The Republican hopefuls for the 28th Senate District seat say state lawmakers need to cut the low-hanging fruit and not just focus on big-ticket items, such as pension reform and Medicaid reform, when trimming the state budget.
Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski and Jim O'Donnell of Park Ridge, a chief financial officer, are vying for their party's nomination in the March 20 primary. The winner will face state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat now representing the 33rd District, in November.
During recent candidate endorsement interviews, O'Donnell and Smolinski touted their personal experiences with making tough financial decisions in their private and public sector jobs, respectively.
O'Donnell said his employer's revenues declined more than 50 percent during the 2008 financial downturn.
"We were in survival mode," O'Donnell said. "Everybody in our company took 12 furlough weeks. We all cleaned the office ourselves."
O'Donnell said state lawmakers need to similarly scrutinize departmental budgets to eliminate waste.
"There are 13 people in DCEO (the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) making over $100,000 a year," he said. "And they spend money on things like grants for Macomb, Ill., to help with expenses to celebrate the Canadian Fourth of July. I'm sorry, but we can't afford to do things like that."
O'Donnell said the state should rein-in employees using their government-authorized cellphones to make personal calls, and eliminate its fleet of vehicles issued to employees to merely drive back-and-forth between their home and workplace.
"We reimburse contractors that are working for the state of Illinois for travel expenses inside the state," he said. "That boggles my mind. No business would ever reimburse expenses like that."
Smolinski said the state needs to cut taxes on businesses and individuals so fewer businesses and families leave the state, which ultimately hurts tax revenues. She also favors downsizing nonessential government services.
"We have to get off the idea that government is there to do everything for everybody," Smolinski said.
Smolinski said her village board made significant cuts over the last three years to reduce a $1 million deficit caused by the economic downturn.
Combining emergency dispatch services with other area communities, bartering services with other government entities, and pooling resources such as ladder trucks to fight fires through mutual-aid agreements with neighboring towns helped bring the deficit down to about $100,000, she said.
"We could have raised taxes. We could have borrowed money," Smolinski said. "We had to sit down and really think what was the role of government, and how expansive is government going to be and how much can the people afford."
The newly drawn 28th District runs from Roselle east through Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Rosemont and Park Ridge. It includes the 55th and 56th state House districts.