Controlling spending will be necessary to reduce the state's $13 billion budget deficit, the incumbent and his Democratic challenger in the 51st state legislative district agree.
But Republican Ed Sullivan, who has served in the post since 2003, and Hawthorn Woods Trustee Steve Riess differ on some aspects of budget matters, including the extent state pensions should come into play. Both said solutions must involve cooperation with lawmakers of the opposing party.
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Sullivan, 41, served on the bipartisan Illinois Jobs Task Force and considers the job climate his top issue. Reducing workers' compensation rates and unemployment insurance, as well as tort reform, are needed to make Illinois more competitive, he said.
"The General Assembly clearly needs to focus on creating an environment that will encourage companies to relocate to Illinois or expand an existing business," he said. But Democrats on the panel refused to discuss those issues, he charged.
"We need to bring more people there to buck the status quo," he said. Sullivan added he often works across the aisle, and that the last seven of eight bills he had passed were sponsored in the Senate by Democrats.
Riess, 57, a Hawthorn Woods trustee the past 12 years, said he was an outspoken opponent of former Mayor Keith Hunt and fought against "frivolous spending." The small business owner entered the race more than a year ago.
"I intend to bring that same common-sense value and big-mouth attitude to Springfield," he said.
Cutting spending would be a priority for Riess in Springfield. He did not outline specifics but called for legislators to take a 20 percent pay cut as a show of support for a battered public. He said the state needs to do everything it can to reduce costs before a tax increase of any kind should be considered, and he emphasized that revenue also has to increase to bring the budget under control.
"One of the things that needs to change substantially is the availability of credit and cash, for small businesses," he said.
Riess added that requirements have changed and people don't qualify for loans. "They (banks) might have the money to lend ... but they are not lending the money and that is preventing business from growing," according to Riess.
He said Illinois isn't making the effort to retain businesses it has and should use capital incentives, such as installing sewer or water, to lure new business.
Sullivan said capital is available but employers are scared and have no confidence in Illinois.
"They're afraid they'll be taxed and fee-ed out of business," he said. Illinois has no game plan, he added.
"We're not going to get out of this until we grow jobs. Small businesses are scared," Sullivan said. "They don't know what to do."
Solving the state's financial crisis will take three or four years, according to Sullivan, and spending reform will be an important part. Revenues have increased 39 percent over the last 10 years, he added.
"Clearly we have a spending problem," he said.
Sullivan said he has pushed for a forensic budget audit to see where the money is going and if it is being spent efficiently. Total state spending should be cut 10 percent, which would save $2.5 billion, he added.
Reducing Medicaid fraud, negotiating with unions to reduce costs, and adjusting pension health care benefits would save another $3 billion or more, Sullivan contended.
"We can cut and change (pension) benefits for the future. I think we have to," Sullivan said, adding state retirees also should pay a portion of their health insurance. "Current employees are what we have to work on. That could save us billions of dollars going forward."
Riess said he would like to see higher pension contributions from employees, but the existing contributions and benefits for state workers "represent a contract, which we must honor unless they agree to something else."
He said pension investments are very conservative but need to be managed to create a greater return. Sullivan disagreed, saying pension investment funds have gone to more risky ventures.
The 51st district includes all or sections of Deer Park, Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Long Grove, Mundelein and Round Lake Park.