A panel featuring seven candidates vying for spots in Springfield for the most part stayed focused on the needs of those suffering from autism and other special needs during a forum in Hoffman Estates.
Frustrated parents addressed the candidates, relaying concerns about a lack of safe and reliable transportation for their children. Many stressed how state benefits end for children once they turn 21. The parents at the forum Thursday night said they felt abandoned by the state, which many times cuts special-need services when trying to reduce the budget.
The candidates for the 44th district state representative post, Democratic incumbent Fred Crespo and Republican challenger Billie Roth appeared, as did Republican Ryan Higgins and Democrat Michelle Mussman, the two running for the 56th district now held by Democratic State Rep. Paul Froehlich.
The candidates for the 28th district state senate seat also attended: Republican incumbent John Millner and Democrat Corinne Pierog.
Republican candidate for the 54th state representative district Tom Morrison did not attend. His opponent, Democrat Matt Flamm did. They're competing for the seat held by Republican Suzie Bassi.
The forum was held at the Schaumburg Township Building. Here's a sampling of responses:
Pierog spoke on how the bloated budget and cuts affect special needs programs.
"We also have to realize that our siting senator (Millner) voted against pension reform and he also voted against an amendment to hold each of our programs accountable at the end of the year - take a look at all the voices and all of the votes on both sides of the party line to make sure they represent your thoughts, your interests and your philosophy exactly."
Millner's responded on how Springfield lawmakers could legislate better:
"I was given a 2,300-page bill 45 minutes before we had to vote on it. No, give me a break, who in this room would vote on that? - We have to start working on the budget now - we have to starting having discussions on these issues now. And then we've got to have at least four days notice of what we're going to vote on."
Higgins spoke on how to get better funding for special-needs programs.
"We have disabled people who have one tax credit available for hiring on the federal level, but ex-felons who have tax credits available at the state and federal levels. I think we should take some of those dollars that are going toward ex-felon tax credits for employment and apply those for the disabled community."
Mussman spoke on how to better serve the special-needs community.
"We need to have discussions with the parents in the community to find out what your top three priorities are. So now I'm hearing transportation. So that means we need to bring together the people in the community who control transportation. And we all come together at a meeting, at a table, and we advocate."
Roth spoke on ideas to offer subsidized transportation to the disabled.
"I believe Hanover Township has developed what is called a ride with a taxi cab company for individuals with disabilities to be able to have with a voucher and to take a taxi cab at a discounted rate to their destination. Maybe that's something we could think about in Schaumburg Township."
Crespo spoke on budget planning, and reckless spending on the state level.
"For anyone to say that they're going to raise taxes or cuts to get us out of this overnight is just lying or they just don't get it - let's look at how we can save money today - we need a four- or five-year plan."
Flamm spoke on the lack of educational opportunities for people with special needs on the community college level.
"It's costing us more money not to educate these kind of people than it is to educate them. Because if you're staying in high school because they accept the diploma and they're cast off and they have no support, we're paying for that - Then they can't make a living, we're paying for that. We're saving a nickel and it's costing a dime. It just doesn't make any sense."