On Friday, April 11, Illinois Education Association President Cinda Klickna moderated the first face-off discussion between Illinois’ candidates for governor, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner at IEA’s 160th Representative Assembly, held at Hilton Chicago.

The event attracted vast media attention and delegates’ interest because in previous years, Rauner had declined to appear before the largely Democratic assembly, which endorsed Quinn and Lt. Governor Sheila Simon in the previous election. 

In this highly contentious race, two issues are foremost in Illinois voters’ minds: job growth and tax code revision. A third issue foremost on the IEA’s agenda is the candidates’ position on pension reform and the effect Senate Bill 1 (SB1), and its June 1 scheduled implementation, will have on state pensioners. 

Klickna, a petite woman and focused leader, posed questions to the two candidates that were submitted by the more than 1,300 members and associates in attendance. Ignoring the ground rules, the two candidates came out of the gate spouting their political agendas and seizing the opportunity to discredit each other.

The two candidates skirted questions about Illinois’ income tax issue. Quinn’s proposed budget includes keeping the 5percent individual income tax rate and the 9.5percent corporate tax. He also proposes closing tax loopholes and corporate tax breaks. Illinois’ longtime 3percent income tax rate was raised to 5percent after January 2011. IEA supports a graduated individual income tax rate where a person may pay more or less, based on their individual income. 

The pension issue is prominent with the IEA and other Illinois unions. Rauner, a billionaire businessman and retired chairman of GTCR, a private equity firm, has gone on record as wanting to see drastic educational reforms and being anti-labor unions, yet when asked about pension reform, Rauner said his plan would not slash benefits. 

To the contrary, Rauner’s rhetoric has spoken of plans to create Right-To-Work Zones and eliminate what is referred to as Quinn-Madigan income and corporate tax hikes. In direct opposition to IEA’s agenda, Rauner also wants to reform the state pension system and create more opportunities for charter schools and competitive education systems.

Quinn, who is on record as being pro-unions, found himself on the hot seat because of his support and signing of SB1, legislation that IEA opposes. As part of the We Are One Coalition (WAOI), IEA is included in a lawsuit alleging SB1 to be unconstitutional. 

WAOI’s lawsuit contends that SB1’s COLA minimum retirement age and pensionable salary cap changes “violate pension, contract and takings clauses of the Illinois Constitution,” and “failure to fund pension benefits provided under the prior law violates the takings clause of the Illinois Constitution.” Unions across the state are anxiously awaiting the court’s decision.

SB1 has a June 1 effective date. Klickna asked both candidates if they would support a stay of SB1enactment until the Illinois court has issued a decision. Again, Rauner skirted the issue without providing a definitive answer, whereas, Quinn said, “someone would have to ask for that.” Klickna replied, “The request will be forthcoming.” 

During a Jan. 9 WGN radio interview, Rauner said, “The government union bosses, they are bribing politicians to give them unaffordable pensions, free health care, outrageous pay and benefits and they’re bankrupting our state government, they’re raising our taxes and they’re forcing businesses out of the state, and as a result we’ve got brutally high unemployment.”

Klickna asked Rauner if she was one of those union bosses he was referring to. Nervously, Rauner said, “Yes,” to which Klickna replied, “I spent 25 years in the classroom. I am a proud member of the IEA and if standing up and advocating for students and our members means I’m a union boss, then you can call me a union boss.” 

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