Candidates for statewide office split on pension issue
SPRINGFIELD — Six legislators who are running for statewide office in the March primary election participated in Tuesday's dramatic pension reform vote.
Only one — state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign — is a Democrat. Frerichs, who is unopposed in his party's primary for state treasurer, voted against the measure.
"My problem with the bill is that I don't think it was fair and I think it will be found unconstitutional. An unconstitutional bill that doesn't save the state any money, doesn't solve our budgetary problems and I think in the long run it will cost the state more money," said Frerichs, who is not an attorney. "I support reforms to the pension system that keep it solvent for years. I've voted for them in the past. I don't think this is a solution."
Republicans who voted on the issue were split.
Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who was a member of the House-Senate conference committee that helped draft the bill, voted for it. Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale voted against it. Both are running for the GOP nomination for governor.
Dillard cited a number of reasons for his "no" vote.
"I thought it looked bad that they did this the day after the filing period was closed (for candidates for 2014 elections)," he said. "I think we should have had some kind of assurances that the money won't be spent in case the bill is struck down by the Supreme Court, and I also think we have problems with the constitutionality when it comes to something known as legal consideration in the bill. If that's where the Supreme Court wants to hang its hat, it's problematic."
But Brady said "the fact of the matter is we have a $100 million shortfall in our pension system, and it is a budgetary problem that needs a budgetary solution. If we do nothing, 25 percent of our revenue will be absorbed to fund pension obligations. Seventy-five percent isn't enough to provide the support services we need in this state."
Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, who is running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, voted "yes" after saying he was undecided when he came to Springfield on Tuesday morning.
"Clearly the bill is not anywhere near a perfect bill. I have a lot of concerns and a lot of problems with it but at the end of the day it does do something," Oberweis said. "It does take a small step in the right direction, and it ultimately will get to the court, and we'll find out from the court what is permissible in their mind and what is not permissible"
Rep. Jil Tracy of Quincy, who is Dillard's running mate and also a member of the conference committee, voted for the measure.
Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego voted against it. Cross, a Republican, is also running for state treasurer.