Several Republican suburban senators gave some insight into the conversation they will be bringing to Springfield and the 2014 election cycle when they met Thursday morning at the Danby Station Cafe in Glen Ellyn to speak about the Illinois state budget and legislative session.
Talk at the media event largely revolved around Democratic revenue solutions and the business climate of the state of Illinois.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, pointed to the number of tax proposals being considered by Springfield Democrats – including the controversial progressive income tax amendment, extension of a 2011 state income tax hike, and the recently abandoned millionaire tax – as evidence of Democratic commitment to raise more money instead of fixing spending problems.
After more than 11 years of Democratic control, Murphy said it was time for "an alternative vision" of lowered tax rates.
Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Naperville, said in his experience on the Senate Appropriations Committee, it seemed there was "no middle ground" for compromise in Springfield, such as enacting a budget freeze.
"We [Republicans] like to look on the cost side of things," he said. "In Springfield, it's revenue first, cost second – if at all."
To improve the "horribly unfriendly environment" for businesses in Illinois, U.S. Senate candidate and current senator from Sugar Grove Jim Oberweis said state government should be cutting taxes and reducing costs to attract current and future economic growth.
"The idea that we should be approaching is how can we take a smaller piece of a bigger pie instead of constantly trying to take a bigger piece, which is making the pie that much smaller," he said.
Connelly said there also are several key business issues, such as Illinois' high worker compensation policies, that are costing Illinois in ways that include the 2013 departure of Office Max from its Naperville headquarters in Connelly's district.
Sen. Karen McConnaughay from St. Charles said she had spoken to many local businesses contemplating leaving the state.
"We love this state, there's a lot going on – we've got a great employment base, we've got great assets, we've got great infrastructure," she said. "But the policies that are put forward by the Democrats in Illinois are clearly sending a message to businesses of all sizes: 'You are not wanted here.'"
Addressing the state's $100 billion pension shortfall also was a hot topic at the meeting.
Murphy said if the Illinois Supreme Court finds the latest pension reform solution unconstitutional, the state government would likely have to turn to a state amendment.
Currently, the constitution says the benefits of state pensions and retirement systems "shall not be diminished or impaired."
"You're not coming up with $100 billion," Murphy said. "This was not a pleasant thing to go through, I have to say, but the truth of the matter is that the money is not there and it's never going to be."
Murphy pointed out Illinois would have to devote three years of its current record-high $35 billion budget to fill the backlog.
Kirk Dillard, senator from Hinsdale and former gubernatorial candidate, also pointed to state education funding as a major issue facing suburban General Assembly members next year. Recently, there has been a serious conversation in Springfield about the inequality of school funding between downstate, Chicago and collar county schools.
"I'm all for helping a child in Chicago or Cairo, I just want to make sure that suburban schools – which are the strength of the quality of life we have here ... are not dumbed down in the process of school funding reform in Springfield," he said.
GOP senators in attendance:
• Kirk Dillard, Hinsdale
• Matt Murphy, Palatine
• Michael Connelly, Naperville
• Karen McConnaughay, St. Charles
• Jim Oberweis, Sugar Grove