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 $7 billion of unpaid bills, $130 billion in 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 (between 3-5 years) 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.
- Reduce late payment interest penalties on future bills which can be as high as 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 with a funding target of 80-90%. We would pay a level amount year-over-year and rid ourselves of the “Edgar Ramp” which will absorb over a third of our budget by 2045. Over time, the pension payments would shrink as a portion of the overall budget providing more flexibility to the state. To ensure this plan succeeds, annual pension funding needs to be paid in full each year – no more pension holidays.
- Create a sound retirement system for the future. All options should be on the table including traditional pensions, 401K-style plans, and Social Security. The solution should be one that is stable and secure for retirees, and sustainable and affordable for state government.
- Update GARS (General Assembly Retirement System). Illinois should phase out the current GARS 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 401K-style plan during the years that a person is an elected official should be sufficient. I will not accept a pension under the current GARS system.
New Speaker of the House:
Mike Madigan has been Speaker for too long. Illinois needs a new House leader, with a fresh perspective, 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): I support the ratification of the ERA was happy to see Illinois finally pass it.
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.