Benford warns state falling far behind in pension crisis, sees education as top priority
Republican House candidate Alyssia Benford had some straight talk during a recent radio interview about Illinois' pension crisis, saying the state is never going to catch up.
"We're never going to catch up and get it to where it needs to be," Benford said during a June 29 on-air interview with AM1340 WJOL radio personality Scott Slocum. "That's really the bottom line and that's, honestly, what you really have to take a look at and say, 'We have to change the way we're doing things.’ There's no way that we'll ever just catch up, not if we continue to do what we're doing."
And one thing that lawmakers in the state can't keep doing is raising property taxes, Benford said.
"They cannot keep going up," she said. "You know, there are certain states that cap certain taxes and spending. Illinois is not one of those and that's why we continue to have those issues. One of the main reasons our property taxes are so high is because we're not properly funding the education system at a state level, which then pushes that responsibility down to the local level. Because we have to educate our kids, that really should be our top priority."
Benford is running for the 98th House District against incumbent Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Joliet) in November's General Election. Benford, who was raised in Chicago's West Side and attended Lane Tech College Prep High School near Wrigley Field, has lived in Bolingbrook for about 18 years and has run her own CPA firm for about 20 years. She maintains offices in Bolingbrook and Chicago.
"We are one of the largest minority and female-owned CPA firms in the country," Benford said. "We do pretty much what CPAs love to do, auditing, taxes, you name it. I love my community and I am actively involved. I was a Chamber president for a while, I am a member of the Bolingbrook Rotary Club, served on the Bolingbrook Police Pension Board and I'm currently a DuPage Township Trustee."
The 98th State House District covers all or parts of Bolingbrook, Crest Hill, Joliet, Plainfield and Romeoville.
If elected, Benford will become the first African-American female Republican representative in the history of Illinois, according to the release she issued when she filed petitions to run in November. When she first decided to get into politics, Benford said she had a choice to make.
"I'm a unique candidate," she said. "I was asked to run by the Democrats and the Republicans."
While deciding which party she would represent, Benford said she soon found she couldn't run as a Democrat.
"One of the things they wanted me to do was quit my job to run for office," she said. "I'd been an entrepreneur for more than 15 years. I couldn't just walk away from my clients and I needed my independence. This time around, the Republicans are allowing me to have my independence, to have my voice, and I appreciate that."
She said her strategy in her run for Manley's seat is to help voters better understand the impact their votes have on their taxes.
"The strategy for me is to continue to educate voters, explaining to them how their vote impacts their tax dollars," she said. "When I was out walking for my election as a township trustee, everybody complained about property taxes. And I had to explain to them that it's not the township and it's not the Village of Bolingbrook; the problem is at the state level. Getting people to understand who's making those decisions that are impacting those things that they are concerned about, (and) educating voters is my top priority."
Benford said she advocates funding schools more at the state level and consolidating school districts to remove expensive layers of administration.
"Our state mandate says that the state should be the primary funder of education," she said. "The argument becomes, 'Well, what do you consider primary?' Well, to me, it would be anything over 50 to 51 percent. Every dollar that they take back at the state level, we have to make up at the local level. We have to figure out how to get rid of some of the layers of school districts. There are certain school districts where there is just one school. So, if you have a school district, you have a superintendent, a principal where there is just one school, but where there are so many layers, obviously you have more expenses.”