Four candidates for the 40th Illinois Senate seat introduced themselves at a forum hosted by the Park Forest League of Women Voters on Saturday, Feb. 29.
The Democratic candidates in the March 17 primary race are: Monica Gordon of Flossmoor; Marta Perales of Momence; Lori Wilcox of Chicago Heights and Patrick Joyce of Essex.
Joyce currently holds the seat after being appointed by Democratic committeemen following Toi Hutchinson’s resignation from the position to be Illinois’ “pot czar” dealing with the legalization of cannabis sales in Illinois.
The winner in the November general election will complete the remaining two years of Hutchinson’s term. The winner will represent parts of Homewood and Flossmoor in the Illinois legislature.
In opening statements, Gordon said the South Suburban Airport is a must for the region and will bring 15,000 direct and indirect jobs to the South Suburbs. Perales believes transportation is the number one issue for residents. Without a strong transportation network it is difficult to access jobs.
Wilcox listed affordable health care, economic development and taxes as her priorities. Joyce argued property taxes are too high and action needs to be taken “to stop economic strangulation” that businesses and residents feel from high taxes.
Each candidate was asked to address questions posed by members of the audience.
All four candidates are in favor of the proposed graduated income tax. Voters in Illinois will be asked in the November general election to approve a constitutional amendment that will allow Illinois to move away from the flat tax. Currently, all residents pay 4.95 percent in income tax, and the move to a graduated tax plan will impose increasingly higher taxes on higher-earning individuals.
Joyce said he is for the plan, noting residents with incomes less than $250,000 will pay the same or less in income taxes under the plan. Gordon supported it because it would give Illinois needed cash to be infused into education. Perales calls it a “fair tax” arguing adopting it “is about equity.” Wilcox said the current tax system is “dated” and the graduated tax would give Illinois a chance to move to a fairer tax system.
A property tax freeze is being proposed in the Illinois legislature. One questioner asked how the 40th District senator should justify a tax freeze to schools, villages and other entities.
Wilcox said she is for a tax freeze, but believes the graduated income tax would be a solution to the freeze because it would pump money into the schools.
Joyce said with taxes supporting schools being more than 60 percent of a tax bill, the answer to lowering property taxes isn’t a tax freeze but rather getting the state to put in its fair share of funding for education. That, he said, would reduce the burden on homeowners.
Gordon said she isn’t in favor of a property tax freeze. She believes the graduated income tax would allow for more money to schools. She also is in favor of school consolidation to reduce salaries for school administrators.
Perales is not in favor of a tax freeze. She sees a freeze as “a double-edged sword” because it would deprive taxing districts of revenue for services.
After the 2020 census, legislative districts will be redrawn. Candidates were asked if there is a way for fair representation. Joyce said all proposals need to be in line with Voting Rights Act requirements, but he would like to see communities “remain whole.” He said he knows of one community that is split between three legislative districts.
Gordon and Wilcox said they could support an independent commission to draw districts, rather than leaving it to the legislature. Perales wants to see an independent commission at the national level.
The candidates were asked about their reach to the rural and farm areas of the district that is about 60 percent rural. Gordon, Perales and Wilcox all said they have traveled the district that stretches from Homewood-Flossmoor on the north and into Kankakee, Will and Grundy Counties. Joyce, a farmer and businessman from rural Essex, has been a member of the Illinois Farm Bureau for 19 years and said that agency knows the issues of rural voters.
Green energy, clean coal and nuclear power was another topic of discussion. Perales wants to reduce emissions and the use of plastics. Wilcox said she would work for environmentally friendly projects. Gordon wants to see more solar energy farms and a greater ethanol use.
Joyce said he isn’t willing to cut subsidies to nuclear power. He said Illinois nuclear plants are providing 12 percent of the nation’s power. He supports wind and solar power initiatives, but until they are going to make power readily available “we’re not ready to move from coal and nuclear.”
When asked about student debt, Wilcox said she would like to see state universities offer free tuition for students from households with incomes of $50,000 or less. Joyce said the stability of Illinois finances will enable the Illinois State Board of Education to offer more MAP grants for low-income students.
Gordon wants Illinois to offer forgiveness loans for Illinois graduates who work in the public sector. Perales would like to see tax credits for parents who have co-signed for their student’s debt.
Also part of the debate was Republican candidate Eric Wallace of Flossmoor. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Wallace on the November ballot.
In his opening statement, Wallace asked voters if they were “tired of your suffering coming from the corruption that’s going on,” from high taxes, schools not performing. He said his campaign will stress “individual liberty and fidelity, strong family values and economic empowerment.”