Addressing the pension deficit in Illinois is a concern for both candidates running for state representative in District 62, but neither believes shifting the burden to local taxpayers is the answer.
Incumbent Republican Sandy Cole, who is seeking a fourth term, is challenged by Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling. Both are from Grayslake.
In interviews and questionnaires, the candidates agreed changes to the pension system are needed to address an estimated $83 billion in pension debt.
Cole said pension cost shifts to all schools except Chicago is unfair and will lead to "massive property tax increases" and "referendum fever" as local districts look for money to fund their share.
She suggested any reform must include a guarantee the state will fund its pension obligation.
"That's a huge component in what we do," Cole said. "All these ideas are out there. It'll come together. It has to come together."
The automatic 3 percent cost of living increases also has to be adjusted, she added. She also said the projected returns on pension funding sources have been unrealistic at 8.5 percent.
"Contributions desperately need to have some increase and the formula reformed to address drastic fluctuations in the investment markets and downturns in the economy," Cole said.
Yingling agreed there are good ideas to be considered, and he opposed shifting pension costs to "already overburdened taxpayers".
He strongly advocated upholding the state's obligations to those who have paid into the system and played by the rules, saying the state constitution guarantees them certain protections.
"That said, moving forward, I would consider any of the current proposals including those brought forth by the governor and leaders of both parties," he said.
Systemic changes to the pension system are needed and may include greater employee contributions, Yingling added.
"There's no choice," he said. "Something has to be done."
Cole, who is on the pensions investment committee in the House, said there is a need for a larger payment from existing teachers. There also needs to be a component in any pension revision to give participants "the opportunity to invest their own money," she said.
Because there are different levels of funding for different pension systems, a comprehensive overhaul may not be practical, Cole said, although "fundamentals" such as cost of living increases and retirement age could be addressed.
"All the ideas are on the table. It's math," she said.
Yingling agreed a comprehensive reform of all pension systems is not practical. He said he does not have a problem with paying a portion of teacher's pensions with local taxes but there is a larger issue to be considered.
"Rather than applying a Band-Aid to the pension crisis, the state needs to address the huge waste that is created by perpetuating outdated and redundant levels of government that can be eliminated without reducing the level of services," he said. Those savings could be used to pay part of the pension bill, he said.
District 62 includes all or parts of Grayslake, Hainesville, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake, Long Lake, Third Lake, Waukegan, Lake Villa, Gurnee, Wildwood and Gages Lake.