House 51, 52, 54 candidates debate state's coronavirus response, budget impact
Six candidates vying for three Illinois House seats from the North and Northwest suburbs on Nov. 3 debated the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the state budget during a recent Zoom interview with members of the Daily Herald Editorial Board.
The interviews were with candidates running for seats in the 51st, 52nd and 54th House districts.
In the 51st House District, incumbent Mary Edly-Allen, a Libertyville Democrat, is facing Chris Bos, a Lake Zurich Republican.
Edly-Allen said the state's pandemic response has taken local concerns into consideration, such as lifting boating restrictions affecting towns like Lake Zurich and allowing local restaurants to remove 50% of their front walls to accommodate outdoor seating, helping businesses in downtown Libertyville.
"I feel that the governor has been responsive," Edly-Allen said. "You also have to ask for what you need for your district, and that's what I've done, continuously. That's our job as representatives to bring voice to the issues that are most pressing in our specific districts."
She argued against cutting state spending during a pandemic-induced economic crisis. "We need to invest in those areas that need it most," she added.
Bos didn't criticize Gov. J.B. Pritzker's handling of the pandemic, but added he added that state legislators must come together "to restore those coequal branches of government in making some of these decisions" and bring more local leaders to the table.
"This pandemic put a huge spotlight on the continued financial struggles of this state," Bos said. "There are areas and aspects that we need to increase the spending on (such as) providing PPE (personal protective equipment) to those who need it. But to say that every aspect of every area of the entire budget needs to be at the same level, if not more, during a pandemic, it's just not true. Springfield keeps going after the taxpayers to bail out their failures, and soon, if we keep this up, there won't be many taxpayers left."
In the 52nd District, Democrat Marci Suelzer of Island Lake and Republican Barrington Hills Village President Martin McLaughlin are vying for the seat long held by GOP Rep. David McSweeney, who isn't seeking reelection.
Suelzer said Pritzker moved quickly to contain a rapidly changing situation.
"The fact that we never ran out of capacity for any of our ICU units or our intubation facilities is proof that he was decisive enough to stop the results that we saw in New York City and some of the other early impacted areas," she said. "This pandemic, if anything, should be a wake-up call for us that are in the legislature to be able to come up with almost a pandemic playbook, in the absence of federal leadership."
Suelzer said lawmakers must evaluate what services are essential for the welfare of families, small businesses and individuals while maintaining ancillary services and finding other sources of revenue to meet funding shortfalls, such as investment in certain industries and clean jobs.
"I would not want to see cuts to domestic violence shelters ... health screening programs like breast care screening," she said.
"There are a lot of tax breaks that larger corporations can get that allow them to get a prorate back of their sales tax. We could suspend those. We can't just cut, cut, cut. We also have to figure out how to grow."
McLaughlin criticized the state for passing a 2020-21 fiscal year spending plan that included a $6 billion deficit and didn't address the economic impact of business closures due to the pandemic.
"I believe the legislature should have been involved in the decision making," he said. "And I'd like to see that taken up in fall session because I think we're going to miss our numbers by more than we could ever imagine. I just want the state to recognize the revenue will not be there, and to be proactive about that, whatever that takes as far as reductions in spending or cuts or an overall look."
In the 54th House District, Democrat Maggie Trevor of Rolling Meadows is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Morrison of Palatine.
Trevor said Pritzker has done a good job fighting COVID-19 with "decisions guided by science" and working with business and religious leaders to adapt guidelines to accommodate their needs.
"Now is not the time to make deep cuts in spending. Much of the state budget is going toward supporting the safety net, which has an additional strain on it right now," Trevor said. "That could create a downward spiral within and further depress the economy."
If federal aid doesn't come through, state lawmakers will have some tough decisions to make on the budget in the coming year, she added.
Morrison said Pritzker is doing the best he can, but he also is not listening to people from throughout the state.
"We still have a very high unemployment rate, and that is obviously impacting our residents in a very detrimental way," he said. "We also have schools largely closed. A lot of businesses that are operating at just a fraction of their capacity."
An unhealthy private sector ultimately will hurt state and local governments and nonprofits, while increasing the demand on social safety net programs, he said.
"Just like pretty much every family ... certainly, every business in the state has had to make sacrifices. State government has to take a much, much sharper look at how it spends the taxpayers' money," he added.