Democratic nominee's remarks were in response to three questions posed by MPC in advance.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich at a downtown event Sept. 7, 2006, and Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka Aug. 7, 2006, providing each with a forum to explain their plans to increase housing options, ease traffic congestion, invest in the transportation network, improve schools, and inspire sensible growth.
Excerpts from from Gov. Blagojevich’s remarks follow: Excerpts from Treasurer Topinka’s remarks are also available online. In addition, MPC media partner Comcast is broadcasting both candidates’ remarks, in their entirety, through its OnDemand feature until the election.
On creating a state planning office
I think that a lot of what government can do better is do a better job of planning. Planning is the first step, but the other step is to work in a more cooperative and coordinated fashion with the other units of government. Unfortunately, Illinois is a state with a great deal of local governments ... Now, we're not in love with the idea of creating new agencies, so I don't know that we would actually create an agency to address this issue. It's unlikely we would because we're in the other mode, which is to say we're reducing the size of government ... So, while I would not embrace or endorse the concept of creating a new agency to do this, I would, however, suggest that we should probably use an existing agency, probably maybe one like CMS, maybe one like the Department of Commerce and economic opportunity, maybe some of the other agencies, and have people working there who can work with the local governments and try to consolidate functions and bring more efficiency to the effort and also a lot more planning.
On investing in infrastructure to accomodate growth
We understand the great growth that's taking place in places like Kendall County, Will County and out in the western collar of counties. As a result of that, we're building I-355, which is in direct response to that growth. And we want to pass a capital bill ... that would also address some of the issues of trying to deal with our infrastructure needs so we can get people to and from where they're going, in less traffic with less congestion and with less hassle. I think we're making a lot of progress. There's a lot more things to do, like the idea of being able to coordinate the local governments. We've been working to do those things. And we have to think regionally as well as just from a statewide perspective. Different states have to coordinate some of their efforts. But certainly the state government and municipal governments need to do a better job coordinating.
On his capital plan
What I would suggest is we take a look at our capital plan, take a look at the bill we've been trying to pass for three years ... I know that the architects of our capital construction plan have reached out to a lot of probably the people, men and women, here in this room, for some of your ideas and some of your initiatives and try to input that into our plan, which is one that would build more schools, one that wants to address the issue of crowded classrooms, one that embraces the idea of smaller schoolhouses, school buildings, where kids can learn better in an environment that's a lot more conducive to learning, an environment that's less threatening to young children ... A plan that would obviously invest in our roads and our bridges and our schools, and one that clearly is all about making sure that we do good things for people as opposed to not good things for people, that we give people more choices as opposed to less ... I believe if we're still in business after the November elections, we're in a very strong position to be able to pass a capital bill and we're going to keep working with you guys to try to make sure we do it in a way that's responsible to the taxpayers of our state.
On specific capital investment priorities
Our capital improvement program makes significant investments in roads and bridges, significant investments in mass transit, and calls for a billion dollars in new school instruction. Now, the way we pay for it is through a variety of ways. The road program would be paid for by tapping into the existing road fund that's sitting with a surplus balance of around $400-$500 million. We would take $140 million out of that fund and use that as a dedicated source of revenue. Every year, with the motor fuel tax and other revenues, that road fund gets replenished. The money then would be used as a dedicated source of revenue. Then, you would do bonding off of that, and do a $2.3 billion road and bridges expansion project. Mass transit, we're calling for about $850 million in mass transit investments – CTA, RTA, the Metro Link down in the Southern Illinois, as well as mass transit around the state. That would be paid for the way it always is – through general revenue funds ... And then our school construction plan had a variety of ways that we tried to work with the legislators who kept using that as an excuse to not vote for one, to be able to pay for investments in our schools. We believe this is the best way because we're now enjoying this surplus revenue that we didn't anticipate two years ago because the economy's improved, to use some of that also as a way, a dedicated source of revenue for a $1 billion school construction plan.
On increasing education funding
First of all, let me say that I wish there was a magic wand and I wish I could snap my fingers and solve all of the different problems that we inherited after 26 years of misplaced priorities. I point out that the struggle that we have today to try to put more money in our schools -- the state invests more money for our schools and puts less pressure and eases the burden on homeowners -- is one that we've made real progress on over the last four years. But you have to recognize that we're coming from 26 years of one administration from the next under-funding our schools from the state ... I think if you look at what we've done in the first four years during historic budget deficits and now we've got our fiscal hours in order, we've got tremendous opportunities, I think, to go to the next level and really fundamentally address the school funding issue in a way that's different from what a lot of people are advocating.
On his proposal to privatize the lottery to fund schools
We think we can get $10, $12, maybe $15 billion on the privatizing of the lottery. Make the promise of that lottery real. The promise was that this was going to be the way we were going to fund our schools. Actually make that real. Put $4 billion in new investments in schools in the first four years, over and above what you might do with the general revenue fund, because circumstances change and revenues change, depending upon the economy and some of the other choices that the legislature and the governors make, and then take the balance of that money, whether it be $6, $8, $10 billion, and create a school endowment fund, an education endowment fund. The interest on that fund alone will more than cover the amount of money that goes to the school common fund from the lottery. Use that to consistently fund schools, and then have an out clause, which has been mischaracterized by some, by the year 2024 that I call the Hong Kong Clause, which is after 2024 it reverts back to the state, we don't just let it go.
On easing the property tax burden
This [lottery plan] is a creative way to put more money in our schools that doesn't raise taxes on people and we get more bang for our buck with our resources ... And then, I think, as you do that, you've got to keep passing bills that put caps on local property taxes and even squeeze that even more, so that every unit of government is going to be focused on trying to do more with less. One thing I know after being governor for four years: if you give government money, they're going to spend it and if you give government unfettered access to money, they're not going to make the hard choices.