Senate Dist. 28 candidate hopes Rauner's State of the State address will spur action
Enacting sweeping changes in the public education system, ending the state’s seven-month-long budget stalemate and passing workers’ compensation reform were key issues in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address Wednesday.
Education reform is the chief issue in Senate District 28, according to Republican candidate Mel Thillens.
“I think every one of our students deserves a world-class education,” Thillens told the North Cook News. “We need to work hard to make sure that everyone gets the technical, the vocational or university education that everyone deserves.”
Rauner outlined 10 long-term goals he hopes to accomplish, beginning with an increase in state funding for underserved students. His plan calls for sending more resources to low-income and rural districts without taking it from others.
“The key to rising family incomes, more high-paying jobs and a better life for everyone in Illinois is to have a high quality, fully integrated education system from cradle to career, from early education to K-12 public schools to outstanding community colleges and universities, all the way to coordinated job training and technical training later in life,” Rauner said.
Rauner also spoke about the state’s gridlocked budget, calling for “mutual respect” among state lawmakers to get it passed.
After hearing the State of the State address, Thillens said he is hopeful the legislature will act.
“It seemed like the governor was trying to reach across the aisle and offer solutions that everyone could agree on, and I hope that that gets everybody moving forward,” Thillens said. “For too long, the Democratic politicians that have been there have dug in their heels and clung to power and the status quo that’s going on in Springfield, and I hope that this makes everybody realize that there’s some common ground and common-sense things we can do to move forward.”
Rauner addressed Illinois’ above-average unemployment rate, saying the state must work harder to be competitive when it comes to job creation. He proposes to become more competitive through enacting legislation geared toward workers’ compensation reform and tort reform.
Thillens told the North Cook News both are necessities.
“It’s been talked about for years, and as the governor said, we can save hundreds of millions of dollars while still protecting the workers of Illinois if we just take some steps to help finally make the state competitive that way again,” Thillens said. “We need tort reform. For thousands of small businesses out there, property taxes are a huge chunk of their day-to-day expenses, and we need to get a hold of that as well.”
Rauner called compensation demands being made by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) “out-of-touch with reality,” saying state employees in Illinois are paid almost 30 percent more than Illinois taxpayers are for the same work.
As a small-business owner, Thillens said he is familiar with and in favor of merit pay.
“I run an armored car cash delivery business and merit pay is something that always makes sense in my mind," Thillens said. "You pay somebody for a job well done, and if their colleague doesn’t do it as well, they make a little less. It only makes sense. People in private businesses do that all the time, and the reason is because you want to reward people for doing well and you don’t want to reward people who aren’t doing well.”
Rauner also pushed for term limits on elected officials, citing a “serious deficit in public trust” in Illinois.
Thillens agreed, using House Speaker Michael Madigan as an example.
“Michael Madigan was first elected the year I was born,” Thillens said. “I’m 44 years old. He’s been there too long. It’s the entrenched power structure that we are really trying to fight when we talk about term limits. It’s this kind of thing that has politicians fighting more for their own power than they are for their constituents. We need to stop that. We need a government that we can be proud of again.”
Behind-the-scenes work is already being done to combat problems with the state’s pension program, Rauner said.
Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton have worked to propose a bill that will save the state $1 billion dollars a year.
As a taxpayer, Thillens said he was happy to hear it.
“I hope that the governor reaching out across the aisle like this leads to the end of the politics and the bickering,” Thillens said. “Because that’s been going on too long. The politicians have been putting politics ahead of the people for far too long, and it was great to see that some reaching across the aisle was being done. Any step forward on pension reform is a good step.”
Democrat incumbent state Sen. Laura Murphy did not respond to requests for comments on this story.