STERLING – How would local candidates for the state Legislature propose fixing the looming pension crisis?
That was among the questions asked Tuesday night at the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce candidate forum at Sterling High School’s Centennial Auditorium. Twenty candidates attended.
For decades, the state has failed to put enough money into the retirement systems for public employees. The shortfall of roughly $85 billion is the worst of any state in the country.
Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, and his Republican challenger Bill Albracht of Moline, were at the forum. The 36th District for which they are vying includes parts of Whiteside, Carroll, Rock Island and Henry counties.
“The first and most important thing we have to do is pay our payments,” Jacobs said of the pension crisis. “That’s something that hasn’t been done in a long time.”
Jacobs said legislators have made changes to the way pensions are calculated for future generations.
“What I want to do is grow Illinois,” he said. “I don’t think you can cut your way out of this problem, I think you have to grow your way out of the problem.”
Albracht said people have faithfully paid in to the pension system for years.
“We are going to have to go from the defined benefit, X number of years, X percent of your income, to defined contribution,” he said. “That is where you are in charge and the state pays in to it, it’s kind of like a hybrid 401(k).”
Candidates for the 71st District – Mike Smiddy, a Democrat from Hillsdale, and state Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova – also were on hand. The redrawn district has been shifted to include more of Whiteside County, including the Sterling-Rock Falls area.
Smiddy said he wants to assure the state is doing its part to pay in to the pension system.
“It’s the state that has been lax in doing their job,” he said. He said he wants to sit down with all sides involved and attempt to reach a compromise.
Morthland said pension payments are rising “continuously and dramatically.”
On the matter of cooperation, he and Smiddy seemed to agree.
“We have to pull our heads out of the sand; we have to work together,” Morthland said. “We have to take novel approaches, and as has been mentioned, we have to have all the stakeholders involved.”
Also in attendance Tuesday night were Whiteside County board candidates from Districts 1, 2 and 3, circuit clerk and recorder candidates, and Whiteside County state’s attorney hopefuls, Democrat Trish Joyce and Republican Pat Liston.
Kim Ewoldsen, executive director of the chamber, was disappointed more voters did not attend. About 30 came to the forum, which typically attracts 85 to 100 voters, she said.
“I would like to commend everyone that took the time to come out tonight,” Ewoldsen said. “I think the most important thing we can do as voters is be informed. I hope that those that weren’t able to take advantage of this event are able to do research on the candidates prior to the November election.”