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25th Senate candidates want same prosperity, have very different tactics

Corinne M. Pierog

Corinne M. Pierog

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Jim Oberweis

Age: 66

Town: Sugar Grove

Previous elected office: None

Occupation: Chairman, Oberweis Dairy; founder, Oberweis Asset Mangement

Family: Wife, five children, two step-children, 17 grandchildren

Corinne Pierog

Age: 61

Town: St. Charles

Previous elected office: St. Charles School Board, since 2009

Occupation: Owner, Sustainable Leadership Solutions, a consulting firm for municipalities and non-profit agencies

Family: Husband, two children, one step-daughter, three grandchildren

Updated: October 29, 2012 10:07PM

The race between Democrat Corinne Pierog and Republican Jim Oberweis for the 25th State Senate seat has been characterized as a microcosm of the national political scene.

Oberweis, 66, of Sugar Grove, a businessman running a pro-business, pro-jobs campaign backed by private business, faces Pierog, 61, of St. Charles, a pro-working family, pro-jobs Democrat backed largely by labor.

Both candidates agree on the need to stimulate economic growth, promote job creation, and clamp down on fiscal responsibility. But just what each of those terms means to the two candidates, let alone how each means to accomplish them, highlights the philosophical differences that separate Pierog and Oberweis.

Pierog platform

To Pierog, fiscal responsibility seems to hinge on two ideas: buy-in from everyone — residents, corporations and legislators — and spending those dollars carefully.

“Especially in Kendall County but throughout the district, people are crying out for property tax relief,” Pierog said. “Taxpayers are saddled with such a burden if they own a home that at times it hampers them from being able to save for their retirement or paying for a child’s education because of the dramatic increases over the past few years. Who’s getting squished? It’s the homeowner.”

Pierog, who has spent most of her life in education and non-profit organizations, said she hoped to avoid steep Medicaid cuts that hurt the most vulnerable by implementing a graduated tax on public and private pensions for very high earners.

“Someone who is retired making more than $200,000 a year — and I know that’s not a lot, but there are some — that pension is not being taxed, and to me that needs to be re-evaluated,” she said.

Another part of her plan, she said, involves reassessing the corporate tax rate, asking for a better accounting of how tax incentives are used, and creating a better system for determining how much corporations are earning in Illinois.

“If Mr. and Mrs. Smith are in, and if Grandpa and Grandma Smith are all in with their homes, Sears should be in, we all should be in together to relieve this tax burden,” Pierog said.

Pierog said that attracting business doesn’t necessarily mean a race against other states for the lowest tax rates or best incentives, but improving the return on investment for those tax dollars.

“When I’ve spoken to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Doug Whitley and Jimmy John (Liatud), both of them said it’s not the tax rate that’s causing businesses to leave Illinois. As a matter of fact we’re a relatively low-tax state for businesses,” said Pierog.

“Jimmy John said it’s how the money’s being spent. Whitley said it’s regulation, and a lack of efficiency. If someone wants to build a company, they’re not fast-tracked to it. There’s too many procedures, too many taxing bodies.”

Oberweis platform

Oberweis, meanwhile, said he wants to look to reforms of all kinds, including Illinois workers compensation laws — which he said were among “the three worst in the country” — public pension systems and Medicaid, to attract business.

“I think all a legislature can do is try to create an environment under which entrepreneurs and businessmen and businesswomen want to start companies and create jobs and an environment in which business people will keep their companies in Illinois rather than move to Indiana, or Texas or Florida,” said Oberweis. “It includes Medicaid reform and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse wherever we can find it.”

Oberweis said he plans to cut the number of residents eligible to receive Medicaid, and require proof of Illinois residency for benefits.

“Medicaid was meant to be a safety net for those in need,” he said. “If you expand the benefits to such a large extent, eventually the system will break down because taxpayers won’t be able to afford those costs.”

As for pension reforms, Oberweis is a bit more tight-lipped.

“I’m not going to Springfield with one solution,” he said. “I think there are a lot of proposals, certainly capping the (cost of living adjustments) makes some sense. Asking retirees to pay more medical expenses may be a part of that. I have another strong thought or suggestion, but I probably will wait until after Nov. 6 to talk about that.”

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