Governor candidates divulge plans for reducing student debt

By Eric Bradach

The race for Illinois governor has become a crowded and heated contest. The eight-candidate field to claim the Republican or Democratic ticket has triggered a plethora of attack ads—not just between candidates in opposing parties but also heavy criticism of members with in their own party. 

However, with two Republicans and six Democrats, it can be difficult to differentiate who will be on the March 20 primary ballot box without some background. The Chronicle compiled an email Q&A with all those vying to become the state’s chief executive.

All candidates were asked to answer the same three questions on issues deemed important to Columbia students to help them make a well-informed decision when they head to the polls.

Candidates state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, and Democrat Tio Hardiman did not respond to repeated requests for Q&A responses as of press time.

 

If elected, how do you plan to help Illinois college students and provide them with assistance in face of a national student loan crisis?

 

BISS: Our state has a responsibility to provide every Illinoisan the opportunity to pursue higher education without taking on thousands of dollars in debt. My family just finished paying off our student loans, and I know middle-class and working families across the country face this same challenge. I was proud to pass the Student Loan Bill of Rights to protect student borrowers against predatory lenders. As governor, I will eliminate in-state tuition at our public colleges and universities.

DAIBER: My intention is to reinstate funding for higher education at the 2012 threshold. I will also work with companies such as Horace Mann [Educators Corporation] on loan forgiveness programs. 

KENNEDY: I believe that the best way to help our college students is through opportunity. We need to move to a system of need-based aid as opposed to merit-based aid. Governor Rauner cut MAP grant funding, which has cut off aid to hundreds of students across Illinois. As governor, I would immediately restore funding for MAP grants. I would also work with our community colleges to establish an Illinois Promise Program that would offer two years of free community college to every student in Illinois and make it easy to transfer credits to four-year state universities. 

RAUNER: We need to cultivate a highly-educated and well-trained workforce that can compete in a modern economy. To support our students, we must transform our vocational, technical and apprenticeship programs so that those who choose not to attend a four-year college can still have an outstanding career with good pay. 

PRITZKER: I believe every student should be able to get a high-quality education without drowning in debt. To make that a reality, I would fully fund higher education and expand MAP grants to make college more affordable. These needed investments will help keep Illinois students from fleeing the state and rebuild our colleges and universities after Bruce Rauner decimated their funding.

MARSHALL: I believe we should legalize marijuana throughout Illinois, and also allow casino gambling for the City of Chicago. This would bring in hundreds of millions of extra dollars and this money should be used to help college students in Chicago and Illinois to finance their college and also to help pay down student debts.

 

What do you plan to do about the environment and combat the consequences of climate change in Illinois?

 

BISS: I believe Illinois can be a nationwide leader in combating climate change. As governor, I will get our state on track to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, enter Illinois into the U.S. Climate Alliance and make sure that communities that once relied on the fossil fuel industry benefit from the green energy economy. I received the Illinois Sierra Club’s endorsement in this race and have always earned a 100 percent rating from the Illinois Environmental Council as a legislator. 

DAIBER: First, I will maintain strict environmental regulations on pesticides to preserve our fresh water. This is why I have called for a ban on Dicamba pesticide. Second, to combat climate change in the state of Illinois we must work to implement the use of biofuels, wind and solar energy. 

KENNEDY: I believe that the best way to help the environment is through investments in sustainable energy. It’s undeniable that those who are on the forefront of renewable energy will play a leading role in the future economy. Advancing renewable energy should be our ultimate priority, and I believe it’s imperative that we set a 100 percent renewable goal by 2045, similar to that of Hawaii and efforts in California. Science, research and the future of energy storage will offer us a direct path to fostering more robust, sustainable solutions. I will be a leader in advocating to protect federal funding for our research labs, like Argonne and Fermi, while also working to create robust research operations in our university system that can assist us in planning for a better, more sustainable future in Illinois.

RAUNER: Under my leadership, Illinois has become the Midwest leader in clean energy jobs. My administration has made investing in Illinois’ future a central focus in my first term, which was a major reason I signed the Future Energy Jobs Act. This law has not only saved thousands of jobs and made Illinois a leader in clean energy innovation, but it sets up our state for even greater job creation and billions of dollars in investments.

PRITZKER: I believe climate change is a real threat and that we have a responsibility to act. I will take immediate action to enter Illinois into the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement. I would also expand clean energy production and invest in green jobs to grow our economy and protect the environment. With these steps and more, I will put Illinois on track to meet and surpass the current goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2030. 

MARSHALL: I would try to do as much as I can to convert the State of Illinois to renewable sources of energy and slowly wean ourselves off of carbon-based energy sources.

 

How will you increase employment opportunities and encourage millennials to stay or come to the state?

 

BISS: Governor Rauner’s budget crisis caused many young people to leave the state. Some left for college, fearing further tuition hikes and cuts in funding, while others left because they were unable to find jobs as businesses fled an unpredictable and chaotic economy. As governor, I will pass a progressive, balanced budget to support business growth, create jobs through direct investment, and fully fund our neighborhood public schools as well as colleges and universities to prepare young people for their futures. 

DAIBER: I will increase employment opportunities for millennials by equipping them with 21st Century skill sets so that they have the ability to maintain good paying jobs. I will get millennials to come to Illinois by making it a friendly state for them, including legalization of recreational marijuana and funding of higher education. 

KENNEDY:  A strong education system is the backbone of a strong economy. Since 1989, the only workers in America generally—and Illinois specifically—who have seen their incomes grow at a rate greater than inflation and growth in purchasing power are those with a college degree. There is also a statistically significant correlation between educational attainment and unemployment—as educational attainment increases, the unemployment rate decreases. States with the greatest increases in productivity also have the largest share of adults with a college degree. That’s why a cornerstone of my jobs plan is to reinvest in higher education institutions and to rebuild our vast network of community colleges. Companies move to where the highly educated young people are. If we give the world highly educated young people, the world will give us its jobs. 

RAUNER: Illinois has world-class universities that are helping to build an incredibly talented workforce. We need to encourage these young, forward-thinking students to stay here by creating more economic opportunity. That begins by fixing our broken tax and regulatory systems and by having our government stop spending money we don’t have.  

PRITZKER: I have comprehensive plans to reverse the exodus of young people from the state by providing workers and students with the tools they need for success. My plans would provide quality, equitable public education and stable and affordable higher education, while expanding job creation and economic opportunity for communities throughout Illinois. By bringing stability to our state and investing in our communities, I am confident we can help our home-grown talent thrive and attract new talent from out of state.

MARSHALL: I would increase employment opportunities by opposing tax increases throughout the state. I oppose increases in income taxes and also other state taxes, such as sales, gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. Some of the marijuana revenues can be applied to property taxes, since that is the main reason why people are leaving the state.

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