All three Democratic candidates for state representative in the 84th District say they disagree with House Speaker Michael Madigan's recent proposal suggesting school districts should contribute to funding teacher pensions.
Where Alex Arroyo, Carole Cheney and Stephanie Kifowit differ is in their reasons for opposing the proposal and their ideas for improving the teacher pension situation.
The candidates shared their views on teacher pensions and other state issues Thursday during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald.
Cheney, a 51-year-old Aurora attorney, was the first to voice her opposition to Madigan's idea of passing some responsibility for teacher pensions on to school districts.
"While that would alleviate the burden on the state, it's not alleviating the burden on the taxpayer," Cheney said. "We have to look at real resolutions to the system as opposed to just shifting which government entity is going to have the burden."
Teachers in all Illinois communities except Chicago pay a percentage of their salary into the Teachers Retirement System, but school districts do not contribute. Instead, state government is supposed to fund teacher pensions.
Arroyo, a 42-year-old flight attendant and Aurora resident, said passing pension responsibility to school districts won't work well in the newly drawn 84th district, which includes parts of Aurora, Naperville, Montgomery, Oswego and Boulder Hill.
"We have three different school districts we have to represent -- one of the poorest ones, (East Aurora District) 131; one of the wealthier ones, (Indian Prairie Unit District) 204; and (Oswego) 308, which is a more middle class school district," he said. "Passing pensions on to them is not going to fly."
Kifowit, a 40-year-old Aurora alderman and substitute teacher, said she opposes adding pensions to school district's expenses because it could cause districts to levy the most property taxes allowed under tax caps.
She said the biggest challenge with pensions is making sure they are fully funded, which will require creative revenue-generating solutions and the input of everyone involved with the system.
"It all boils down to having a responsible entity of government doing what it's responsible to do," she said.
Kifowit and Arroyo said the state should try to generate new revenue to put toward teacher pensions.
"There's a proposal right now in Springfield to consolidate school districts and regional schools. It would save about $50 million a year," Arroyo said. "That money should go toward saving the teachers' pensions."
Cheney said state legislators should address pensions by including teachers in the reform process and possibly increasing the amount they pay into the system.
The candidates are squaring off in the March 20 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican Patricia Fee of Aurora in the November general election.