One of the candidates for the Illinois House District 71 seat does not necessarily want to be identified by political party.
Mike Smiddy, the Democrat who is challenging Republican Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, for the Statehouse seat, did not include his party affiliation in recent campaign mailings.
“I am going to be an independent voice for the district,” said Smiddy, of Hillsdale. “I don’t want to be labeled a Democrat. I have the core Democratic ideals, of course, but I’m not going to lay down for the party.”
The corrections supervisor at the East Moline Correctional Center has different views from Morthland on the state’s challenges meeting its public-employee pension obligations.
Although the two agree on the need for pension reform, they do not agree on what changes should be endorsed.
Morthland says one solution is to drop the automatic 3 percent annual increase in retirees’ pension payments, but Smiddy said the problems lie with the state.
Smiddy said the Legislature has not been willing to compromise with public-sector workers who are eager to see ailing pension funds restored to good health.
“We don’t mind taking a haircut,” he said of workers’ attitude toward compromise. “We just don’t want a lobotomy.”
Morthland said pension payments to public workers are out of hand, specifically the annual increases.
“A true cost-of-living increase is tied to inflation,” he said. “We don’t have that. We have an automatic 3 percent compounding increase.”
With so many young retirees collecting pensions for many years, he said, payments can skyrocket.
“They see very dramatic increases in pensions over time,” Morthland said. “They exceed cost-of-living increases.”
He said the state’s delinquency in making payments to the state workers’ pension funds is a thing of the past, adding that “sweeteners” have since made up for some of the state’s financial negligence.
“One of the dirty little secrets you don’t hear … in the years where the state skipped the pension payments … that’s when they’d add in sweeteners,” he said. “The workers got some excellent survivor benefits, for instance.”
Smiddy said he wants to see the Legislature pass a bill that legally obligates the state to make its pension payments on time.
“If elected, I’d make sure we held up our end of the bargain,” he said.
Incumbent and challenger also agree that prison overcrowding needs to be addressed.
“Early release programs only solve part of the problems we have,” Smiddy said. “We need programs on the outside for drug addicts that keep coming back (to prison).”
He said the money the state saves on incarceration expenses could be shifted to provide treatment options for non-violent addicts.
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Morthland said, adding he also has been working on an idea to take to Springfield.
As a co-sponsor of concealed carry legislation, Morthland said he wants to take the bill a step further.
“I got this idea from Wisconsin,” he said, explaining he wants to add a provision to the bill that would prevent “frivolous lawsuits” against those who use a concealed weapon in self-defense.
Both candidates want to allow the state’s temporary income-tax increase to expire in 2015, despite Illinois’ burgeoning deficit. They have different reasons for advocating for its expiration.
“I think Illinois needs to afford to give it up,” Morthland said of the tax. “Bold steps, trimming government — that’s where prosperity occurs. If we had a robust economy, so many other things will fall into place.”
Smiddy said his preference for replacing some income-tax revenue is to close corporate tax loopholes and cut back on incentives to big business.
“The state gave $80 million to Sears, and it abruptly downsized,” he said. “In addition, the Responsible Budget Coalition has identified five corporate tax loopholes that cost the state of Illinois $696 million while providing little benefit to the people of Illinois. This money could go a long way toward alleviating many of the financial pains our state faces.”