The complex and politically tricky issue of pension reform is a divisive topic for the two Republican candidates seeking their party's nomination for the 23rd District state Senate seat.
State Sen. Carole Pankau says pension reform must happen now, and she would support the three-tiered plan proposed by House Republican Leader Tom Cross if it were brought for a vote as it is.
But state Rep. Randy Ramey has some ideas of his own. He previously said teachers must be involved in the development of any pension reform, and he says they were included in conversations about two bills he plans to introduce next week.
Working with Republican state representatives Mike Fortner and Mike Tryon and Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, Ramey is pushing one bill designed to make the pension systems for teachers and other state employees more sustainable and another bill to stabilize pension funding.
The sustainability bill would require employees to contribute more to the pension system if they are in line to receive benefits higher than a certain maximum pension amount set in their contracts. It also would require employee contributions to be adjusted every three years after an evaluation of how much each pension plan costs as a percentage of salaries.
The stabilization bill would gain more revenue for pensions by taxing all income of people up to age 65 at 4.75 percent.
Ramey, 49, of Carol Stream, said he is in negotiations about possibly applying half of any new gambling revenue gained from a Chicago casino toward pension funding.
Pankau, 64, of Itasca, said gambling revenue is "a highly unreliable source" for pension funding. She said she questions Ramey's commitment to reform and says he is just trying to gain support of teachers unions, which have donated to his campaign.
"I suspect that he has sold out to a special interest group and is not that in favor of pension reform," Pankau said.
Raising the retirement age for workers on state pensions to 62 and giving employees different levels of benefit options are reforms Pankau said she supports. They're included in plans proposed by state Sen. Chris Lauzen and Cross, respectively.
Ramey said he does not support either of those proposals because both would require changes to the state constitution and could lead to lawsuits.
"We want an agreed-upon bill," he said. "If and when it passes, then you don't have any lawsuits, which saves the state time and money."
The winner of the March 20 Republican primary will advance to the November general election to face one of three Democratic hopefuls.
The Democratic candidates running for the 23rd District seat in their party's March primary all expressed concerns about Cross' three-tiered plan in questionnaires submitted to the Daily Herald.
Candidate Kevin Allen, a 47-year-old marketing executive from Addison, said the state should look at implementing a tiered structure that does not "eventually force most current plan participants into untenable choices prior to retirement," as he believes Cross' plan would.
Greg Brownfield, a 51-year-old Bartlett attorney, said he opposes Cross' plan because he thinks negotiations with unions could lead to reform that would be fair to both public employees and taxpayers. He said taxing retirement income should be considered as a way to gain revenue to "pay down our pension deficit."
Villa Park Village President Tom Cullerton, 42, said he does not support the three-tiered plan, and the system only should be reformed by partnering with teachers and everyone else involved.
The 23rd District includes parts of Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Itasca and Villa Park.