Jim’s perspective on the issues facing Illinois.
Summary: Nothing is hurting the state more than the financial crisis we are currently experiencing. Illinois has $9 billion of unpaid bills, $130 billion in our unfunded pension liability, and a bond rating near junk status. We can’t truly invest in education, infrastructure, health care, and the restoration of our social service network until we find a way out of this financial crisis. I recommend the follow actions to put our fiscal house in order.
Prioritizing the payment of overdue bills:
- Create a short-term plan to repay all old debt as part of the budgeting process.
- Borrow as much as possible, at rates lower than the interest currently being paid on the late bills themselves, to save interest expenses (some of this has been done already, but I suspect more could be done).
- Reduce late payment interest penalties on future bills. Yes, we should pay our bills on time, but there is no reason why late payment charges go up to 12%. Let’s find a way to reduce those interest rates that are more in line with what other states pay.
- Reduce our unfunded liability: I believe that we should re-amortize our pension debt over the next 50 years to get it somewhere between 80-100% funded. Paying a level amount would reduce future spikes in payments and spreading out the payments over a longer period of time (currently set to end in 2045) would reduce the amount paid annually. We should also make it mandatory that pensions payments are paid in full each year.
- Creating a sound retirement system for the future. All options should be on the table including traditional pensions and 401K style plans. I am hopeful that the Tier III pension system (that passed last summer) can be a starting point to constructing a program that offers a stable and secure income for retirees, and a more affordable model for state government.
- GARS pension (General Assembly Retirement System). Illinois should phase out the current pension plan and replace it with a defined contribution plan (i.e. 401K style plan). Elected officials in Illinois should not run for office for the pension plan. A defined contribution plan during the years that a person is an elected official should be sufficient.
New Speaker of the House:
Mike Madigan has been Speaker for too long. Illinois needs a fresh perspective, and a new leader who can build coalitions and compromise with other elected officials.
Illinois has legislative districts that look like poorly designed jigsaw puzzle pieces. These districts were designed for purely partisan purposes. As a result, we have too many deep red and deep blue districts. We need more purple districts, where elected officials must listen to the opinions of all constituents, not just those from their own party.
Let’s push back party primaries to August or September like twelve other states do. This change will create shorter campaigns, reduce the amount of money spent on elections, and encourage more cooperation in Springfield. Under the current system, primaries are scheduled for March. By the time you back into the calendar for collecting signatures and verifying paperwork, Illinois is in purpetual campaign mode.
Summary: Illinois students are choosing to go elsewhere in higher and higher numbers. If we are to maintain our status as an elite location for education, we must invest with our dollars and with innovative thinking.
The best way to attract Illinois students to attend college in state is to have a healthy economy and a strong and reliable investment in higher education. What else can Illinois do? Illinois should consolidate its nine university boards. Some of the best public university systems in the country have similar structures like Wisconsin, California, and New York. Consolidating university boards will streamline costs and enable the 12 state universities to develop their own areas of specialization.
Reproductive Rights: I am Pro Choice and support Roe vs. Wade.
LGBTQ: I support the LGBTQ community. Gay and transgender rights are human rights and we need to support all people who suffer from discrimination.
Marijuana: I support legalizing marijuana in a tightly regulated fashion. This approach will promote a safer product, reduce crime rates, and allow police to focus on more important issues. We should also examine ways to improve our legislation based on what’s been learned from the experiences of other states that have already legalized it.
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA): We need to ratify the ERA because there is still no constitutional foundation that protects all people equally without regard to sex. Despite new laws on the books in recent years, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia actually said, in 2010, that the Constitution does not protect people from sex discrimination.
Gun Control: I support the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. This bill provides for a reasonable method to reduce the amount of illegal gun purchases. It is not about the right to bear arms, the types of guns, or an impact to conceal-and-carry. It will require criminal background checks for gun store employees, basic store security measures, and employee training.
Minimum Wage: Illinois should increase the minimum wage. It has not been raised since 2010 and that is too long for workers to not get a raise.
Right to Work: I am opposed to so-called Right to Work laws. Instead of driving economic growth, they mostly work to push down wages and make it difficult for working class families.