URBANA — Two of the three candidates for the 13th Congressional District seat said Thursday that they would oppose an increase in the federal gasoline tax, even to pay for widespread infrastructure repairs after Hurricane Sandy.
The candidates met for the final time Thursday night at WILL-TV in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Illinois Public Media and WCIA-TV and WCIX-TV.
"I won't support any increased tax on people that are making less than $250,000 a year," said Democrat David Gill. "It's those people that are struggling already to fill up their gas tanks."
Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville said he also would oppose an increase in the tax that was last hiked in 1993 and which reportedly has lost one-third of its buying power because of inflation and the use of more fuel-efficient cars.
"I'm not looking to raise taxes on gas or on anybody here in this country," Davis said.
Only independent John Hartman of Edwardsville, who polls say is supported by fewer than 10 percent of the voters in the district, said he would support a federal gas tax increase.
"We need to increase taxes on gasoline," said Hartman, "but the more profound question is climate change. We need to make carbon emissions more expensive."
Hartman also was apart from Davis and Gill on expanding federal aid to college students.
"We don't have any money on the federal level to provide for increased student loans. To me, the frontier there has to be getting costs under control," he said.
But Gill said he "would certainly make (federal) Pell Grants far more available than they are today," although he did not specify how he would pay for the increase.
Davis also said he would "increase access to Pell Grants," adding that he "would not have supported the (Congressman Paul) Ryan budget" that would slash funding for Pell Grants.
"I'm not going to support cuts in Pell Grants to students that attend these universities and colleges," he said.
The candidates all said they would not be willing to go to war to prevent Iran from firing a nuclear weapon at Israel.
"We need to ensure that Iran is held accountable, but I'd first exhaust all diplomatic actions while standing shoulder to shoulder with the country of Israel before we commit troops anywhere in the globe," Davis said.
Hartman said "even bombing (Iran's) nuclear capabilities would be counterproductive. I think it would rile them against us as well as the Arab world against us."
He said "they are no worse of a threat than Pakistan is; if they develop the nuclear capability, we'll have to live with it."
Gill said "diplomatic solutions and very severe sanctions are doing the work that they were intended to do."
He said he hoped the next Congress would work with President Barack Obama "to get to a position where we don't have to put American life and limb on the line. We've had enough war."
On other issues, Davis said he was unable to explain why retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, had not endorsed him.
"Tim and I have chatted," he said, then he quickly thanked Johnson "for serving this district."
"I don't plan on trying to fill the shoes of Tim Johnson. What I plan to do is use my experience working for another member of Congress (John Shimkus) for the last 16 years, helping countless constituents break through the bureaucracy in Washington," Davis said.
Gill, meanwhile, again failed to explain what he had earlier said was a special "grass-roots" account at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that was made up of small donors, not large corporations and political action committees. Gill has stated repeatedly in his campaign that he does not accept corporate contributions.
"They've got millions of online, small contributions from ordinary men and women, similar to the type of money that's funded my campaign," he said, although he could not name the account. "I know it's not from Exxon-Mobil. I know it's not from Exelon."
Hartman, meanwhile, said he was running his longshot campaign "because I'm not comfortable, ethically, to just sit on my couch ... and not do anything. Like I said earlier, democracy works when leaders emerge and stand up for what they believe in."