SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - For state Sen. Kirk Dillard, it’s an ethics reform law. For businessman Bruce Rauner, it’s how his private-equity funds made money for state pension systems. State treasurer Dan Rutherford cites a fairer reimbursement of nursing homes. Sen. Bill Brady? His role in the state’s landmark state pension overhaul.
Each of the Republican contenders for governor got a chance to brag on a campaign questionnaire from The Associated Press, identifying what they think are their biggest accomplishments. The AP’s examination of their choices offers voters a glimpse into each one’s priorities and leadership as the March 18 primary election nears.
In each case, the candidate generally can take credit for his claims, though not without a reservation or complication.
Rauner might be slightly exaggerating about his firm’s success with some state funds, depending on how one measures, while the pension fix that Brady boasts of helping craft still awaits a court ruling on its constitutionality. By emphasizing his ethics work, Dillard draws attention to his cooperation with then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat not popular with GOP voters, while Rutherford’s work to help nursing homes reveals the wonkish focus for which he’s known.
The Bloomington senator calls last year’s state pension deal and his work toward it his proudest accomplishment. The legislation aims to wipe out a $100 billion deficit in five state retirement systems by reducing annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raising the retirement age for younger workers.
As a member of a special committee convened by Gov. Pat Quinn, Brady said he knows “the hours of work and compromise that ultimately was reflected in that legislation, which I believe moves the state’s public retirement systems toward fiscal stability.”
Brady was a leading opposition voice on the committee. He pushed for more savings, including through a higher retirement age and giving state employees the option of a 401(k)-style retirement program, which became part of the final package.
A Democrat on the committee, Rep. Michael Zalewski of Riverside, said the panel’s work amounted to a lot of time and effort in a “project that frankly nobody thought would be successful.”
“There’s rightfully some pride of authorship in that and I don’t necessarily disagree with Sen. Brady’s statement that it was one of his biggest accomplishments,” Zalewski said. “I know it was one of mine.”
Problem is, the law now is the target of numerous lawsuits and a number of state leaders - including Rutherford, the treasurer - believe it violates the constitution for unilaterally diminishing state employee benefits.
The Hinsdale senator points to 1998 legislation he sponsored with a little-known lawmaker - now President Obama - that became the state’s biggest campaign reform since the Watergate era.
Known as “the Gift Ban Act,” it prohibits most gifts from lobbyists and contractors to lawmakers, limits personal use of campaign funds, limits Springfield-area fundraisers during the legislative session, and stopped fundraising by government employees among those they regulate. It also requires political donors to disclose their occupation and employer.