In a candidates' forum sponsored by the Schaumburg Township Council of PTAs Wednesday night, it's perhaps only to be expected that the issue of Illinois' establishing a reliable funding stream for education should get the biggest spotlight.
Different approaches to reaching this goal were shared by the Democratic incumbents and Republican challengers in the 44th and 56th District state House races and the 22nd and 28th District state Senate races at Addams Junior High School in Schaumburg.
State Rep. Fred Crespo of the 44th District was the first of several candidates to proclaim pension reform as the most crucial step in creating a state budget all other stakeholders can rely on. But he expressed strong conviction that some solution would be identified during the January veto session in Springfield.
"I think it's going to happen because it has to happen," Crespo said.
His opponent Ramiro Juarez -- a schoolteacher himself -- said he couldn't claim to know the answer immediately, but added that all the state's budget problems are interrelated and will have to be untangled together rather than one by one.
"It's not going to be solved by one simple solution," Juarez said.
State Rep. Michelle Mussman of the 56th District said the state is already relearning the discipline of not promising more funding to various programs than it can deliver. She said the solution is for legislators to be more realistic and use the limited funds available to them more effectively.
Her opponent, Schaumburg Township Assessor John Lawson, said he would be open to gambling expansion if the extra revenue it generated went to education. The Roselle police officer said colleagues of his who also work on riverboat casinos said they don't generate additional crime with the possible exception of alcohol-impaired driving.
State Sen. Michael Noland of the 22nd District suggested structural tax reform and the introduction of a graduated-rate income tax -- an idea unpopular with all the other candidates present.
Noland said 94 percent of people would see their taxes come down, with only those making $150,000 or more per year seeing an increase.
"It's in the best interest of everyone," he said. "It's not just the morally right thing to do."
His opponent, former Hoffman Estates trustee Cary Collins, said he was adamantly opposed to shifting the pension burden onto property taxes. What the state needs, he said, are leaders limiting themselves to two terms in office so as not to be focused on re-election.
"We need to keep our promises here in the state of Illinois," Collins said.
State Sen. Dan Kotowski of the 28th District said there are $1 billion in legislator-sponsored projects whose funding can be partly or even entirely be redirected to other areas like education. He also suggested closing loopholes in the tax code which only large corporations take advantage of -- unfairly, he believes.
"We don't want to put the burden on small businesses and families," Kotowski said.
His challenger, small business owner Jim O'Donnell, said the state is constitutionally mandated to support education but has failed.
"Ultimately, we will not get out of this if we don't improve the business climate in this state," O'Donnell said. "Growth is the answer."