57th District hopefuls debate tax hike, spending cuts

Updated 10/6/2010 9:58 AM
  • Richard G. Hamen

    Richard G. Hamen

An income tax increase is part of what is necessary to balance the state budget, 57th District state Rep. Elaine Nekritz says, but her Republican challenger in next month's election opposes any tax or fee hikes until he is sure waste and corruption are ended.

Nekritz, a Democrat from Northbrook, last year voted in favor of a hike in the state income tax, explaining that spending cuts alone won't fix the state's fiscal crisis.

"I felt it was disingenuous to pretend that new revenues are unnecessary to close a $6 billion gap in a General Revenue Fund budget," she said. "Even if we were to fire every state employee, the savings would not come close to $6 billion."

Her opponent, Richard Hamen of Prospect Heights, said job creation is his number one issue and "in order to be competitive with our neighboring states our tax and fee rates should be in line with theirs."

A member of the Prospect Heights City Council, Hamen said putting people back to work would increase state revenues.

"Realistically right now we have 18 percent unemployment," said Hamen, who himself is unemployed. "That's $2.5 billion in lost revenue right there."

Nekritz said she and 10 other legislators proposed more than $1.3 billion in spending cuts at the end of the spring legislative session. All but one were rejected on a bipartisan vote, she said.

They included cuts in K-12 education, higher education and Medicaid. The two highest were $300 million from renegotiating and rebidding existing multiagency contracts and another $300 million from cutting 5 percent in operations across all state executive agencies.

She also joined a group proposing budgeting for outcomes, as in used in Washington state.

"BFO requires the state to set priorities, determine the total amount of spending and then ask state agencies and others to submit bids for the programs that will achieve the priorities," Nekritz said.

Hamen says Illinois is suffering economically more than surrounding states except Michigan, and he blames high workman's compensation and insurance costs, along with taxes, for driving business from the state.

He sees "great waste and irresponsibility" in state government.

"Should we reduce spending?" he asked. "Possibly, but I would rather see that the money that we do spend is invested wisely and without fraud or corruption."

He called for eliminating duplicative programs and consolidating departments and jobs. Salaries and hiring should be frozen except to replace employees who leave critical positions, Hamen said.

The 57th District encompasses portions of northwestern Cook County, including Des Plaines and Prospect Heights.