Illinois Senate 49 candidates clash on COVID-19 response, ‘Fair Tax’ referendum

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The candidates for the Illinois Senate District 49 debated the state’s COVID-19 response and the so-called “Fair Tax” referendum during a virtual joint interview with The Herald-News on Monday.

Democrat Meg Loughran Cappel and Republican Tom McCullagh are running for the seat in a competitive district. The 49th District includes all or parts of Aurora, Bolingbrook, Crest Hill, Joliet, Montgomery, Naperville, Oswego, Plainfield, Romeoville and Shorewood.

They are running to replace Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, who is running for Will County executive.

Cappel and McCullagh differed on grading Gov. JB Pritzker’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his decisions to close schools and many businesses when COVID-19 began to spread.

McCullagh said he thought Pritzker “really cares about the people” but criticized him for “arbitrarily” closing down certain businesses and disallowing public religious gatherings.

“I’d give him an ‘A’ for effort, but I’d give him an ‘F’ for implementation,” he said.

When it came to the issue of allowing children to be physically in school this fall, McCullagh said he favors “parental choice.”

“I’m not going to make health decisions for other families, but I will say that I want people to have the ability to make the choice themselves,” he said.

Cappel, who is a teacher in Joliet and sits on Joliet Township High School District 204 board, said local school districts were the ones that had to formulate a plan for reopening that best serves their students. She said District 204’s decision on whether to have in-person learning was difficult considering the size of the schools and the rise COVID-19 cases in the region late in the summer.

“Logistically, with 3,300 kids per campus and hundreds of staff, it was very difficult with our positivity rates going up to do that in a safe manner,” she said.

Cappel said that the state government could have handled the recent use of additional restrictions on Will and Kankakee counties to slow the spread of COVID-19 “a little bit differently.” She argued that state officials could have done more to involve local businesses and chambers of commerce in decision making.

The candidates also clashed over a referendum on the ballot to change the state constitution and allow for graduated income tax brackets. The constitution only allows for a flat income tax.

Democrats argue their proposed tax brackets would only raise taxes on 3% of residents.

Republicans, like McCullagh, said an increase in taxes, even on the highest earners, would lead to some leaving the state and therefore resulting in less revenue than the Democrats have projected.

“They’re just going to leave,” McCullagh said, referring to high-income earning residents.

He also claimed Cappel was “not against” taxing the retirement income of the wealthiest residents. She said McCullagh’s claim was “just false” and said she was “always against” taxing retirement incomes.

Cappel said the revenue a graduated income tax would generate could help pay the state’s “unfunded mandates.” She emphasized the choice is “in the hands of voters,” as the referendum requires 60% of the vote to pass.

In order to improve the state’s financial challenges, McCullagh said he was not opposed to taking “anything” off the table when it came to reducing spending.

“I know there’s plenty of places where we can cut money,” he said. “I just don’t like seeing taxes grow.”

The general election is Nov. 3, although early voting starts Thursday.

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September 23, 2020 at 09:26PM

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