Bennett, Madigan Seek Solutions To Illinois’ Financial Woes

Senator Scott Bennett (D) and Republican Urbana Alderman Mike Madigan debate during Wednesday's forum at the Champaign City Building.

Senator Scott Bennett (D) and Republican Urbana Alderman Mike Madigan debate during Wednesday's forum at the Champaign City Building.

Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

The candidates vying for Illinois’ 52nd District Senate seat offer very different views on solving the state budget crisis. It's one of many areas incumbent Democrat Scott Bennett of Champaign and Republican Urbana Alderman Mike Madigan touched on during Wednesday's debate in Champaign organized by the Champaign County League of Women Voters.

It’s the first campaign for Bennett, appointed to the Senate last year when Mike Frerichs was elected State Treasurer. 

He blames Governor Bruce Rauner for focusing on an agenda of business reforms during a budget stalemate, and was bothered that it took six months of a budget impasse for him to seek a meeting with Senate and House leaders.

“When you shut down the budget for things like the University of Illinois, but also rape crisis centers and Medicaid and all these other vital resources, because you’re worried about term limits and other things, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for the state," he said.

But Madigan says Rauner’s ideas are essential to growing Illinois’ economy. He says they’ll play a greater role than higher education.

“I think what the universities and Parkland (College) do, they’re wonderful institutions," he said. "They do not create jobs. They create individuals who can create jobs. We need to focus more on the businesses like mine, the big businesses who have left, like Caterpillar, who are incrementally leaving this state.”

Bennett says he “disagrees strongly” with his opponent’s comments about universities. He says those who work for Madigan, the owner of Hickory River Smokehouse restaurant, earn around 10-dollars an hour - not enough to raise a family.  Bennett says higher education is needed to empower people, and change their lives.

Madigan, known as 'the other Mike Madigan' also criticized longtime Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, saying he refuses to discuss reforms with Gov. Rauner.

“He would rather dig in and embrace the failed status quo in Illinois," said the alderman, who also blamed the Democratic majority in Springfield.

Madigan says the Democratic speaker “works in concert” with Senate President John Cullerton to defeat business reforms. 

But Bennett says there have been efforts towards a compromise in the Senate in a couple of these areas - with votes taken on worker’s comp and freezing property taxes.

“The House hasn’t done that," he said. "But that’s not what we’re running for. We’re running for a seat in the Senate – to see where we can find some common ground. But right now, the problem is, frankly, that we have a governor that won’t sit down at the table, we have a speaker that won’t sit down at the table, and we have a senate president, or the senate body that’s saying ‘I’m waiting for you to work on these things.”

The two also clashed on the issue of legislative pensions. Madigan called them "grossly unfair", when compared to those for state workers.

Bennett says Madigan was not correct, saying he needed to be elected twice (eight years) before he was even entitled to a pension.

To address state budget woes, both candidates agreed there were cuts to be made in government before seeking any more revenue. Bennett says there are a lot of redundancies and dated tax loopholes, and favors eliminating the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

Madigan, a legislative staffer in Springfield for 17 years, says there are “gross inefficiencies” in each agency and department.

The two did agree in a few areas. Both candidates support letting an independent commission decide the future of state legislative districts, a plan rejected by the Illinois Supreme Court last month. Bennett says it’s not right that he and Madigan are seeking the only contested legislative seat in a roughly two hour radius.

They also supported the need to address the disparity in state funding between suburban Chicago and downstate school districts, citing legislative propoals from Senators Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington.)

The audience at Wednesday's candidates forum at the candidate forum also heard from candidates for Champaign County Coroner and Champaign County Board District 11.

On Friday, members of the Champaign Unit 4 School Board and Superintendent Judy Wiegand will discuss the district's upcoming tax referendum.

The forum is at 7 p.m. in the Champaign City Council chambers.

Story source: WILL