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GOP candidates split on Illinois pension reform plan

Published: Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 2:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 5:18 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD (MCT) — Republican candidates for governor are split on whether a government worker pension overhaul backed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn should be approved when lawmakers return to the Capitol this week.

On Sunday, wealthy equity investor Bruce Rauner said he opposes the pension agreement while state Sen. Bill Brady indicated he favors it. State Sen. Kirk Dillard did not stake out a position, and Treasurer Dan Rutherford declined to comment on what's viewed as one of the most pressing issues facing state government.

Last week, the four Democratic and Republican legislative leaders announced they had reached agreement on a measure that would raise retirement ages for many public workers and teachers outside Chicago, reduce cost-of-living increases for retirees and eliminate the $100 billion pension debt in 30 years. Quinn has said he supports the plan, which could be voted on Tuesday.

Republican governor hopeful Rauner said the pension agreement does not go far enough and is too costly for taxpayers. He released a statement Sunday calling "insufficient" the estimated $160 billion in savings.

"It barely scratches the surface of the problem," Winnetka's Rauner said in the statement. He prefers a far-reaching 401(k)-type approach rather than a limited and voluntary provision offered in the agreement.

The position puts Rauner in the same camp as government worker unions that oppose the pension agreement. But the unions come at it from the opposite end, contending the changes go too far and are unconstitutional.

Brady, who lost to Quinn for governor in 2010, said he will support the agreement, saying now is a time for "leadership and hard decisions."

"Pension reform is an issue of fiscal responsibility and the future of Illinois, not a political strategy," said Bloomington's Brady, who sits on a special House and Senate panel that forged a framework before the leaders put on the finishing touches.

Dillard declined to say how he would vote on the plan, saying Sunday that he is "waiting to read the actual pension legislation language" when it is finalized rather than relying on an explanation from House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.

Dillard maintained the Senate should have a two-day hearing on the actual bill "so testimony from all fronts can be heard."

Like the unions, Dillard questioned the constitutionality of the plan, saying it lacked a "true bargain," or give and take, with employees over the changing of their benefits. Supportive lawmakers say the agreement satisfies constitutional requirements of such give-and-take considerations, noting that employees actually would be required to contribute 1 percentage point less from their paychecks toward their retirements.

Dillard's running mate, Rep. Jil Tracy of Quincy, said she is leaning toward backing the pension legislation pending a review of the fine print when the legislation is filed. Tracy also served on the pension panel that spent months trying to find common ground. She said the legislative leaders took several components from the work of the two-chamber pension panel.

"I've heard from the public, 'We recognize this is a crisis, and there needs to be shared sacrifice,'" Tracy said.

While Democrats control the General Assembly, it's expected that some Republicans will have to vote for pension reform for it to pass. The pension issue is problematic for Republicans, who generally favor reforming the financially out-of-whack retirement systems but also don't necessarily want to hand Democrats a major victory ahead of the key 2014 state elections.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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