Gubernatorial candidates differ on pension plan

SPRINGFIELD — Republican candidates for Illinois governor are staking out positions on what could be a landmark pension-reform deal that could go to a vote in the General Assembly as early as Tuesday.

Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner said Sunday the deal announced last week by legislative leaders is “insufficient.” State Sen. Bill Brady said he’s made a difficult decision to support it after being part of months of work and analysis into it, while criticizing two other hopefuls — Sen. Kirk Dillard and Treasurer Dan Rutherford — for not taking a stand.

Dillard said he wants to read the bill — not rely on “a word-of-mouth” explanation — and called for two days of hearings in the Senate before deciding how to vote. Rutherford did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After years of debate and intense study during the past five months, House and Senate leaders emerged on the eve of Thanksgiving with a plan to close the funding gap in Illinois’ five public-employee pension accounts. They are $100 billion short of what’s needed to cover all current and future retiree benefits — the worst in the nation.

“The savings in this bill are both insufficient and will make true, comprehensive reform more difficult ... ,” Rauner, of Winnetka, said in a statement to supporters. “This proposal would take us from the worst to merely very bad and guarantee a future of higher taxes.”

The plan is designed to save $160 billion and fully fund the system over the next three decades by raising the retirement age, limiting cost-of-living increases and guaranteeing required state funding annually.

While Rauner called for capping the current system and instituting a 401(k)-style defined-contribution program, Brady, of Bloomington, was part of the so-called “conference committee” of lawmakers who have wrangled over the details since June. He supports the plan.

“It’s not fair to ask state employees and teachers, who have paid every dime they owed to the system, to make a sacrifice,” Brady, a legislator for 20 years, said in a statement. “It’s necessary, however, because governors and legislators who voted for budgets over the last decade did nothing more than delay the resolution we now have before us.”

Dillard, of Hinsdale, said he wants to read the legislation and believes it should get a public airing.

“The Senate should hold a two-day committee-of-the-whole so testimony from all fronts can be heard,” Dillard said.

Tio Hardiman of Hillside, former director of the anti-violence nonprofit CeaseFire, is running in the Democratic primary against incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. Like Quinn, Hardiman supports the current plan, but he believes more work awaits to erase the debt in eight years by finding “creative” ways to raise revenue, such as a lottery ticket dedicated to pension funding.

“The pension crisis should be resolved as soon as possible — not a 30-year plan,” Hardiman said during a stop in Peoria. “People out here are struggling.”

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