Both Democratic candidates running for the 22nd District state senate race agree there needs to be state pension reform, but they have different ideas on what that means.
Tim Elenz, a Streamwood businessman and political newcomer, said perhaps it's time for the state to get out of the pension business.
Incumbent Michael Noland, of Elgin, is working with other lawmakers on Gov. Pat Quinn's pension reform panel and said he is focusing now on learning and listening rather than advising or suggesting.
Elenz has spent a lifetime working in and around politicians in Chicago's wards and now has his own insurance brokerage business. His challenge against Noland is his first foray into candidacy. He said he is a strong supporter of skilled labor and believes in the potential of union control of pensions.
"Virtually every trade union has a pension plan," Elenz said, adding that unions could manage the pensions of members and decide what is best for workers. "It's not going to be a political football."
Teacher pensions have come to the forefront of the statewide debate of late as some lawmakers call for schools to contribute to their employees' retirement costs.
Elenz said he needs more information on teacher pensions to form any opinions and also acknowledged his plan would not work for non-unionized state employees or certain unions. But he said it's an "outside the box" idea that should be considered in a move toward solutions.
Noland said he has a law and economics background with no experience on prior pension committees in the state senate or house, which makes him a minority on the governor's pension reform panel.
"I am somebody that comes to this with a fresh set of eyes," Noland said.
Noland said if more pressure is put on the school districts by shifting more of the pension burden, something else needs to change in the funding of education.
"If we were to complement that shift with an increase in state funding with respect to education, it seems to make sense to me," Noland said. "But I want to be careful with what we do as far as increasing the obligation that our districts have to fund these pensions over the long term."
Noland said the panel meets each time the legislature is in session and plans to have some suggestions in mind by April.