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GOP gubernatorial rivals Brady, Rauner diverge on pension deal

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, is running for governor and he’s announced he’s voting for a landmark pension reform deal that’s found bipartisan support in Springfield.

“It’s not fair to ask state employees and teachers who have paid every dime they owed to the system to make a sacrifice,” Brady said in a statement. “It’s necessary, however, because governors and legislators who voted for budgets over the last decade did nothing more than delay the resolution we now have before us.”

Bruce Rauner is also a contender in the Republican gubernatorial primary. He isn’t in office, so he won’t have a vote. But Rauner, who launched his bid along with an announcement that he’s willing to go to war with union bosses, has made clear that he doesn’t think it’s a good deal for taxpayers.

“Unfortunately, the Springfield insiders have kept Illinoisans in the dark about the details of this bill,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said last week. “We’ve seen politicians do this before, and it is rarely a good sign for taxpayers. Any deal that would rank pension payouts to government union bosses ahead of priorities like education and public safety should cause grave concern and will lead to higher taxes.”

Brady lashed back at Rauner’s reference to “insiders” pointing to the equivalent of political venom, Stuart Levine, the now-imprisoned ultimate insider who testified to getting public contracts even when it meant paying people off. Levine once lobbied for a firm partially owned by Rauner.

It’s still unclear where the other two GOP gubernatorial candidates — state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford stand on the issue.

Last week, the Sun-Times first reported that legislative leaders landed an agreement that ultimately could shave $160 billion from the state’s future pension liabilities and lift Illinois from its status as the least creditworthy state in the country.

It was widely rumored that Dillard was leaning against any compromise, hoping to keep a friendly path open to unions. Dillard though denied to the Sun-Times that he made up his mind.

“I always supported pension reform. I want to see what the final bill is — but I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be (in support),” Dillard told the Sun-Times. “Pension reform is not an easy vote — it’s not a matter of being easy, it’s a matter of being fiscally prudent for the taxpayers and retirees.”

Here’s Brady’s statement, released over the weekend, in its entirety

By Senator Bill Brady

The General Assembly on Tuesday is poised to vote on a package of meaningful pension reforms that would strengthen Illinois’ fiscal stability by eliminating a $100 billion pension system liability, the largest of any state in the nation, over 30 years.

I will be voting in support of this legislation which has been crafted through months of discussion, exhaustive analysis and legislative debate. It will not be an easy vote by any means; in fact it will be one of the most difficult votes I have ever cast.

It’s not fair to ask state employees and teachers who have paid every dime they owed to the system to make a sacrifice. It’s necessary, however, because governors and legislators who voted for budgets over the last decade did nothing more than delay the resolution we now have before us.

Kicking the can down the road again is not an answer. If the legislature does nothing, payments to our pension system soon will consume 25 percent of our general revenue funds, further jeopardizing state funding for education, public safety, public health and other critical programs on which many Illinoisans depend.

With the reforms in place, the state’s pension payments will be cut by $160 billion over the next 30 years, freeing up resources to meet other crucial demands. In the first year, savings would be about $1.5 billion of taxpayer monies, a 20 percent reduction from the required current-law payment.

The reforms include improvements in the state’s funding mechanism, a change in retirement age for employees younger than 46, a reduction in employee contributions, revisions in the annual cost-of-living adjustments, and an optional defined-contribution or 401k-like program that I have advocated for the last eight years.

Running for governor requires making tough decisions. It requires leadership, not standing behind a press spokesman or staying silent, as my three opponents in the Republican gubernatorial primary have done.

The spokesman for Bruce Rauner, one of my opponents, talks about “insiders” keeping the public in the dark on the details of the bill. There is nothing in this legislation that has not been discussed and debated publicly, including during pension reform debates on other proposals last spring. If Mr. Rauner were to talk about “insiders”, maybe he could talk about his connections Stuart Levine and Ed Rendell and his pension business.

Mr. Rauner also opposes a state funding guarantee. That’s the same excuse governors and legislators have used in the past, but just look where the lack of such protections has taken us.

Senator Dillard voted for the major provisions of this agreement last spring. Treasurer Rutherford as a constitutional fiscal officer certainly understands the dire consequences on state finances of continuing down the current path. Why are they silent now?

This is a time for leadership and hard decisions, not a time to stand on the sidelines. Pension reform is an issue of fiscal responsibility and the future of Illinois, not a political strategy.