NEWS

Candidates in 98th Illinois House District reverse party roles on pensions

CHRIS WETTERICH

SPRINGFIELD -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady has said he wants more pension reforms, including putting future state workers in defined-contribution, 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of the state’s current defined-benefit pensions.

In the 98th Illinois House District, Democrat Charles Landers might be more open to Brady’s ideas than Republican Wayne Rosenthal.

Landers, who is running for the seat now held by retiring Rep. Betsy Hannig, D-Litchfield, said he would not change benefits for current state workers. However, he did not rule out voting for a defined contribution plan for future public-sector workers . Unlike Rosenthal, Landers favors the pension reforms passed by the General Assembly last year, which reduced benefits for all future state workers, teachers, university employees, judges and legislators and set later retirement ages for those employees.

“We’re in a mess of about $80 billion in unfunded liabilities,” Landers said in an interview last week. “We’re on the hook. Us and our kids and grandkids. The General Assembly did take an important step.”

The 98th -- a legislative district that curls around Springfield to the southeast and encompasses all of Montgomery County and parts of Madison, Macoupin, Christian, Shelby and Fayette counties -- is home to a sizable number of state workers.

Many leading Republicans and much of the state’s business community believes further pension reform is needed, including possibly jettisoning the state’s current defined benefit plan in favor of the 401(k)-style defined contribution plans that most private-sector workers now have. Brady, of Bloomington, has proposed that current workers would keep the pensions they have accrued until now, but that they put into a 401(k)-style system for their future years of service.

Rosenthal, who is backed by three major unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers – whose members would be adversely affected by such reforms, said he would have voted “no” on creating a two-tiered pension system.

“I’m opposed to that,” Rosenthal said in an interview last week. “Personally, I’ve seen the effects of two-tiered system when United Airlines went to that 20 years ago. It was bad for morale. It needs to be one system. What we’ve had is the employees have been putting their share into the pension fund and the legislature has been raiding those funds and that’s the thing we need to stop.”

Rosenthal aos opposes going to a 401(k) system for future employees. He said it would not reduce the state’s current pension liability and it would imperil the existing pension funds because future employees would not provide a continuous stream of funding to the system.

Landers said changing future benefits for state workers already on the payroll would be unconstitutional.

“The state made a promise to those people,” Landers said. “When you make a deal, you make a deal.”

But as for going to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future state workers, he said he would have to talk to both sides.

“It’s worth looking into,” Landers said. “I’m not going to commit to something until I see what’s going on. I really haven’t seen that or thought about that. I would really have to see the specifics.”

Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523

Landers and Rosenthal on other issues

*Gay marriage/civil unions

Landers:

Opposed to both. “I can see it turning into a slippery slope. To me, I just feel civil unions are too close to gay marriage.”

Rosenthal:

Opposed to both. “I’m just for traditional values. That’s the way my mother raised me.”

*Medicaid spending

Landers:

Favors lowering the income threshold to get into the program, posting Medicaid claims online to ensure transparency, doing a more thorough review of applicants’ assets and rooting out fraud in the program.

“I’d be open to moving the Medicaid system to managed care. We’d have to make sure we could generate significant savings.”

Rosenthal:

Favors managed care. “We should look at rolling back the eligibility to pre-Blagojevich levels. Illinois could save several billion a year annually.”

*Capping legislative leader contributions to candidates

Landers:

No. “The parties are there to help support their candidates. As expensive as campaigns have become, regular folks don’t have the money to run.”

Rosenthal:

Yes. “We need to eliminate the influence special interests and the parties have on the process.”

*Concealed carry of firearms

Landers:

Yes. “As long as a person is a law-abiding citizen who has completed a criminal background check, which is already law, and a firearm safety training safety course, which the NRA also supports, there should be no restrictions on the state issuing concealed carry permits so people can protect themselves and their families.”

Rosenthal:

Yes. “I think that’s one of the individual rights people in this state have been shortchanged on. We’re one of two states that haven’t had the opportunity to do that.”

Charles Landers

Age: 58

Occupation: Former funeral home and ambulance service owner, operator of a family farm

Elected experience: Macoupin County coroner from 1980 to 2009

Family: Wife Kay and son Craig

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Blackburn College; Worsham's College of Mortuary Science in Chicago, 1974

Wayne Rosenthal

Age: 60

Occupation: Retired brigadier general in the Illinois National Guard, owner/operator of a family farm

Elected experience: Trustee, Lincoln Land Community College; former Morrisonville School Board member

Family: Wife Marcia and sons Dustin, Sean and Casey

Education: Bachelor’s degree in math from the University of Illinois Springfield