The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts.
Republican Ammie Kessem submitted the following responses, and watch the video above to find out why she’s running to represent the Illinois House 19th district.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Kessem: At a high level, it’s all about stopping the epic outmigration from Illinois. Capping property taxes to save people’s largest investment, their home, is the first step in doing that and is a good faith measure that will signal we are trying to right the ship. Capping property taxes to a fix percentage of home value will also force spending discipline. Spending is out of control and almost nothing is ever done by either party to make government more efficient, effective and competitive.
Next I want to make sure our state income taxes are not increased any further. The only way we can ensure that is to get spending under control and refocus spending on those truly in need. We currently collect over $39B per year in state taxes, which is over $3,000 per capita. When you factor in the total tax burden –including, state and local property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, etc., Illinoisans pay 10.08% of their incomes, which is the 8th highest in the nation (Wallet Hub). Yet, families with children with developmental disabilities can move to Wisconsin or Indiana and receive better care.
I want to reform government, refocus spending, and reduce waste. My opponent, Representative Rob Martwick wants to raise taxes again with his Progressive Tax. It will raise taxes on everyone who has a job. My district’s average effective tax rate will jump from a flat 4.95 to 6.2%. That is of course up from the 3.75% flat rate we had just over a year ago.
We have anemic GDP growth in Illinois, at less than half the national growth rate. While the U.S. GDP is growing at between 3% and 4% now, Illinois is left behind growing at 1.4% over the past 4 quarters. That is not even enough to keep up with the 2.9% annual inflation. This means that earning power goes down in Illinois each and every year. The only healthy way to increase tax revenues is through growing the tax base, which means you have to grow the economy as a whole as well as median household incomes.
We can enact numerous reforms to cut spending without in any way negatively affecting critical public services. In fact, we can improve the delivery and quality of critical services by focusing on them and prioritizing them. But a vast majority of politicians have zero interest in doing that. And most of them don’t understand the concept of holding organizations accountable for efficiency and effectiveness.
Funding should be based on clearly measurable performance outcomes. Zero based budgeting must replace baseline budgeting. We can and should consolidate school districts. We should eliminate pensions for all elected officials to set an example. We should ban double dipping on public pensions. We must balance the budget without new revenues otherwise people will continue to flee. Instead of asking families for more, government should live within it means.
Lastly, to set an example, I will not take a pension for a part-time job that is supposed to be about service, not about getting rich off of the back of taxpayers and future generations of taxpayers.
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
Kessem: As I talk to families across my district, the number one thing I hear about this is the spending trajectory of the state of local governments in Illinois is simply not sustainable. They feel it in their property taxes, which increase every year. They don’t feel like they are getting a good return on their investment, they pay more and more, and for what?
My district is 80% Chicago, therefore the extraordinarily high unfunded liability in the City is of grave concern. The people in my district have the most to lose by crushing property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and the like, because they have no choice but to stay. Finally, whereas in most of the rest of the state, school districts could be combined to save overhead costs, the entire CPS is one big school district. We should regionalize it to put more local control into the schools. My opponent has failed over the past six years to get us an elected school board, despite him bragging about being a supporter of it. His boss Madigan will not allow it to happen, yet he votes for Madigan for Speaker every year and receives money from him.
Who is Ammie Kessem?
She’s running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 19th District
Her political/civic background:
- Ammie has spent almost 20 years serving the community as a police officer and was recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
- Ammie is also an active parishioner of the St. Monica Catholic Church and has held numerous positions on various committees in the parish and school there including being a Girl Scout Leader as well as a member of the Pastoral Council.
- Ammie believes in giving back to her community and now wants to continue this passion by being representative of it down in Springfield.
Her occupation: Sergeant of Police
Her education: BA from Dominican University in River Forest, Il.
Campaign website: AmmieFor19.com
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Kessem: I am a Police Sergeant who has never ran for office and I am not related to anyone that is in office. I will only serve six years if elected. I will not take a pension. I will not raise taxes on one of the highest overall tax-burdened counties and cities in the country. I will not leverage my office to make money. I will go back to live under the laws that I will help pass when I am done with my max 6 years in office. I am not taking money from Madigan, Pritzker, or Rauner so I can be independent and represent the interests of my community once elected.
My opponent is a career politician. He is the son of a 50-year Democratic Committeeman. He has run for office a half-dozen times. He makes his living as a property tax lawyer, as a political consultant, and as a state legislator. He will receive a pension for a part-time job. He doesn’t know anything else other than the Chicago Machine way. He leverages his office and his political clout to make money. He is the sponsor of a bill to raise income taxes again on everyone making over $17,000 per year. And that is after voting to raise the state income tax from 3.75% to 4.95% last year with no reforms. He misleads voters constantly about voting for property tax relief and cutting spending. He is the consummate politician/lawyer.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Kessem: People and businesses are fleeing because the political class has set up a government to enrich and empower themselves and their allies, not average people. The politicians are threatening our homes, our pensions, our jobs, our communities, and our values. They are jeopardizing everything that is central to our lives and our fiscal stability for their own benefit. The people I talk to are tired of being scammed, so they are leaving.
As a police officer, I took an oath to protect and serve. In Springfield, I will do the same. I am going to Springfield to protect the quality of life people are trying to build here and serve the families of my district. My opponent, is a life-long politician and connected property tax appeals attorney who is there to serve himself.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Kessem: We should keep the promises we made because people have relied on them and that is the honorable thing to do. But, instead of continuing to allow the politicians to lie to us, we should reform the system moving forward.
The first thing we should do is change out the politicians who have lied to us and who failed to hold up their end of the deal. Rep. Martwick has routinely underfunded pensions for first-responders while paying out fund fees to connected bankers and attorneys. There is a question about being able to pay out beneficiaries and that is because politicians, like Martwick, made promises they knew they couldn’t keep and failed to fund pensions.
I don’t want a firefighter or a police officer to wake up one day and not have a pension because of the politicians’ failures. From where many first-responders sit, that is a very real, frightening possibility.
All new employees should be moved to a 401(k) style program and current employees should be offered the option to choose one. I know many employees who would take that option so they can control their retirements. Many rank and file employees understand the politicians lied to us and they would negotiate their benefit levels in exchange for more security in their retirement accounts.
I am running to make sure promises are kept. I want to make sure first-responders get the pensions they worked for. The only way to do that is with smart reforms, not by allowing politicians to continue lying to you while they steal your pension.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?
Kessem: People vote with their feet and their wallets. Our Universities cannot compete with neighboring states because we don’t hold Universities accountable. We take money from special interests and give them whatever they want, regardless of whether it is good for the state. All state schools should have to compete for every dollar in state funding they receive. We need to cut out bloated overhead and overpaid executives and University Presidents. We need to cap pensions and lower overall spending at Universities. Then we should lower in-state tuition.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Kessem: As a police officer, I face the possibility of violence every day. I’ve dedicated my life to helping those in need and keeping our streets safe, and our communities livable. Too often, the heartbreaking violence we face is used as a political issue to demagogue individuals who hold differing views.
Too often, the politicians are more interested in pointing fingers and covering for themselves then helping. They’ve failed to keep families safe. When I get to Springfield I will look at comprehensive solutions to our violence epidemic, advocate for the services families need to curtail violence, and work with police officers to ensure they are properly supported.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Kessem: Illinois is in a dire economic situation, with business and residents fleeing. Often times, politicians in Springfield pass laws that are well intentioned without considering the consequences. We should focus on legislation that would make Illinois more desirable for businesses to come here, stay here, and hire people. The free market can hold businesses accountable for their scheduling practices. We are in no position to dictate any such thing to private businesses and it would further retard economic growth.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Kessem: I do not think we should experiment with something that’s consequences are not yet fully understood and that are opposed by many of the law enforcement professionals I talk to. The political class is just looking for another source of revenue to cover up for the years of passing unbalanced budgets. Legislators should focus on getting spending under control and lowering taxes for hard-working people.
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Kessem: We can crack down on opioid abuse by adopting new legislation that Michigan recently passed. It affects acute situations for post-surgery and limits them to a seven days’ supply for each. I also believe that the opioid epidemic must be solved locally by empowering and arming locally elected officials and first-responders with the tools they need to solve these problems in their communities.
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?
Kessem: Our state is broke, families are being driven from their homes communities in Chicago being destroyed, and the politicians are focused on bailing out lucrative energy companies while making the overall business climate worse. Politicians in both parties came together to bailout Exelon with $2.35 billion and hike energy prices on families that can’t afford it.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?
Kessem: The goal of Medicaid should be to provide a safety net for those truly in need and to help those on Medicaid to get off it through meaningful employment. Instead, politicians have expanded Medicaid beyond the core vulnerable population it was meant to serve and as a result fails to properly serve those most in need. That means that we need to scrub the Medicaid rolls to ensure it is serving the folks we all agree it should serve and to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Kessem: The State of Illinois will spend over $38 billion dollars this fiscal year. Yet, because the politicians fail to prioritize spending, the programs that should be funded are left without enough resources. Politicians choose to fund their pet projects like a $35 million school district in Speaker Madigan’s district, over the programs we all agree need to be funded. We don’t have a revenue problem. We continue to face a spending problem because lifelong politicians are using the state to fund their priorities, not ours.
The Department of Corrections certainly have their own issues but when you ask hard-working, law abiding citizens if they are comfortable with inmates spending their days eating gourmet pizzas delivered directly to their cells or composing their latest rap music in the new recording studio, I think most people take real issue to that. Prison should not be comfortable. That is how you reduce recidivism. I have personally spoken to offenders who have stated that they want to go back to prison because life is easier there. That is wrong on so many levels. We need to do more to help those who are most at risk before it gets to the point of incarceration. Start young to get them on a path to success. That is my model!
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Kessem: I believe the best way to solving issues of violence and crime is by adhering to sentencing guidelines and enforcing stiff sentences for these crimes. This would send a clear message to those who wish to do harm to others within our community that we will hold them accountable for their misdeeds.
We currently have a State’s attorney in Cook County that has worked to give the criminals more rights than law abiding citizens and we have thus seen a steady growth in violence because of this. The idea that we should completely eradicate a person’s criminal history is also of grave concern to me. As a law enforcement official, it is imperative that we know who these individuals are, what their criminal background is and where we can locate them so that we can keep our communities safer.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.