Candidates talk about solutions to state deficit

Friday, September 03, 2010

Illinois' $13 billion budget deficit was the topic and target of a candidate forum Thursday in Naperville featuring a dozen DuPage County legislative hopefuls.

The event was sponsored by the DuPage Work Group, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.

Organizers asked the candidates about restoring and retaining funding for human services organizations and agencies that were hit hard by state budget cuts in recent years.

The five Republican incumbents at the event complained they were stymied in their attempts at reform by the Democratic Party majority and that party's leadership. Even bipartisan attempts were thwarted by Democratic legislative leaders, they said.

"It gets kind of redundant after a while," said state Rep. Darlene Senger, of Naperville. "We have representatives who have solutions to the state budget problems, but we're not given the opportunities to bring those solutions forward."

But challengers questioned the legitimacy of the incumbents' solutions.

"Put those out there and let people see what you're suggesting," said Greg Brownfield, a Democrat from Bartlett challenging incumbent state Rep. Randy Ramey, who was not in attendance. "You can't just hide behind your minority status and say, 'Gee, we can't get our bills to the floor.'"

In an odd showing of solidarity, some of the challengers sided with the Republican incumbents about how much power House Speaker Michael Madigan holds in Springfield.

Democrat Jim Speta of Downers Grove, who is challenging Republican state Rep. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale along with Green Party candidate Bob Mueller of Westmont, suggested term limits for legislative party leaders.

"Yes, Michael Madigan is one of the big problems," Speta said, "but that doesn't mean the rest of the representatives don't have any power."

The biggest difference in budget philosophy among the candidates related to support for tax hikes to balance the budget. Some Democratic candidates said the task would be impossible without a potential income tax rate increase.

"Increased revenues will be needed to get the state back on the right track," said Democrat Kay Vlahos of Downers Grove, who is challenging Republican incumbent state Rep. Sandy Pihos of Glen Ellyn. "That includes raising the income tax rate."

Pihos said the state should be taking advantage of financial experts in the state to help solve the state's financial problems.

Democrat Dawn DeSart of Naperville, who is challenging Senger, said other methods of balancing the budget should be attempted before increasing taxes.

"The state needs to clean up its act and put a moratorium on expanding government programs and any rate increases until we can cut spending and pay down our debts," DeSart said. "I believe there's a way to streamline to cut the budget."

The forum lasted nearly two hours and also featured Republican state Rep. Michael Connelly of Lisle who is challenged by Democrat Barbara Green who also hails from Lisle.

West Chicago Republican state Rep. Mike Fortner was also there along with his Democratic challenger Maria Owens, who is a Winfield resident.

The election is Nov. 2.