DANVILLE — 52nd Illinois Senate District candidates John Bambenek and Mike Frerichs differed on a number of major issues in somewhat testy candidates forum Thursday night in Danville.
Frerichs, an incumbent Democratic senator from Champaign, explained his support for expanded casino gaming in Illinois, continued full funding for the local government distributive fund and for the state income-tax increase he voted for last year.
But Bambenek, a Republican also from Champaign, challenged Frerichs on each issue.
On gambling expansion, including a casino in Danville, Bambenek said, "It does not work anywhere it's tried as economic development. Elgin, East Peoria, metro East (St. Louis) all put in casinos and still have the same problems today."
Frerichs said a Danville casino would lead to construction jobs, more jobs once a casino opened and more revenue to local governments.
But Bambenek disagreed.
"It's not about denying people jobs. It's about doing the hard work to create jobs," said Bambenek, who claimed Illinois "has lost 30,000 jobs a month since the massive income-tax hike that was passed that he supported."
Frerichs, however, shut down that claim, quoting federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that said that Illinois has gained 60,900 jobs since the income-tax increase was approved.
"The state of Wisconsin has lost 15,600 jobs. I'm not saying this record is good enough," Frerichs said. "We need to do better, but we need to be honest with the facts we're using here."
The two also differed sharply on whether the local government distributive fund, in which state income-tax proceeds are used to support local government, should continue at the same rate it has been since 1969.
Bambenek said no state spending should continue without a review.
"Adopting zero-based budgeting means that everything is on the table," he said. "I would dispute that comunities in fact need it. Every layer of government can be cut and some so effectively."
But Frerichs and four other legislators and legislative candidates on the panel, including state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, endorsed continuing the state aid.
"If you do away with the local government distributive fund, what you're going to see is your cities, your counties increasing property taxes, increasing income taxes," Frerichs said. "It's just a cost shift."
The two also parted ways on the 67 percent income-tax increase approved last year and on a move to a progressive income tax.
Bambenek said he opposes both, and would work to repeal the income tax if elected.
But Frerichs said a number of Republicans had suggested the tax increase was needed.
And he said he supported a progressive income tax but not a specific plan advanced by Ralph Martire of the Center for Budget and Accountability.
"You can watch the video and see, I never endorsed that plan," Frerichs said.
Bambenek also called for an end to the state offering tax incentives to businesses while Frerichs defended his legislation to extend enterprise zones.
The forum was held before an audience of about 60 people at the Village Mall shopping center in Danville. It was sponsored by Vermilion Advantage, the Vermilion County Farm Bureau and Neuhoff Media and was broadcast on WDAN-AM.
The 52nd Illinois Senate District includes both Champaign-Urbana and Danville, and much of Champaign and Vermilion counties.