By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, is sharing his plan for getting the state of Illinois back on track and getting the GOP back in power.
As he prepared to speak at Monday night's Lincoln Day Dinner in Pike County, Dillard said he knows how to handle state finances.
"As Gov. (Jim) Edgar's chief of staff, we knew how to manage money, and there was $1.5 billion in the state treasury when he left office," Dillard said.
Now, he said, after a decade of Democratic control of the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature, there is a backlog of nearly $9 billion in overdue bills and a worst-in-the-nation underfunding of the state's pension systems.
Dillard said that in addition to putting a fiscal conservative in the governor's office, the state needs to create and attract jobs. He said that won't happen until the tax climate helps businesses grow, the regulatory system is more competitive with surrounding states, and the state starts meeting its obligations.
"Illinois is the capitol of the Midwest. We've got the best infrastructure and the greatest agricultural production," Dillard said.
"We've got companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Dot Foods, Knapheide, Navistar, John Deere and Caterpillar."
The Hinsdale Republican said although "we like to beat up on Chicago," it gives the state a tremendous advantage on surrounding states. Few airports handle the number of flights that go through O'Hare International Airport, Chicago is a tremendous financial center, and McCormick Place has convention space that brings billions into Illinois' economy, he said.
"With all these things going for us, we shouldn't be 48th in job creation," Dillard said.
A graduate of Western Illinois University and former WIU Alumni Association president, Dillard said the trio of Republican dinners scheduled in Pike, Adams and Hancock counties is "like old home week." The dinners also give Dillard a chance to build a fire under the Republican faithful in an area with lots of conservative voters.
"They wrote off the Republican Party after Watergate. In 1994, under Jim Edgar as Illinois governor and Newt Gingrich as U.S. Speaker, the GOP won every (statewide) office in Illinois and took back the Legislature," Dillard said.
"One person can make a difference. Look at Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Those are our guys."
Dillard failed to win the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 by just 193 votes. State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, won the primary but lost the general election to Gov. Pat Quinn.
Illinois Republicans lost ground in the 2012 election cycle, but many had expected President Barack Obama's coattails in the Chicago region to boost voter turnout among Democrats. Republicans expect a stronger turnout in 2014, believing Illinois residents are tired of a dysfunctional state government, credit market downgrades and corruption.