitutional protections for retiree health-care subsidies, which amounts to a sealed writ for a tax increase.
Health care for state retirees ranks as Illinois’s biggest liability after pensions. Taxpayers are $56 billion in hock for this sweetener that few private employers offer. Over the next 30 years, the state’s annual retiree health bill is projected to grow to $6.6 billion from $1.4 billion. This is on top of the $7.5 billion the state is spending annually on pensions. An astonishing one of every four tax dollars pays for state worker retirement benefits.
In 2012 the legislature tried to rein in retiree health costs by giving a state agency plenary authority to raise premiums. Most workers who retired before 1998 didn’t have to pay a penny for benefits. Those who retired later were entitled to free health care after 20 years of service and a 50% premium subsidy after 10.