State Rep. Ron Sandack says he voted for cuts approved in December to public pensions as an "incremental, solid first step" toward fixing a broken system.
Now he has proposed a second step.
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Last week, Sandack filed a bill that would eliminate pensions for new legislators by closing the General Assembly Retirement System, which provides such benefits to members of the Illinois House and Senate as well as the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, comptroller and attorney general.
If House Bill 4427 is approved, the General Assembly Retirement System would close to new members beginning Jan. 1, 2015, which Sandack says would allow legislators to "lead by example" in the quest to decrease pension fund shortfalls and stabilize the system.
Sandack's opponent in the March 18 Republican primary for the 81st House District seat, Keith Matune of Downers Grove, says he agrees with the principle of legislators ending their own pensions. But Matune said Sandack's bill is "too little too late."
"Where was he two years ago?" Matune said. "I think it's just a symbolic act. If he can't get the Democratic leadership in Springfield to sign on, I don't see where it's going."
Sandack and Matune are competing for the Republican party's nomination to represent the state House district that includes parts of Naperville, Lisle, Downers Grove, Bolingbrook, Darien, Westmont and Woodridge. So far, no Democrat has filed nominating petitions to seek the seat.
In an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald, Sandack, 49, of Downers Grove, said he opted out of the General Assembly Retirement System so he could maintain an unbiased approach to reforming retirement benefits. He criticized Matune, a 44-year-old teacher in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, for being a participant in a pension system.
"Unlike my opponent, I'm not in the system. I was the first member of the General Assembly to decline a pension and health care from the state," Sandack said. "Why? Because one, I'm a public servant; two, I have another job; but three, I wanted to be conflict-free. Those from within the system have a real hard time being genuine and authentic about changing the system when you're a pensioner. I think it's better to be outside than inside. My opponent can't say that."
Matune said it's "easy and symbolic" for Sandack, an attorney at Gaido & Fintzen, which has offices in St. Charles and Chicago, to highlight his decision to forego a pension "because he's a wealthy attorney."
"I'm somebody who's currently in the system as a tier-two employee," Matune said. "I want to go to a 401K. I want the opportunity to be able to do what I would like with what I've paid into it because I don't really trust the government. I think the government should get out of the pension game."
After Sandack's bill to close the General Assembly Retirement System was introduced, Matune said the part-time job of a legislator should not come with full-time benefits, but he questioned the timing of the bill.
"It's not real reform," said Matune, who also has said he would not have voted for the recently approved pension cuts championed by Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. "I agree with the premise, but is this another campaign gimmick?"
Aside from Sandack's bill to end pensions for new legislators, he said he thinks the option of 401K-style pensions for state employees should be expanded. He said lawmakers need to work step by step to close loopholes, eliminate double-dipping, make sure state employee raises don't exceed inflation and offer retirement benefits that are "more realistic."