CHAMPAIGN — The candidates for state representative in Illinois's 104th legislative district agree the most pressing issue for the state Legislature is getting the state's budget in order by getting spending under control and paying down a backlog of bills.
Both Republican incumbent Chad Hays, 49, of Catlin, and his Democratic challenger, Michael Langendorf, 58, of Urbana, told the audience gathered for a debate in the Champaign city council chambers Thursday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, the NAACP, and The News-Gazette that now is not the time to roll back the income tax increase passed in 2011 — even though Hays said he voted against the increase and plans to sponsor a bill to roll it back.
"Had there been a hell-no button, I would have pushed it twice," said Hays.
"You start with budgeting to a number that is real," said Hays, who said the state has sent IOUs to school districts, cities, counties, hospitals, doctors and other vendors for too long.
"The budget has to be examined," said Langendorf, adding that priorities have to be set for how and where to spend money.
Both candidates said the Legislature should not reduce pension benefits to state of Illinois retirees.
The two men agreed on many of the ways to solve Illinois' myriad problems during an exceedingly civil 45-minute session that featured absolutely no interruptions of the speaker by either candidate.
Hays feels he's qualified by virtue of having been in the Legislature for the last two years and having served as mayor of Catlin for eight years. He also was a vice president at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville.
Langendorf is a social worker who lives in Urbana but has worked in Vermilion County for the last 25 years. He decided to run when he saw that Hays was running unopposed.
The 104th district includes parts of southwest Champaign, parts of Savoy and Urbana, much of northeast Champaign County, and east to Fithian, Oakwood, Danville and south to Ridge Farm in Vermilion County.
"We should not put the burden back on school districts," Langendorf said of a plan to shift part of the underfunded pension burden to local districts. "We need to sit down with each of the pension funds and negotiate a repayment schedule that makes sense."
Hays agreed that shifting the burden to local school districts is not a good idea.
"That math does not work out at all for downstate Illinois and the suburbs," Hays said.
Hays said the state has an "enormous problem with Medicaid" that he feels qualified to help address, having worked with multi-million dollar budgets as an executive at Provena USMC. "We do an extremely poor job of verifying eligibility" for Medicaid, Hays said.
On other issues, both men said they could support the concealed carry of weapons but parted ways on support for a proposed coal mine that would be mostly located in western Vermilion County that would require up to 540,000 gallons of water a day from the village of Homer.
Hays, who said he's been hailed as a friend of agriculture and small business by the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce respectively, favors the coal mine on its face because of the 350 jobs it could bring. But Hays said he's sensitive to the water issues and believes the local groups involved should resolve those questions. The footprint of the proposed mine is not in his district, he added.
Langendorf said the jobs do not justify the potential threat to the environment.