BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
It’s a face-off in the 52nd Senate District between a Democratic incumbent who wants to fix the state deficit and a Republican challenger whose platform calls for an increase in jobs in the state.
Current State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, is running for his second term in the Illinois Senate against Republican challenger Al Reynolds of Danville. Frerichs was first elected to the seat in 2007.
There’s no one solution to the $13 billion deficit the state if facing right now, according to Frerichs, who contends a combined effort over several years will work to solve the problem.
“You don’t have to balance the books in a year,” he said. “A big part of this $13 billion deficit is $6 billion in unpaid bills. That balance grew over several years, so we can begin to pay that down over several years. But you’ve got to begin paying that down next year. You can’t wait and let it grow any further.”
With the remaining $7 billion, Frerichs said a combination of cuts and revenue increases can help eliminate the problem. He pointed to a need to examine the state’s tax structure and look at a creating a tax on a number of services.
“It’s is not an unusual concept,” he said. “Of the five states that border us, every state taxes some services. Illinois taxes no services.”
Frerichs dismissed the argument that service taxes could hurt the state’s economy.
“There are some things that we can tax that I don’t think will be detrimental to our economy because neighboring states do that as well,” he said.
For Reynolds — a first-time political candidate — the focus rests on the creation of jobs in the state. His opinion is Illinois doesn’t have enough jobs that are generating income that produce revenue.
He stressed the need to bring more white-collar job opportunities to downstate Illinois, given the educated work force provided by resources such as Danville Area Community College and the University of Illinois.
“You ask anybody out there. We have people who were white collar and now they’re flipping burgers,” he said. “What that tells me is, if the white collar work force is now flipping burgers, what are the people that would normally flip burgers doing? Nothing. There are no jobs out there.”
The establishment of more jobs is part of his strategy to improving the state’s deficit situation.
“That is the key to this thing, the key to bringing the revenues we need,” he said.
Reynolds added an audit should be done to give officials ideas on where cuts can be made to save the state money.
“Let’s look at everything before we say just tax anything. Let’s find where we can make all the cuts,” he said, noting that the deficit could be taken care of in five years.
Republican party leaders in Vermilion and Champaign counties issued calls for Reynolds to withdraw from the race after comments he made during a candidate forum on Wednesday.
The comments were labeled as a “gross generalization” regarding black men and selling drugs.
Reynolds has not responded to calls to his home and e-mails concerning the official status of his campaign.
The Illinois 52nd Senate District follows the same boundaries to the north, south and east that the 104th Representative District follows, enveloping the eastern half of Champaign County and all but the northern quarter of Vermilion County.
The 52nd Senate District also includes the city of Urbana and all but the southwest corner of the city of Champaign.
Neither candidate is a proponent of sweeping cuts across the board to save state funds. Reynolds said he believes K-12 grade education is key to providing the job influx the state needs.
Where the cuts could occur is at the higher education level.
“With administrative people and their salaries, I really think we’re top heavy,” he said. “If I want to make cuts, it would be at the administrative level.”
He contends the elimination of one high-level salaried administrator could allow for keeping more teachers on the payroll.
“And what would I rather have? Give me those teachers every time,” Reynolds said.
For Frerichs, the quandary stands between being willing to make the cuts but at the same time acting as a good representative for his district.
“The burden has to be shared equally,” he said. “I am willing to consider cuts to social service programs out there. We’ve already seen some of those. As long as they’re being shared equally.”