Attorney general candidate Ed Martin began a press tour in Cape Girardeau on Thursday at which the Republican discussed what action he would take in office if Missouri tax dollars were being used to pay for a federal bailout of Illinois' underfunded pension system.
Martin spoke to supporters near the River Campus, and said as attorney general he would mount a constitutional challenge to any federal attempt to bail out Illinois. He also would assist the Missouri state legislature in drafting a resolution that would encourage opposition from delegates.
Martin is challenging Democrat incumbent Chris Koster for the office in an attempt to become the first Republican to serve as attorney general since 1993.
The total unfunded pension liability for Illinois is estimated to be at least $83 billion, according to news reports quoting figures released by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office. Some Missouri Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, whose staff read a statement in support of Martin's plan during Thursday's event, say the amount may be closer to $200 billion.
A "bailout scenario" for Missouri provided to Martin's campaign by the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, showed the net cost to Missouri could reach $2.7 billion if Illinois received federal help.
Martin said he wanted to begin a discussion about underfunded pensions after discussing the topic with Republican leaders across the country, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has supported Martin's candidacy. Perry also made an appearance in support of Martin at a Cape Girardeau rally in June.
"We should challenge the ability of other states to receive a bailout for their state-level decisions. We need to examine that, we need to have that challenge ready, because the balance of power between the federal government and the states on these constitutional issues has been way off," Martin said.
He said that his attempts to block Missouri's share in the case of a bailout is "not about being disrespectful to your neighbors," but that "if a neighbor makes a mess, you don't want to have to pay his bills.
"We need to be very careful about respecting the role of our federal legislators and their prerogative. On the other hand, we need to make sure we are expressing the will of the people, under the law, and under our state and federal constitutions, to make sure it's protected."
Illinois lawmakers met in special session in August to seek a solution for the pension woes as the state's credit rating continued to fall. They could not agree on a way to reduce the shortfall without cutting into state services. Illinois voters next month will choose whether to allow a constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult to raise retirement benefits for public employees.
Martin used his attention to the Illinois pension issue to attack Koster, saying the issue is relevant because the attorney general is a "legal officer who identifies legal problems" for Missouri citizens.
"As a matter of description, these kinds of issues are ones our current attorney general has failed to address. Whether it's Obamacare, the EPA or Illinois' pension, our attorney general is silent, in large part, we have to conclude, because he supports positions that are generally ascribed to his party, the party that did these things," he said.
Koster's campaign did not respond to several requests for comment made by phone and email. His campaign has released its second TV attack ad on Martin within a week. The latest quotes the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which calls Martin "one of the most corrupt politicians in America."
The other commercial says Martin "resigned in disgrace" from his job as former Gov. Matt Blunt's chief of staff after deleting government emails, and that Martin was also "pressuring the Highway Patrol to discredit his political enemies" and attempting to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit with public funds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Spanish Street and Morgan Oak Street, Cape Girardeau, MO