Four candidates in the Republican primary for a Lake County state senate seat say they oppose an idea for local school districts to assume responsibility for teachers' pensions.
Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt of Round Lake Beach, Michael White of Lindenhurst, Joe Neal of Wadsworth and Lawrence "Larry" Leafblad of Grayslake 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 for the 31st Senate District.
Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who's unopposed in the Democratic 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.
All four Republicans gathered Monday for a Daily Herald editorial board interview. One issue that was addressed pertained to a suggestion suburban school districts should pay more toward teachers' retirements.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said a proposal he's considering would spare local districts the cost of covering the immense pension debt the state has racked up.
Cullerton's idea would require local schools to pick up the actual cost of a teacher's pension going forward -- an estimated $800 million among all the suburban and downstate schools this year. Chicago schools fund their own pension program.
Neal, a civil and transportation engineer, said he opposes Cullerton's idea because state legislators want to use local government "as a scapegoat" for pension problems they created.
Jarratt, owner of a website design and consulting business, said there are many reasons to balk at the suggestion of shifting the responsibility of teachers' pensions from the state to the school districts where they work.
"We have to reform pensions at the state level and fix them," Jarratt said.
Leafblad said Cullerton's idea comes across as the state trying to avoid paying what it owes.
"This truly is an outrage," said Leafblad, an independent senior consultant for Ambit Energy. "It's cynical, to be truthful with you."
White, a branding and marketing consultant, said local school districts shouldn't be forced to become responsible for teachers' pensions. He said the issue is another example of Illinois' public employee pension woes.
"There is a problem because the laws in the past have changed the pension program," White said. "So that tells us that having the pension system in our constitution is not functional."
Later in the session, White said he would refuse a state pension and certain benefits afforded lawmakers.
In response, Neal said he'd accept what's provided to state senators, but prefers the state shift to a plan similar to a private sector 401(k) plan. Leafblad said he would be done with the state senate before qualifying for a pension.
Jarratt did not commit to what he would do during Monday's interview. He said he would discuss the issue with his wife if elected to the senate.
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.
Neal, Jarratt and White have never held an elected post.