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posted: 3/5/2012 9:39 PM

31 Dist. candidates talk pensions, deficits at forum

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Three of four Republican candidates from Lake County seeking an Illinois Senate seat addressed issues such as teacher pensiors and the state budget during a candidate forum Monday evening in Round lake Beach.

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 led Schmidt to not enter the March 20 primary. Leafblad did not attend the forum.

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Monday night's forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters-Lake Counnty and the Round Lake Area Public Library. Along with the 31st Senate District competitors, questions were posed to candidates running for Lake County Board and Democrats in the 10th Congressional District. League of Women Voters moderator Joyce O'Keefe of Highland Park's first question sought the three candidates' positions on teacher pensions and whether they'd support eliminating retired educators' health insurance from the budget.

Jarratt said any teacher who's already contributed toward a public-sector pension or health care in retirement shouldn't be denied. He said a way to help fix the financially struggling system would be to have a maximum annual pension payout of $75,000 annually for a 40-year public employee.

"Also, (end) the artifical inflation of pensions at the end of their career," said Jarratt, owner of a website design and consulting business. "That's inflating pensions way beyond what the state can afford now."

Neal, a civil and transportation engineer, said the pension system is "ridiculous" and must change. "The unions do have to come to the table on providing a solution to this problem," he said.

White, a branding and marketing consultant, also favored teachers keeping anying they are due if they paid into the pension system or for retiree health care. He said a "corrupt" pension system is at the root of the problem.

Neal, Jarratt and White also touched on a broad question on what state budget cuts they'd want, if elected.

"We'll have to cut spending 6 to 7 percent over the next five years across the board in order to balance our budget and eliminate the deficit," Neal said. "And I'm not saying that's a standard cut I'll put across the board, just to put that in perspective."

Medicaid is on place that specifically should be examined, said Neal.

White, who reiterated his pledge not to take a state pensionm, said halting controversial legislative college scholarships would be an easy way to start.

"The things I'd like to see cut, high-speed rail," White said. "I'd like to see us cut the thind airport. If we're going to be investing in rail, we should be investing in Metra. It takes people to work."

Jarratt said just starting to verify whether a recipient is an Illinois resident could save what he contends would be $650 million annually.He also said the state must end the use of cash accounting

"When we switch to accrual accouting and open up the books so everybody can see what is being spent and how much each program actually costs, that's when we're going to find out where the waste is and what needs to be cut," he said.

Alll 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.

Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who's unopposed in the Democratic primary, will face the Republican winner in the 31 District Senate race in the November general election. The 31st Senate District covers most of northern and parts of central Lake County.

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