The second of the Oct. 3 candidates’ debates at Beth Emet was somewhat of an anomaly: The incumbent, Democrat Robyn Gabel, is challenged by Libertarian Steve Funk, a write-in candidate whose name was removed from the ballot earlier this year because of insufficient valid signatures on his petition for office. There is no Republican candidate. Shortly after Ms. Gabel won a five-candidate primary election, she was appointed by Governor Pat Quinn to the seat vacated by Julie Hamos when Ms. Hamos became director of Health and Family Services.
Differences between the candidates emerged in their answers to the questions. Though Rep. Gabel has been a member of the General Assembly only a few months, during her primary campaign she stressed her experience in Springfield and with legislators during her 22 years as executive director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Healthcare Coalition.
Mr. Funk, associate director of sales and services for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, said, “I’m your neighbor; I’m a taxpayer.” He said he had been to Springfield only once, “when I turned in what I thought were sufficient signatures” to get his name on the ballot as the Libertarian Party candidate.
Ms. Gabel said her priorities are jobs, health care and education. Mr. Funk said his priorities are to “cut needless spending, cut taxes, cut back government and live within our means.”
Initial questions for the candidates were posed by the Leagues of Women Voters of Evanston and surrounding communities, which sponsored the debate. Other questions came from members of the sparse audience.
Topics covered included the state budget, pensions, the environment and redistricting.
On the state budget, Rep. Gabel said, “We have a budget of $34 billion and revenues [anticipated] of $27 billion. … [we] have a chance [to balance it].
Mr. Funk said he favored cutting Illinois Cares Rx program, “especially now that changes to Medicare prescription coverage make it unnecessary and redundant.” He also said, “At minimum, eligibility requirements for the All Kids program should be tightened and enforced. Providing health care coverage for all children in Illinois under the age of 19 regardless of family income is unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible.”
Ms. Gabel disagreed. “We are in dire times right now, she said. Our people are hurting. … I don’t believe we want to cut human services, to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens.”
Rep. Gabel said she believes the problem is “a lack of jobs” and that the state should help create jobs. “We have to create jobs. We can look at creating jobs in research and development. We can be a leader.”
Mr. Funk said he thinks the state “needs a better business climate and lower tax rates on corporate income. … We need to get government out of the way and get rid of things that dis-incentivize business.”
Rep. Gabel said she favors a progressive tax increase – one that would provide higher exemptions for children, for example. “It would be a temporary tax increase, until we get jobs back.” She said she voted against the sales tax holiday and would like to see the sales tax “halved, but with broader application.”
Mr. Funk said, “Illinois is broke. We have $160 billion in accumulated debt.” He also said, “I believe that Illinois has a spending problem, not a [tax-] collecting problem.” He said he would favor a “permanent sales tax holiday” and would balance the budget for the next fiscal year “without new taxes but with cuts.”
The two differed as well on how to address the state’s $130 million pension debt. While Rep. Gabel said she would “work with the unions to come up with a plan,” Mr. Funk said he favors “a Constitutional amendment to change pensions.”
The two candidates differed on the environment as well. Rep. Gabel pointed to a recently enacted anti-idling statute and said she believed “government has a role” in keeping the environment safe. “We need stronger laws and [stronger] emissions standards, tax incentives for green businesses and for alternative energies.”
“We have to get out of the red before we can go green,” Mr. Funk responded. He said he believed that businesses, private individuals and not-for-profits “have more expertise and should be [addressing] these [issues] – not government. … People will take control of this issue on their own,” he said.
Both candidates said they thought an independent panel should redraw the lines for redistricting once the latest census figures are available.
“I support an independent commission [to redraw the boundaries],” Rep. Gabel said. “There should be an open process with public hearings, and minority representations should be preserved.”
Said Mr. Funk, “There should absolutely be an independent commission. Th[e] redistricting process has notoriously been an exercise when incumbents struggle to keep their districts. Independent action would go a long way toward injecting sanity into the process.”