55th House hopefuls talk pension reform
When it comes to fixing the state's pension gap, 55th House District candidates agree that the solution must be negotiated with employees, while they vary on some details of the how and what of achieving the changes that are needed.
Political newcomer Republican Susan Sweeney faces Democrat Marty Moylan, mayor of Des Plaines, on Nov. 6 in a race with no incumbent candidate. The 55th District seat currently is held by 20-year Republican state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, who didn't collect enough signatures to run in the March primary.
Illinois has $9 billion in unpaid bills and rising yearly payments into underfunded teachers' and employees' retirement funds.
"The issue of cutting someone's benefits is going to be decided by the courts," said Moylan, 61, who retired earlier this year from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134 union. "This has been a problem that has been passed down the road by both administrations. I don't think current people who are receiving pensions should be penalized for actions of some union officials. It's very hard for us to take money away that's been guaranteed to them. (Public employees and taxpayers) realize there's a problem because it's not sustainable."
Moylan said his union pension works like a 401(k). If elected in November, he would refuse a state pension, he said.
"I don't think anyone should be getting double pensions. Legislators should not be getting a state pension," said Moylan, who served two years as a Des Plaines alderman before being elected mayor in 2009.
Sweeney said she too would opt out of the legislative pension program. "Any state employees should be getting a 401(k)," she added. In a 401(k), benefits are not guaranteed but are determined by the amount invested and how the investments perform.
Neither Moylan nor Sweeney supports shifting the burden of teacher pension costs to local school districts.
Sweeney, 56, a Park Ridge businesswoman and community activist, said the cost shift proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn is akin to "rearranging the deck chairs" on the Titanic and would result in an increase in school property taxes.
Chicago pays the government share of teacher pensions, while the state pays it for teachers elsewhere in the state.
"Eventually, I could consider supporting a cost shift solution under which both the cost and design of the pension plans are negotiated locally," Sweeney said. "We need to give people control of their own money."
Sweeney said benefits that haven't already been earned can be changed eventually.
"I don't think we can continue the promise of a defined benefit," she said. "We should protect what's earned to date. That's what should be prioritized. For retirees as well, our first option is to protect what they've earned in retirement pensions."
She said lawmakers also need to think about capping cost-of-living increases that now are granted automatically each year.
The candidates agree salary hikes that boost pensions at the end of an employee's career should be limited.
The district has new boundaries drawn by Democrats based on the 2010 census and now includes parts of Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Elk Grove Village and Schaumburg.