URBANA — Meeting face to face for the first time, the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 103rd Illinois House seat — Carol Ammons and Sam Rosenberg — agreed on most issues although they differed on a proposed corporate tax cut, the size of a minimum-wage increase and marijuana decriminalization.
About 100 people packed the room at the Brookens Administrative Center in east Urbana for the debate that was sponsored by the Champaign County Young Democrats and the North End Breakfast Club. Among those in the crowd was state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, whose retirement prompted the primary contest.
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Following the hourlong debate, Jakobsson said she still isn't backing a candidate in the race although she added, "maybe that could change." Her husband, Urbana City Council member Eric Jakobsson, has endorsed Rosenberg.
Ammons said she opposes cutting Illinois' corporate tax rate in half, an idea proposed last week by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. But Rosenberg said he supported the idea, as well as a cut in the cost of filing as a limited liability corporation, an idea endorsed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
"I believe that the situation in Illinois is one in which we need to become more active with regard to improving the business environment," he said, adding, "Despite the negative publicity, despite the negative perception, Illinois still remains one of the top three states in the nation for entrepreneurs and new companies. We have more of a perception problem than actually one in which the business climate in Illinois is as bad as people say it is.
"This is a great state, but I believe we can do better, and cutting that corporate tax rate is something that we'll be able to do and will help out the state in the long run by increasing revenues and bringing more individuals into the state to work and help our tax base."
Ammons said the corporate tax cut "will send Illinois further into a fiscal spiral."
"What has happened in the last four months? The Speaker has told us that you need to cut the pensions because the pensions are a big problem in the state. And then a week later, he tells us that we need to give tax loopholes to corporations and cut their taxes further," she said. "Unless you tie a job incentive package, a retention package to those cuts, you will not have anything to actually go on."
She added that "we certainly don't want to cut taxes when we're billions of dollars in debt, and we can't pay the $7 billion in back bills that we currently have. So to cut your revenue when you don't have any is not a policy that I would support."
Both candidates endorsed a move from a flat income tax to a progressive tax, an idea that Jakobsson has championed.
On the minimum wage, Rosenberg said he supported an increase to $10 an hour while Ammons pushed for boosting it to $15.
"The interesting thing about a $15 raise is that even at $15, it won't actually cover the real cost of living because we have not kept pace with it over the last 10 to 20 years," she said.
She noted that many minimum-wage workers work more than one job "because there is not enough revenue in the hourly salary that they earn. And that's because corporations aren't making a lot of money on the profit side. We have to change that. My job is to make sure that not only do we change (the minimum wage) now, but look at changing it every single year to keep pace with the cost of living in the state."
Rosenberg said that he favored a more modest increase, contending the larger increase would be "disastrous."
"As for jumping to something such as $15, while it may be ideal and maybe what we are looking for in the long run, it would be something that would be disastrous. And once again getting to the idea of perception, it would drive away many corporations from expanding in this community, especially in comparison to other states," the 29-year-old Champaign attorney said.
Ammons, 42, an Urbana City Council member, said the state is wasting money "on a failed war on drugs. That's the reality. We have millions of people that are locked up in this state, that are locked up for nonviolent offenses that could be in community-based services that we know cost less money."
She said the money saved on cutting the number of prison inmates should go to education.
"I am in favor of decriminalization" of marijuana, Ammons said after the debate.
Rosenberg said only that "I think it's an idea that at least needs to be examined. We need to see what's going on in other states before we even consider it in Illinois."