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Senate hopeful urges pension fix

But Anderson offers no specific solutions

Published: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 11:48 a.m. CST

Neil Anderson, a Republican state Senate candidate, says Illinois needs to fix its pension systems, but he hasn't given specifics on how to do that. 

He is running for the Republican nomination in the 36th Senate District, which includes Whiteside County. He is the only candidate so far in the March primary.

The Democratic incumbent is Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. 

In a telephone interview Thursday, Anderson declined to say how he would handle pension issues such as raising employees' contributions, increasing the retirement age and cutting cost-of-living increases. 

But he said he wanted to avoid violating the state constitution's ban on diminishing earned pension benefits. 

"The constitution has very strong language," said Anderson, a Moline firefighter. "There is only one other state with such strong language – New York. Its pension system is on the path to fiscal solvency. We're the only state that has not passed comprehensive reform."

The Chicago-based Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, recommends converting employees' benefits to 401(k)-style plans, following what much of the private sector already does. 

Anderson said he would be open to 401(k) plans for future employees, but not current ones, noting the constitutional ban.

He would not say whether he would support the plan by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, which many House Republicans supported. That plan would have required workers to contribute more, cut benefits and raised the retirement age.

He also would not comment on the plan by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, which would have given workers and retirees choices for their benefits. Jacobs voted for it. 

The Madigan plan would be much more aggressive in reducing the state's $100 billion in pension liability. 

Anderson noted that the state's pension debt has caused repeated credit downgrades for the state. 

"The pension system needs to be fixed," he said. "As the race progresses, I will give clear and precise ideas [on pensions]."

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Anderson declined to state his view.

"I'm not interested in talking about that," he said. "That's the last thing I'm thinking about."

Last year, the campaigns for Jacobs and his Republican opponent, Bill Albracht, raised more than $1 million combined. Jacobs handily defeated Albracht.

Despite the defeat, the GOP is targeting the 36th District this year. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno showed up for Anderson's campaign event in Rock Falls last weekend. 

"We are the No. 1 race in the Senate this year," Anderson said. 

Most Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, which the Legislature recently voted to allow. Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Wednesday.

Anderson makes $53,000 a year as a firefighter. He plans to take a leave of absence from his position if elected, and promised not to accept the health-care and pension benefits available to legislators. 

Anderson said he is limiting himself to three terms. 

"The first thing people in office worry about is getting re-elected," he said. "We have a lot of career politicians who don't want to make tough decisions. They want to ride the fence."

 

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