Like the majority of other people running for the state legislature, both candidates for the 44th district of the Illinois House agree that pension reform needs to be addressed immediately.
Democrat incumbent Fred Crespo, of Hoffman Estates, and Streamwood Republican Ramiro Juarez said they want a solution that would be fair to both taxpayers and people who have paid into the system. They also want to see the state make payments in full and on time.
But Juarez, who works as an elementary schoolteacher, said he would support school districts taking up a small percentage of the burden if it is phased in gradually. Crespo, on the other hand, said he would be completely against any shift of pension costs to the local level, especially when more than 50 percent of residents' property tax bills are already going to school districts.
"I don't think they should be shifted 100 percent to the school districts. I think that's a really bad idea. But there's nothing wrong with the school districts having a little skin in the game," Juarez said, adding that maybe it would make districts rethink giving teachers and administrators large pay increases immediately prior to their retirement.
Chicago Public Schools already contribute to teachers pension costs, but Crespo said it would be much more difficult for suburban schools to do so because CPS receives nearly four times the amount of general state aid per pupil than suburban schools.
Crespo, who is running for a third term, said he hopes finding a solution to the pension problem will be done via a process similar to one used with the education reform law, which he said involved all the players coming together, realizing the need for a solution and agreeing to compromise.
"I've always said if we don't face the pension problem, at the latest, in January 2013 there's no tomorrow," he said, adding that it will take at least three to four years to feel the effects of pension reform.
During his time as representative, Crespo said he has voted in favor of eliminating pensions for future state lawmakers and drastically reducing pension benefits for current lawmakers. He said he is not yet vested to receive a pension.
Juarez said he felt that most people don't mind that he has a teacher pension, as long as they know he is paying into it. He said he knows a lot of teachers who aren't putting in their 9 percent contribution and he doesn't think that is fair. In some districts, as part of teacher union negotiations the school districts have agreed to pick up part or all of the teacher cost. Juarez also said he would be OK with increasing contributions to 14 percent or 15 percent.
As for a legislator pension, Juarez said he didn't think he would take it if he won the election.
"I need to lead by example and if we haven't fixed this pension problem, why should I have a pension?" he said. "Why should I be entitled to something that adds to the problem?"