The financial health of Illinois looms large, what with the state being described as a "deadbeat" for not paying its bills on time, downgrades in its bond rating, and underfunded pension obligations.
How would the two people running for the state senate's 25th District fix this?
Asked about specific budget cuts he would make, Republican Jim Oberweis offered an idea that has been proposed in several states, and was once successful in Illinois: Cut the size of the legislature. Slice state senators from 59 to 54, and representatives from 118 to 108. The General Assembly has been the same size since 1980, when voters cut the House from 177 to 118 districts.
Oberweis favors combining the offices of comptroller and treasurer, saying they duplicate services.
Medicaid should be examined, as he disagrees with how low the state set the bar on income for qualification and opened it to more people.
Oberweis would also consider gradually shifting the state's contribution to school pensions to local school districts. "In the long run, asking school districts to be responsible for the ending salaries (of teachers) has to be on the table," he said. "I will listen to reasonable ideas," such as limiting cost-of-living adjustments on pensions, or having state retirees pay more of their medical insurance premiums.
Despite his business background, Oberweis, 66, also doesn't like incentives being paid to private businesses to keep or attract them to the state. "I do think it is a mistake for the state to provide specific incentives to specific business," he said. He prefers measures, such as tax and workers' compensation changes, that would make the state more attractive to all businesses. More business would mean more people working, and more income tax coming into the state's accounts.
Democrat Corinne Pierog suggests money could be brought in by taxing state workers' pension incomes, at graduated rates.
She also believes money could be found in pension reform, but is leery of shifting the burden for school pensions to school districts and colleges without giving them total control. "To pay but have no authority on how the pension (fund) is managed, and anything coming out of the legislature in the future, doesn't seem appropriate," she said.
Pierog supports reducing government appointments and commissions, and also favors combining the treasurer and comptroller offices. A pay and hiring freeze would also help, she believes.
Pierog, a former educator, also believes improving the climate for business would help the state's bottom line. "We (the state government) have to engage businesses so that they are feeling necessary and needed, providing opportunities for them to grow, supporting the infrastructure they need," she said.
Pierog, 61, feels the state should be investing in education of residents, particularly in vocational training, partnering with community colleges. "For a long time schools have been geared to a four-year college education, because we were told that was the path to success. Very quickly, because of the recession, we have discovered otherwise, and a large group has been left out in the cold," she said.
The 25th District includes all or parts of Elgin, Wayne, West Chicago, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Elburn, Campton Hills, Sugar Grove, Bristol, Yorkville, Montgomery and Aurora.