By Jessica Wettig
Four political candidates had the chance to speak on popular issues at the Southern Illinois Candidates Showcase on Saturday at Shawnee Community College.
The candidates in attendance were Sen. Dale Fowler, State Senate Candidate Steve Webb, State Representative Natalie Phelps Finnier and State Representative Candidate Patrick Windhorst.
The doors opened at 2 p.m., and the main event began at 4:15. Audience members were asked to select three issues they felt were the most important, selected them on a ballot, and returned them anonymously for a popular vote.
The issues chosen were taxes, the overall pension crisis, and business and economic development. The candidates were given 15 minutes each to speak on each issue.
A drawing was held to determine which candidates spoke first from State Senate and State Representatives categories.
Sen. Dale Fowler spoke first.
Fowler said he voted against the income tax increase.
“I’m for putting more money in people’s pockets,” he said.
He said Illinois is losing citizens every day because of high property taxes.
He also said local businesses are very important, and he wants to fight for a balanced budget.
Fowler said the pension funding has not been paid, and this is something the general assembly is working on.
He said schools need to be properly funded, and that Illinois is losing teachers—with 2,801 total vacancies in the state.
He said he seeks to work on pension reform for new hires. He said a pension is a promise that must be there.
Fowler said business and economic development has always been one of his passions.
“I love to talk about the incredible resources in Southern Illinois,” he said.
He said he is working on the expansion of businesses, reopening local facilities that will provide jobs, and working on new projects.
State Senate Candidate Dr. Steve Webb spoke second.
He said he is tired of hearing people blame one political party, either the Republicans of the Democrats, for the state’s problems. His main focus was on schools.
“Kids are not political pawns,” he said.
As an educator, he said he has dealt with taxes and tax levies. He said property taxes are the most aggressive taxes.
Webb said people are losing homes because they can’t afford the taxes, people can’t afford food, medicine, and much more.
He said, in addition to lower taxes, people also want great schools.
He said the focus for funding should be from other areas besides property taxes.
Webb said the pension crisis cannot be blamed on people who have paid into their pensions for years.
He said the state has the “largest debt ever” and he wants to get rid of the debt.
Webb said people are having to travel out-of-state to find a good job, people are moving out-of-state, and refusing to go to college in the area.
He said the goal is for people’s adult children to be able to “move back home,” get a good-paying job, buy a house and raise a family in Southern Illinois.
State Representative Natalie Phelps Finnie spoke third.
“We have failed kids and we can do better,” she said.
She said people are going back to work in their 80s because they cannot afford bills, they are raising their grandchildren and other issues.
She said the further anyone gets away from Marion, the worse the counties are economically.
“Middle class families are taxed to death,” Phelps Finnie said.
She said when she approached the subject of businesses paying taxes, other legislators informed her that most businesses—and the wealthiest businesses—don’t pay taxes.
She said the structures need to change completely. She said the wealthy should be taxed the same as middle and lower class citizens.
“I will not apologize for that,” Phelps Finnie said. “It’s greed.”
She said she doesn’t want to raise property taxes, but she seeks to make sure the wealthy is taxed.
Phelps Finnie said the people’s pensions are something that shouldn’t be taken away.
She said she wants changes made to the teacher’s pension. She said there is a teacher shortage, and that she has seen what teachers do.
She said they are often raising kids because kids today have no sense of discipline or morality.
As a small business owner herself, Phelps Finnie said she knows the challenges.
“America was built on middle class growth,” she said.
She said small businesses are where most jobs come from. But, many jobs are moving out-of-state because of the taxes and mandates businesses are forced to endure.
State Representative Candidate Patrick Windhorst spoke last.
He said the Illinois government has failed residents. He said these problems have accumulated over years of failed leadership in Springfield.
Windhorst said, by some estimates, Illinois has the highest overall tax burden in the country.
“People are just fleeing our state,” he said.
He said the people moving out are the wealthier citizens, and that the people moving into Illinois are making less money.
He said one problem with property taxes is that when they are raised, the government always finds new ways to spend the money—so the problem is never solved. But, politicians use the pension crisis as an excuse to raise property taxes.
Windhorst said the pension crisis is the result of years of the state not keeping its promises. He said they have felt other generations will deal with the problems, but now the “bill is coming due.”
“Promises made should be promises kept,” he said.
Windhorst said businesses are moving to states where the business climate is friendly. He said there are too many mandates and regulations on local buinsesses.