Pension Reform Awaits State Senate Candidates
Morrison and Friedman explain the role they see solving one of state’s major problems.
The only certainty about the failure of the Illinois General Assembly to pass pension reform legislation when its current session ended Thursday is there will be a new senator from either Deerfield or Highland Park ready to make a difference in January.
Highland Park pediatrician Arie Friedman, a Republican, and West Deerfield Township Supervisor Julie Morrison, a Democrat, are the two candidates competing to succeed retiring state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest).
The winner of the Nov. 6 general election between Morrison and Friedman will be required to deal with state’s $83 billion unfunded public employee pension liability. The legislature debated a number of proposals but failed to pass any of them.
Unless a special session is called and legislation is passed then, the problem will await Friedman or Morrison in January. The issue is not new. The burden has been growing for more than 40 years, according to state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park).
They both have ideas about what to do, agreeing on some and disagreeing on others. Neither is willing to further drain Illinois taxpayers to retire obligations which have been growing for a generation.
“Ultimately, I will support any solution that results in a properly funded retiree benefits system so long as it does not further burden Illinois families and businesses,” Friedman said.
Morrison will not increase revenue to pay for the unfunded benefits as well. “No new taxes to fix the pension mess,” she said.
When the negotiations between Democratic Gov. Patrick Quinn and the leadership of both parties in the General Assembly broke down, one of the major issues was an idea supported House Speaker Michael Madigan shifting some of the burden to local government. Quinn and House Minority Tom Cross (R-Oswego) opposed it.
Both Candidates Oppose Shifting Proposal
Both Friedman and Morrison are against taking the liability away from the state but for different reasons. Friedman sees the idea as one that will increase property taxes while Morrison believes it will hurt education.
“Shifting the pension burden to local governments would destroy public education,” Morrison said. “I cannot support a position that solves a Springfield created problem by erasing local education.”
Friedman sees the connection between education and shifting the load to local government because he thinks the bulk of the requirement will fall on school districts which are primarily funded by property taxes.
“It is a property tax increase,” Friedman said of the shifting proposal. “Under no circumstances will I vote for something that will result in increasing property taxes.”
What Impact Can a Newcomer Have?
Though one of them will be a rookie legislator in January, they both believe they can have an impact with their vote. Morrison sees her first obligation to her district and will vote accordingly possibly setting her apart from others in her caucus.
“If any piece of legislation, be it social issues, education or campaign finance reform is bad for the 29th District, then you can count on my vote against it,” Morrison said. “All legislation is a race to 30 votes. If there is an idea or proposed legislation that is good for my district then I will definitely support it. If it is bad, then they can count me as a no.”
In Friedman’s case he not only knows his vote matters but he hopes to be a member of the Senate majority pending the outcome of the election. “I can vote,” he said when directly asked about a newcomer’s impact.
“Advocating for common sense pension reform is important,” Friedman said. “I’m looking forward to four years of being a part of a Republican majority in the State Senate.”