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by Ernest Torriero, AARP Bulletin, July 1, 2010
At 79, retired postal worker and history buff Tom Schuh of Springfield has seen his share of Illinois gubernatorial races. But with one ex-governor in jail, another on trial for corruption, and a $13 billion state deficit, Schuh doubts the next governor will be able to solve the state's problems.
Neither incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn nor his Republican challenger, state Sen. Bill Brady, has answers the independent-minded Schuh is seeking. "Both are kind of vanilla, and with the state in so much trouble it's hard to figure out if either one is up to the task."
To help voters like Schuh make a decision, AARP Illinois has identified several key issues in the race. "This is a state in its worst financial crisis ever, and the major issues revolve around how to deal with the budget shortfalls," said Bob Gallo, senior state director.
• State budget. With services being cut at almost every level of state government, Quinn has called for increasing the income tax by a third, from 3 to 4 percent.
Brady promises no income tax hike but instead favors a 10 percent cut for all state spending. He initially said the cut would be "across the board" but later said he would reduce total spending by 10 percent and no area of state government would be excluded.
AARP Illinois proposes a balanced approach that includes a modest but fair income tax hike and more responsible budgeting.
• Critical service cuts. Among cuts in services for older residents, Quinn is proposing to halve prescription drug assistance programs in Illinois to $70 million and to raise health care premium costs for state retirees.
Brady has offered few specifics, but his 10 percent statewide budget-cutting proposal would include services like prescription drug assistance. He said Medicaid would be a target for cuts.
Brady has sided both with and against older residents during his eight years as a state senator. He cosponsored a bill to make sure Medicare beneficiaries didn't lose any benefits under the federal prescription drug program, but he voted against a bill to reduce drug costs for older residents.
AARP opposes any cuts in programs that serve older Illinoisans. It views the state's prescription drug assistance plan as critical to helping older residents afford the medications they need.
• Health care. As elsewhere in the country, health care reform has fallen along partisan lines in Illinois. Quinn is spearheading Democratic efforts to work with state officials to put the federal law into motion. In May, the Illinois legislature established a task force on health care reform implementation.
Despite Republican pressure, Illinois shows no intention of joining some states in suing the federal government to block the new law. Brady, like many state Republicans, has been against federal health care efforts. He has said that federal reforms would cost $2 billion to $6 billion for the public sector alone.
AARP Illinois is mobilizing to give the public information and resources describing the benefits of the health care reform law.
• Redistricting. The party in power in the legislature traditionally draws the state's election maps.
Quinn's campaign released a statement that he "believes we should consider all possible means of ensuring fair redistricting, including the use of computer-assisted techniques."
The Brady campaign said he proposes utilizing the bipartisan Illinois Board of Elections to help redraw precinct maps as well as computer modeling like those used in other states to devise boundaries.
AARP favors the establishment of an independent commission with diverse membership to handle redistricting.
Ernest Torriero is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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