Public employee pensions and taxes were among the issues addressed at a forum Wednesday night in Gurnee by four men running in the Republican primary for state Senate District 31.
Joe Neal of Wadsworth, Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt of Round Lake Beach, Lawrence "Larry" Leafblad of Grayslake and Michael White of Lindenhurst want the seat that Republican Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa captured two years ago. Domestic troubles prompted Schmidt's decision to not enter the March 20 primary.
Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who's unopposed in the Democrat primary, will face the Republican winner in the November general election. The 31st Senate District covers most of northern and parts of central Lake County.
Wednesday night's forum in Gurnee was sponsored by the Warren Township Republican Organization. Along with the 31st Senate District competitors, questions were posed to other GOP primary candidates in Lake County races such as state's attorney and circuit court clerk.
To begin their portion of the evening, the four 31st Senate District candidates were asked if they had any plans to reduce Illinois' personal and corporate income tax rates.
Jarratt said he'd work to repeal the individual tax hike that took effect about a year ago, and detailed how businesses could return to paying 4.5 percent to the state. He said businesses would voluntarily participate in a federal electronic employee verification system designed to stem hiring of illegal immigrants.
"What they have to do to have this voluntary tax cut is follow the federal law and use E-Verify to verify their employees are legal residents," Jarratt said. "It gives the businesses the opportunity to do what they want."
Leafblad said he'd pursue reductions in the corporate and individual tax rates. "Things will start to get better the next morning," he said.
White said he would try to form a coalition of freshman state senators who would work on cutting spending and taxes.
"The state government has no leadership," White said, "and that is the biggest problem we have."
Neal said something is wrong with a state that continues to receive increased revenue, with spending going even higher. He said the higher corporate and personal income taxes enacted last year should be repealed.
"That would also expand our tax base, bring more jobs, bring more families back into the state," said Neal.
On the issue of funding public employee pensions in a cash-strapped state, Leafblad said it's a concern that he'd address with public employees if elected. He said he'd be receptive to something similar to a previous proposal in Springfield that would provide pension options for workers.
"It took us decades to get into this mess," Leafblad said. "It's going to take us a little bit of that time to get back out."
White said the state constitution may have to be changed and pensions "pulled out of it."
Neal said he would favor having a three-tiered pension plan and extending the time it takes before employees are vested.
Jarratt said the pension system can be fixed by legislators, and not through altering the state constitution. He said lengthening the time an employee becomes vested in a pension and putting a hard cap on the amount of money collected are ideas he'd bring to the state senate.
On the issue of civil unions, White, Leafblad and Neal said they are in favor. Jarratt said he opposes civil unions because they are a "slippery slope" toward same-sex marriage.
All four GOP candidates and Bush are making their first run at state Senate. Bush is a member of the Lake County Board, where Leafblad previously served.
Jarratt is founder of the Lake County Tea Party. Neal, Jarratt and White have never held an elected post.