SPRINGFIELD -- As lawmakers continue to tussle over how to deal with the state's rising retirement costs, campaign opponents state Reps. Sidney Mathias and Carol Sente disagree over whether local school districts should have to pay more toward teachers' pensions.
Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican, says the state shouldn't shift what it pays toward future teacher pensions onto local schools.
The state has retirement debt, he argues, because of lawmakers and governors, not local schools.
"They shouldn't have to foot the bill," Mathias said.
Plus, Mathias says, local schools don't get to set the rules on teachers' pension programs, so they wouldn't be allowed to cut benefits if they got into debt.
"They have no say in the matter," he said.
Sente, though, says local school districts set the salaries of teachers, and those salaries determine how much the state has to pay for their pensions.
So the Vernon Hills Democrat supports moving the responsibility to local schools, but only if it's phased in over 12 years.
"We need to reconnect the entity that's making the salary decisions with the entity that's paying for the pension," she said.
And, Sente says, the state has to quit cutting money for schools in its annual budgets.
"They can't shortchange schools on all ends," Sente said.
Whether local districts should pay more for teachers' pensions is one of the top sticking points in the ongoing debate on how to deal with the state's massive retirement debt -- a cost of more than $5 billion a year that keeps the state from paying more for other services like care for the elderly and disabled.
Sente and Mathias are locked in a tough re-election battle -- the only one in the state between two incumbents. They're vying for the redrawn 59th District seat, which includes all or parts of Buffalo Grove, Green Oaks, Gurnee, Indian Creek, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Long Grove, Mettawa, Mundelein, Northbrook, North Chicago, Park City, Riverwoods, Vernon Hills, Waukegan and Wheeling.
The two candidates agree on some other facets of the pension debate -- particularly when it comes to benefit cuts. Both agree that state worker and teacher annual benefit increases should be lowered, a move that could save the system billions of dollars.
Mathias and Sente also both say they'd support teachers, state workers and university employees paying more of their own salaries into the pension systems.
Their opinions are particularly important compared to other campaigns across the suburbs. The question of what to do about public employee pensions might come up before the new class of lawmakers take their seats in January.
But Sente and Mathias are both incumbents who would likely have to vote one way or the other no matter what happens Nov. 6.