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Pension deal is a political hot potato for GOP gubernatorial hopefuls

Bruce Rauner

Bruce Rauner

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Updated: January 4, 2014 6:31AM

As Illinois’ four Republican gubernatorial hopefuls craft their rhetoric on a landmark pension deal, they are at the same time juggling a political hot potato that is certain to factor into their March 18th GOP primary aspirations.

Part of the balancing act: signaling to taxpayers they’re capable of governing, while not alienating a powerful labor lobby that has poured some $30 million onto Illinois politicians over the last five years. At the same time, if the Republican who emerges from the primary opposes the fix, he will have a much tougher time hammering Gov. Pat Quinn on Springfield inertia.

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, among the Republican gubernatorial candidates, announced Monday he is firmly against the proposed reform bill that lawmakers are to take up on Tuesday.

“Having examined the information available, I do not support the current legislation,” Rutherford said in a statement on Monday. “I do not believe it will withstand judicial review should it pass the Illinois General Assembly.”

As treasurer, Rutherford has repeatedly lambasted Quinn for the state’s fiscal disorder, warning time and again of credit downgrades driven by inaction on pensions.

By taking that stand, Rutherford ends up on the same side as millionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner – but for different reasons.

Rauner launched his bid for governor taking on the unions saying he believes union bosses have too much influence in Springfield. Rauner supports moving public employees into a 401(k) type of system.

“Springfield politicians are trying to put a Band-Aid on an open wound,” Rauner said through a spokesman on Monday. “It’s a bad deal for taxpayers.”

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. But lawmakers risk further angering union members — who account for millions of dollars in campaign donations and represent a formidable voting bloc. Members from a coalition of unions on Monday were lighting up phone lines and out picketing in opposition to the proposed pension compromise.

Of the four candidates, only one has said he would support the measure. That’s state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who said it wasn’t fair to state employees and teachers but “it’s necessary.”

Just one of the four candidates was still hedging on the matter as recently as Monday. State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, was non-commital on his support, also raising constitutional questions but saying he supported public hearings.

“I believe the Senate should hold a two day committee of the whole so testimony from all fronts can be heard,” Dillard said in a statement. “We must immediately pass a real pension reform bill, but I want to read its actual language.”

Twitter @natashakorecki

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