LEXINGTON — An array of issues, ranging from biofuels and renewable energy to livestock protection and trade agreements, faced Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Republican challenger Kathy Salvi during the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable candidates forum Wednesday in rural Lexington.
The recently signed Inflation Reduction Act and the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan were popular topics as well during the candidates’ unofficial kickoff to the campaign leading up to November’s general election.
“Agriculture is the cornerstone of our state’s economy, and the core of who we are as a state,” said Duckworth. “For generations, our Illinois farmers and ranchers have helped feed and power our nation, and I’m working hard to ensure that you can continue to do so for generations to come.”
Salvi, a first-time candidate from Mundelein, said she decided to seek the office because she is “seriously concerned with the direction of the country,” and she wants to provide ideological balance to Illinois’ Senate delegation.
“I would like to be your working senator, a ‘citizen senator.’ I will work tirelessly, efficiently and effectively to represent agriculture,” said Salvi. “The farmer is the best conservator of their land (and) my goal is to become a go-to person in the Senate on behalf of agribusiness.”
The Inflation Reduction Act revealed vastly different opinions between the candidates. Duckworth said the legislation will bolster the U.S. economy by helping the nation solidify its place as a clean energy leader in the global marketplace.
“The new law, this $500 million, is going to provide significant support for infrastructure improvements, (and) for blending, storing, supplying and distributing biofuels. It is about establishing a sustainable aviation fuel tax credit, and it extends tax credits for biofuels as well,” said Duckworth. “But this isn’t just a win for us here at home, strengthening biofuels as a matter of national security. I feel very strongly that strengthening biofuels, strengthening ag is a matter of national security.”
But Salvi said the inflation bill exacerbates the tax burden on households earning less than $200,000 a year.
“This hits the middle income family and many two-income families,” said Salvi. “It is a tax on productivity, a tax on people who work, a tax on the middle class family, and a tax on small business. I would have voted ‘no’ had this bill come before me; I would have been the 51st vote in the U.S. Senate opposing this bill.”
Salvi said while she’s supportive of developing renewable energy, she’s wants to make sure Illinois land is appropriately valued.
“I believe we need to act responsibly to protect some of our best farmland here in Illinois,” she said. “Take for example, the 20-year period (or) 25-year period with one wind turbine. It may turn a profit of about $250,000. It has a life, I’m told, of about 25 years, and it takes about $250,000 to disassemble one aged, obsolete wind turbine. This is a net-zero gain. So based upon the productivity of the land, long term it doesn’t make sense.”
Duckworth said her main focus in Washington for the rest of this year will be working on the defense budget and a farm bill.
“My priorities for the next farm bill include protecting and improving farm safety net programs like the commodity support programs, federal crop insurance, disaster assistance programs, as well as supporting export market developments, like the foreign market development program and MAP, the market access program,” said Duckworth.
“Those are all critically important, and that’s where we’re going to grow in influence as a nation. As we’re trying to compete with China and other nations, this is where we can grow in strength because we have the advantage with this great nation, fertile lands and our farmers.”
Duckworth said she believes passage of the Inflation Reduction Act will make it easier to draft the next farm bill.
“We put a lot of environmental stuff in there, so the environmental groups are really pretty happy with us right now,” she said. “So I think that takes the pressure off trying to make the farm bill an environmental bill, when it shouldn’t be.”
Salvi said she intends to seek input and advice regularly from ag sector leaders on such issues as livestock protection and trade agreements.
“I will also like to be a little proactive; we should not be playing defense on our Illinois ag policy,” she said. “Neither of our senators sits on the ag committee (and) I think that we need to have a little stronger voice in Washington, so we don’t just play catch-up but we could be a little proactive in what happens (and) what will help serve Illinois agriculture.”
Not surprisingly, both candidates also had much different takes on Biden’s move to eliminate some student loan debt. Salvi viewed it as an election year ploy that will backfire on middle class households already facing tax increases.
“You could expect with that measure, that we’re going to find higher tuition prices in order to make up that difference,” said Salvi. “I think a $10,000 loan forgiveness on families earning less than $125,000 — if you look at the tax burden from the Inflation Reduction Act and what that’ll cause to hurt middle income families — I think that this is just, simply put, playing politics.”
Conversely, Duckworth called the student debt relief “a good start” that she would want to expand upon.
“I would support for giving $50,000 in student loan debt for all folks who have student loan debt,” she said. “There’s more student loan debt held in this country than credit card debt. If we would forgive $50,000 in student loan debt, that would eliminate about 80% of the student loan debt in this country. That means that money would go into our economy. It would go into the housing sector. People would be using that money to invest in their futures, instead of just paying off debt.”
Duckworth went on to say she believes people should be able to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy. She added that she’s introduced legislation to develop a national service program similar to the G.I. bill, where students can earn money toward college tuition through an 18-month commitment to a work program.