Kennedy talks education funding, economy on visit to Galesburg

Rebecca Susmarski The Register-Mail

GALESBURG — If elected governor of Illinois, Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy will aim to bolster job creation and economic vitality in the state by increasing education funding, he said during a visit to Galesburg Tuesday.

Kennedy, chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, expressed his belief that companies would come to Illinois and hire residents if the state invested more in education and produced more graduates who would, in turn, comprise skilled workforces. He would aim to raise K-12 education funding by $6.5 billion, since the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability reported Illinois is short of the $6.5 billion needed to fund the state’s evidence-based model statewide.

Kennedy cited growing economies in towns centered near institutions of higher education, such as Austin, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Boston, Massachusetts. He added that companies have moved to the Chicago area to tap into the local talent coming out of the city’s many colleges.

“My friends and I, we moved to where the jobs were — that is not the way the American economy works anymore,” Kennedy said. “Today, the jobs move to where the highly educated young people are. … The problem in Illinois is when we went two years without a budget, it scared small businesses and large corporations alike, and people are afraid to send their kids to Illinois colleges for fear that they may not be around four years from now when their kids are scheduled to complete the schools.”

Kennedy would aim to fund education more by restructuring the state’s income tax system to a progressive model, which would place less of a burden on property taxes to fund schools and more on income level, a spokeswoman for Kennedy’s campaign said. The amount that the income tax would increase by and the amount that property taxes would decrease by under the progressive system “depends on what the financial state of Illinois is like after Bruce Rauner’s term,” the spokeswoman said.

Another option Kennedy has considered would be to create a millionaires’ tax. When asked how much the millionaires’ tax would be and what income brackets it would affect, the spokeswoman said Rauner’s leadership “has been so erratic that we don’t know what the state of Illinois would look like at end of his term, so it would be irresponsible” to put a figure on it just yet.

Kennedy also plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour if elected. While that would be an extra cost for businesses to pay in addition to regulations such as workers’ compensation, Kennedy said workers’ comp only affects a “small segment of the (business) population,” such as small manufacturers and other companies with workers who could sustain injuries on the job.

“I dealt with more than 5,000 companies … when all those companies moved to Illinois when I talked about coming here, not one of them ever asked me about workers’ comp, Right to Work, tort reform, how we draw our maps or term limits,” Kennedy said. “Those are important issues, but not to everybody all the time. What drives success and great economic development from a government is stability and predictability. They want to know what the taxes are going to be; they want to know what the regulations are going to be. Uncertainty and chaos is the enemy of economic development.”

Rebecca Susmarski: (309) 343-7181, ext. 261;; @RSusmarski

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