Candidates share views on finances, education

September 30, 2010
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Solving the state’s economic crisis and improving education dominated discussion during a late Sunday afternoon candidate forum at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School.

More than 100 residents and politicians came to hear how the stances of the candidates running Nov. 2 for governor, lieutenant governor and state comptroller. Taking part in the more than two-hour forum were gubernatorial candidates Rich Whitney (Green) and Scott Lee Cohen (Independent); lieutenant gubernatorial candidates Baxter Swilley (Independent) and Sheila Simon (Democrat); and comptroller candidate David Miller (Democrat).

Reporters and participants alike could ask questions during the event, sponsored by the Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP.

Absent were Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. GOP candidates for the offices participating in the forum did not show up either: Bill Brady and his running mate Jason Plummer,  and comptroller candidate Judy Baar Topinka. Also invited but not in attendance was U.S. Senate Mark Kirk.

The only GOP candidate to show up was Roger Keats, who’s running for Cook County Board president.

“There’s no reason not to be here. I want the voters to hear what I have to say,” he said.

Whitney attended also to become better known. The two-time gubernatorial candidate said the state could raise more money by revising its broken tax structure. “The state has plenty of wealth; we’re not taxing the right people.”

The downstate attorney said he would solve the funding crisis in public education through adoption of Illinois Senate Bill 750. The measure would increase the state income tax in exchange for property tax relief, providing a more permanent source of funding for education, supporters say. The measure, which has been co-sponsored by state Sens. Don Harmon and Kimberly Lightford, is stalled in the Illinois House. The two represent parts of the West Side and the west suburbs.

Whitney said high school students should be preparing students for college or a job and noted they should turn more to classroom teachers to help spur innovation. He opposes vouchers, saying they would further undermine the integrity of public schools.

A pawnbroker running as an independent for governor, Cohen blamed the state’s two-party system for the state’s fiscal problems. “They’ll do and say anything to get themselves re-elected and they protect their own,” said Cohen, who in February won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor only to withdraw days later when details emerged about his business and personal life.

He opposes a tax increase, saying it would drive businesses out of the state. Government is run inefficiently and each agency and department should have to justify how it spends the public’s money, he said.

Cohen said he backs increasing the dropout age from 16 to 18. Like Whitney, he said students should be prepared to either go to college or a trade. He said the lottery should be restructured so that all of the money goes to funding education. He supports vouchers: “Children should be able to choose where they go to school. This would be an investment in the work force.”

Simon defended Gov. Quinn’s record of bringing good jobs to the state, citing his efforts and work with the Illinois General Assembly to provide jobs at Ford, Navistar and Boeing. She said Illinois led the nation at mid-year in job growth as a result of the initiatives signed by Quinn.

The Downstate lawyer and daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon said she is a firm believer in public education and noted that a good education should not be dependent on where children live. School districts have a lot in common whether they’re in Carbondale, Chicago or Highland Park, she said; she thinks school funding should be distributed more fairly.

Simon said while it’s a hard time for a tax increase, “we should shift our reliance from property taxes to an income tax” as a chief source of funding education. She opposes vouchers.

All the candidates said they oppose the turnaround model used by the Chicago Public Schools, which fires the principal and staff and hires others to come in to build a school’s academic performance, improve attendance and lower dropout rates.

Miller, who now represents the 29th District in the Illinois House, said he would want to cut the red tape to help small businesses get the state money owed to them if they had contracts with Springfield. He said there should be better prioritizing of how the state pays its bills. The state would probably have to cut spending, but the state can’t tax and cut its way of this crisis.

“The cuts cannot be onerous,” Miller said.

Dee Griffin, the NAACP’s Westside chapter’s political action chair, noted that the turnout was “pretty good” but added it would have been nice if Quinn and Giannoulias had shown up.

“How are they going to get votes if they are not here to get our questions and hear the concerns of the people?” Griffin said.

The deadline to register to vote in the November general election is Tuesday.

Check out the slide show our partners at the Austin Weekly News posted of Sunday’s event.

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