The three Republican candidates in the 52nd House District primary race all point to pension reform as key to a long-term budget solution in Illinois, but they differ on how far legislation should go.
State Rep. Kent Gaffney said that in his former role as budget director for the House Republicans, he was instrumental in working with Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross to put together the very bill that his opponents support.
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The three-tiered pension system would offer state workers a trio of options for earning reduced future benefits.
Gaffney, a Lake Barrington resident appointed last summer to the seat held by the late Mark Beaubien, said the state's $83 billion unfunded pension liability would be reduced by billions under the plan.
He blasted Democrats for voting six years ago to reduce pension payments, and said teachers' contributions to their pensions haven't kept up with the benefits they've been given over the years.
"The system is just not sustainable as far as the payments," Gaffney said. "As they continue to grow, less (funding) will go to children, elderly programs and health care."
Island Lake marketing executive Danielle Rowe said she'd support Cross' plan, but only as a starting point.
The Tea Partyer said that while benefits earned so far can't be touched, she thinks legislators should look at retiree health care benefits with respect to premiums and co-pays to help deal with the state's unfunded health care liabilities.
Rowe said that while she's not against teachers, benefits for them and other union groups need to be more in line with the private sector.
"I empathize with them, but this can't be a bullying situation from teachers unions," Rowe said. "We all take risks and are all promised something, but the economy is a mess and we have to move forward for the greater good of everyone."
Rowe said House Speaker Mike Madigan prevented Cross's plan from coming up for a vote, and that it will be difficult to proceed with drastic reform until citizens rally to pressure him.
Barrington Hills financial consultant David McSweeney said he'd support Cross' bill if it was the only alternative on the floor. However, he prefers a plan that would eliminate pensions for state legislators because he thinks they're doing a part-time job.
His plan would protect the benefits earned to date but convert all employees into 401(k) plans similar to those offered in the private sector. Employees would have the option of joining Social Security while receiving a smaller 401(k) matching payment from the state. He thinks legislators should look at freezing cost of living adjustments for defined benefit programs, as well.
"Unless we fundamentally reform pension, we have no hope of controlling the budget," said McSweeney, who promises to forgo a pension if elected.
Although pension legislation isn't a short-term fix, McSweeney said businesses take it into consideration when deciding whether to operate in Illinois, and that the state will continue losing jobs until real reform takes place.
The 52nd House District covers parts of Barrington, Island Lake, Oakwood Hills, Wauconda, North Barrington, Lake in the Hills, Fox River Grove, Trout Valley, Algonquin, Barrington Hills, South Barrington, Cary and Crystal Lake.