Illinois Governor Candidates Talk Pensions in First Debate


One of the hottest issues in the race for Illinois governor is also one where the candidates differ starkly: how to fix the state’s retirement system.

So it’s no surprise that pensions came up during the race’s first debate.

There were no revelations here; Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner both used the time to double-down on their stances. From the Associated Press:

Quinn signed legislation last year that would fully fund the retirement systems by 2045, in part by cutting benefits. Public-employee unions have sued, saying the overhaul violates a provision of the constitution that says benefits can’t be reduced.

Rauner supports letting retirees keep the benefits they’ve been promised but freezing the systems and moving employees to a 401(k)-style plan in which workers are not guaranteed a certain level of benefits. He said that plan — similar to what most private-sector workers have — wouldn’t save much money to start but would save billions in the long term.

“I don’t believe it’s right to change the payments to a retiree after they are already retired, and that’s what Gov. Quinn did,” Rauner said.

But Quinn called Rauner’s plan “risky” because workers’ retirements would depend largely on market performance. He said he deserves credit for making Illinois’ full pension payment each year he’s been governor — something his predecessors didn’t do. That contributed to Illinois having the worst-funded pension systems of any state in the U.S.

Illinois’ pension reform law has spent the last 6 months being fast-tracked through lower courts. A ruling on the constitutionality of the law could come before the end of the year.

Illinois Gov. Quinn Accuses Challenger Bruce Rauner Of Paying Off Lawmakers To Vote Against Pension Reform Bill

Pat Quinn

Things got heated on Tuesday when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner met for a face-to-face debate in front of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

[Watch the full video here.]

The session lasted 80 minutes but arguably the most interesting point came when Quinn dropped an intriguing allegation: that Bruce Rauner had offered to pay off lawmakers to vote against the pension reform bill passed by Illinois last December. From the Chicago Tribune:

Quinn said that in December, during the heat of negotiations over a measure to drastically change public employee pension benefits, House Republican leader Jim Durkin told him that Rauner was offering campaign cash to GOP lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Rauner acknowledged working against the pension bill, which Quinn signed into law, but denied the governor’s allegation. Durkin aides referred calls to the state Republican Party, which did not directly address Quinn’s allegation in an emailed statement.

Bruce Rauner has proposed a plan to freeze the pensions of all current state employees and switch them into a 401(k)-style plan.

But Rauner has softened his stance in recent days, perhaps because he doesn’t want to alienate voters in what’s shaping out to be a close race.

During a public appearance Wednesday, Rauner said the following, according to WUIS:

“I’m a believer that we need to protect the pensions for the police officers, and give them a special retirement beyond what’s standardly done in other pensions.”

He didn’t clarify exactly what he meant by the statement.

Photo by Chris Eaves via Flickr CC License