DECATUR — The two general election candidates in the race to fill the open 101st Illinois House district seat, held by the Forsyth Republican Bill Mitchell for 20 years, are both canvassing the region for likely voters but the messages they say they're finding to take to Springfield differ.
"The people of this district ... do not want a progressive income tax, they are opposed this mileage tax that's being floated around by various people in the Democratic party," said Caulkins, referring to comments from Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, who has suggested the state should test a new method of tracking car mileage in order to raise more state motor fuel tax revenue from more fuel-efficient cars.
The outgoing Mitchell beat Democratic challenger Christine Law in 2016 by a 3-to-1 margin.
Caulkin's Democratic opponent, Jen McMillin of Decatur, annual giving officer at Lincoln College, said she's "interested" in different models like the progressive income tax, and says she wants to seek more revenue sources, such as legalization of marijuana, for the district and the state.
"That is a potential revenue sources, but it's not nearly enough to bring down property taxes, so I'm very open to different ideas to bring in (to the legislature)," McMillin said.
Caulkins has focused his campaign on bringing big-picture conservative principles to Springfield, mainly through reigning in state spending on social service programs and grants the state can no longer afford, he says.
"I would love to have all these social programs," Caulkins said. "The problem is we have to pay for them, and you can't pay for them just by going around and raising taxes and fees — those days are over."
But McMillin says she believes she can deliver a stronger line of communication between local governments and stakeholders to establish more state government support for the district's mostly rural communities.
"If you know what is on the ground, you can then translate that to making better decisions on behalf of your district," McMillin said, offering examples like infrastructure repairs and projects from the county soil and water conservation districts, which assist farmers with implementing conservation techniques aimed to prevent problems like storm runoff for farmers and the surrounding environment.
Both Caulkins and McMillin recognize, whether it's rolling back state spending, or investing in local communities, there are no quick fixes to the state's budget problems.
"The budget crisis that we've had has not been made in just a few years," McMillin said. "It will take many, many years to dig out of."
Bringing down spending and making difficult cuts, Caulkins said, "in the long run this is what's best for our state. As they say in the business community, 'Some people are going to have to take a hair cut.'"