Democrat Robert Martwick is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the Illinois House 19th district race. He faces Republican Ammie Kessem in the general election.
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. Martwick submitted the following responses:
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
- Common sense, math based solutions to Illinois’ debt problems, especially as they relate to the unfunded liabilities in the state pension systems, as well as the unfunded liabilities in the various municipal and county pension systems.
- A restructuring of Illinois’ unfair and inefficient system of taxation that includes shifting the burden of funding education from property taxes to income taxes, paying down pension debt, and lowering sales tax rates in order to lower the tax burden on the middle, working class and poor, properly funding higher education and essential human services, and adequately and mathematically addressing our debt so that we do not pass this burden on to the next generation.
- An elected representative school board for Chicago Public Schools.
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.
- Educational opportunities. Many students in my district hail from middle and working class families. Many of them dream of a college degree to ensure that they have the education necessary to compete in the new economy. However, under Gov. Rauner, massive cuts were made to both state universities and MAP grants. These cuts not only diminished the quality of educational opportunities for these students, but put the cost completely out of reach. I am committed to putting the state on firm financial footing so that we can re-invest in our students and ensure that a high quality education is both available and affordable to them. Additionally, I am committed to an Elected Representative School Board for the residents of Chicago, so that we can take back control of our schools and the education that they provide for our children.
- Gun Violence continues to be a plague on our Country, our state and my district. We simply must continue to fight for common sense gun safety measures. I support the gun dealer licensing act, the lethal violence order of protection, and a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
- A Fair tax. Illinois is the 5th most unfair tax state in the country. We place more of the burden of funding government on the backs of middle, working class and poor than 45 other states. Property taxes are the most unfair tax, because this tax can increase significantly, even though a homeowners income did not. Illinois property taxes are the 2nd highest in the country for one simple reason: We have failed as a state to properly fund education. High property taxes coupled with a rising economy cause huge increases, forcing middle, working class and poor from their homes. Senior Citizens on fixed incomes cannot keep up. This is wrong and it simply must be addressed. However, the same old tired promises of voting against tax increases have done nothing to solve the problem over the course of the last 40 years and they will do nothing to solve it today. We need a math based solution that restructures our tax system by moving funding for education from property taxes to income taxes, through the imposition of a graduated income tax. By adopting the income tax rates of Wisconsin, we could properly fund education and pay down our debts. This restructuring would lead to an overall DECREASE in taxes for middle, working-class, and poor families because the decrease in property taxes and sales tax rates would be substantially greater than the increase in income taxes.
Who is Robert Martwick?
He’s running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 19th District
His political/civic background:
- State Representative, 2013- Present
- Village Trustee (Norridge), 1999-2011
- Township Trustee (Norwood Park), 1993-1997
- Candidate for Illinois State Senate, 1996
- Candidate for Cook County Commissioner, 2002
- Little League Baseball Coach, Norridge Little League, 2000-2001
His occupation: Attorney
- JD – the John Marshall Law School – 1996
- BA (Economics) – Boston College – 1988
His campaign website: robertmartwick.com
His Twitter handle: @robertmartwick
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Martwick: The contrast between myself and my opponent could not be more stark. We hold completely, and diametrically opposed ideas on how to move the state forward. I am a progressive Democrat who has a record of fighting for laws that benefit the middle class. My record is 100% pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-gun reform, and pro-union.
I have proposed math based solutions to our problems that allow re-investment in educational opportunities and critical services for seniors and those living with disabilities. I have supported neighborhood schools and fought against the proliferation of for-profit charter schools. I have worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure that concealed carry licenses are not granted to career criminals, that insurance companies cannot deny life insurance benefits, and that state retirees have constitutionally permissible options that will save the state money on our pension systems.
I believe in, and have proposed a restructuring of our tax system that DECREASES taxes on the middle class and poor, while raising revenue from those who have benefited most from our state and using that revenue to solve our financial problems.
My opponent is part of the most conservative wing of the Republican party. She is backed by the same group that supported the anti-choice, anti-LGBT campaign of Jeanie Ives because they felt that Rauner was not conservative enough. They only support the most conservative, pro-gun, anti-choice conservatives and their mission is to kill unions and to bankrupt pensions owed to teachers, police, firefighters and public sector retirees.
My opponent believes in classic “trickle down” economic policy. Under her plan, the richest in our state would receive huge tax breaks (while the middle class would receive a few pennies), putting the state on a path to insolvency and requiring massive cuts to essential services like education, infrastructure, transportation, and services for seniors and those living with disabilities.
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?
Martwick: The vast majority of people who have left Illinois are not the rich. The people who have left Illinois are the middle-class, working-class and poor people whose incomes have been flat for a decade. They have watched their tax burdens go up, while their opportunities have gone down. They have seen their children use decades old text books at school, and be unable to afford a college degree.
While all of this has happened, the wealthiest people in our state have experienced exponential increases in their net worth and their incomes. If we are to save our state, we must restructure our entire system to make it more fair so that we can both lower the tax burden on the middle class, and re-invest in essential services and higher education so that they and their children have the opportunity for a better life.
We must restructure our entire system so that we can PAY for a property tax decrease. A property tax decrease will not only make owning a home more affordable for the middle class, but will make renting an apartment more affordable, AND it will improve the bottom line for every single business (big and small) in this state.
Nothing would be better for business than a substantial property tax decrease. An improved business climate will lead to the economic expansion that Republicans profess to want, but are never actually willing to make the hard decisions to pay for.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Martwick: I am the Chairman of the House Committee on Personnel and Pensions. The recent Supreme Court decision on pension reform made the nature of our problem crystal clear: Illinois MUST repay the debt owed to the pension systems. There is no magic solution that will make the debt go away. Not only will the problem not magically disappear, the trajectory of the next 27 years is wholly and completely unsustainable.
If we do not address our pension debt immediately, the consequences will be financial insolvency that will require massive cuts to education, health care and critical services. We simply must devise a plan immediately to pay down our pension debt. We must front-load the repayment to the systems so that we can both lower future payments and shorten the repayment schedule.
As such, the only questions that remain are 1) how do we repay that debt? 2) how can we save the most money while we repay the debt? and most importantly, 3) who is going to bear the burden of repayment.
Over the course of the last year, I have held a series of subject matter hearings on proposals to help us pay back the debt we owe to our pension systems, and to save as much money for the taxpayers as possible. As a part of those hearings, a Republican colleague (Rep. Mark Batinick) and I devised a proposal that allowed the state to offer a “buyout” of a portion of their annual COLA. This bipartisan plan was enthusiastically accepted by all four caucuses and the governor’s office and made a part of the 2018 Budget, with projected savings in the vicinity of half a billion dollars. While this does not solve our problem, it is the first of a series of cost containment measures that we have begun exploring and intend to implement.
As the amount of savings increases when more people participate in the pension buyouts, I believe we should expand the “menu” of options that we offer to retirees, so that they can find one that is attractive to them.
Furthermore, I believe we should work towards consolidating the 678 downstate police and fire pension systems into a single, IMRF-style retirement system. This would save administrative costs and would allow smaller funds to experience better returns on investments. I believe that we should implement the Tier 3 Pension system. This system would put new employees in a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution system that would be more portable for the employee and more cost effective for the state.
I also believe that Illinois should enact every possible measure to improve our credit ratings. If we restore confidence in our finances, it will be infinitely more affordable to use short term borrowing to front load our pension systems. Finally, and most importantly, we must find a dedicated stream of revenue to ensure that we are able to pay the pension debt down as quickly as possible.
According to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), adding $1 Billion per year, in addition to our required payment, will reduce the repayment schedule by 7 years and save the state $60 Billion. I have proposed a plan that would use the revenue generated by the adoption of graduated income tax rates to make that additional payment. If Illinois were to adopt this plan, we would pay down our pension debt by 2038, and we would see a $14 billion windfall in 2039, which could be used to pay for a massive tax DECREASE.
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?
Martwick: Illinois currently funds higher education at HALF the level it did a decade ago. The pension problem has balooned and Governor Rauner has slashed investment in higher ed and MAP grants in order to attempt to preserve a massive tax cut for the rich. This disinvestment has led to many program cuts and staff layoffs at state universities at the very same time these same universities were forced to increase tuition due to the cuts. Illinois students are faced with paying more for a state university that offers less. Of course they left. Who wouldn’t?
The only answer is to reverse the Rauner policy of disinvestment. In 2017, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto and ended his budget impasse, restoring funding for higher education. In 2018, for the first time in a decade, we increased funding for higher education, and enrollment has increased. Higher education is widely accepted to be one of the best investments a government can make. State universities are economic generators and they ensure that the state has an educated workforce necessary to attract new businesses. We need to continue this trend of investment into these universities so that middle class students have the confidence that they can both receive a top-notch education and be able to afford to pay for it.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Martwick: The legislature must continue to create legislation that is both constitutional and is designed to limit the chances that guns are available to people who would do harm with them. I supported (and continue to support) the gun dealer licensing act, the lethal violence order of protection, and a ban on military type assault weapons. We must continue to strengthen background check requirements as well as mandatory reporting of mental health issues that can be used to deny gun purchases by those with dangerous mental illnesses.
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?
Martwick: Illinois should adopt fair scheduling laws, in conjunction with a complete rewrite of our fair labor practice laws. I support legislation that would require employers to give advance notice of their work schedule and would compensate employees for last minute changes to that schedule. However, there are other problems that must be addressed in this changing economy. Many large retailers and companies have begun adopting a practice of limiting employees to part-time employment in order to avoid having to provide full time benefits like health care and retirement benefits.
Additionally, many companies have adopted a practice of classifying large portions of their workforce as “independent contractors.” This misclassification allows companies to deny full time employment, benefits, and most importantly avoid wage protection laws. Illinois has an obligation to ensure that Illinois has laws that require employers to act in good faith to their employees and prohibits the use of tactics to pad bottom lines at the expense of a decent life and workplace for their employees.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Yes. I support the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana. Illinois is broke. We need revenue and we need it immediately. Many states and the entire country of Canada have now legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana. These states have experienced large increases in revenue and little to no social problems with legalization. I have listened to the testimony of lawmakers from Washington and Colorado. Illinois can learn from their experiences and implement a smart and effective program and we should do it immediately.
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?
Martwick: Our growing opioid problem is a symptom that is directly related to the slash and burn policies of the Rauner administration. It is no coincidence that opioid related addiction and deaths have increased at the same time that Rauner forced massive cuts to addiction treatment. In order to solve the problem we must reinvest in addiction treatment programs, education and job training programs. These are all proven to help reduce addiction problems and they work. We must also evaluate the big pharma practice of promoting the over prescribing of opioids and create best practice guidelines for doctors.
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?
Martwick: I supported the Future Energy Jobs Act and am proud to have the endorsement of the Sierra Club because of my advocacy for green initiatives. While I supported the legislation as a compromise I remain troubled that rate increases on the middle class and poor are being used to help clean up environmental problems caused by big polluters.
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?
Martwick: Controlling the growth of Medicaid costs is essential to the future financial health of the state. The idea behind managed care is to deliver effective services to medicaid patients while using modern business-based practices to make that delivery efficient and cost-saving.
However, the managed care experiment in Illinois has been nothing short of a disaster. Rauner’s unilateral changes to Medicaid administration resulted in every taxpayers worst fears of government: Sweetheart no-bid contracts that save no money, and yet cut essential services in order to provide huge profits to the companies that are supposed to be saving us money.
This is government at its worst. While I remain open minded to the concept of managed care as a cost saving policy, it clearly has not worked for Illinois yet. We simply cannot just hand over control of Medicaid and hope that it works out. We need to create a system of approval and oversight to ensure that cost-saving measures actually save us money, without denying critical care.
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?
Martwick: Illinois is broke. Every problem that costs the state money only makes our ability to pay down our debts or provide quality education for our children that much harder. Nearly every single elected official, Democrat or Republican, agrees that criminal justice reform is not only the most humane course of action, but it has the potential to save the state millions. Thankfully our approach has been holistic, from crime prevention, to reduced sentences for non-violent offenses, to reducing recidivism.
When an inmate is serving a sentence for a crime, the best thing we can do is try to ensure that upon his or her release, he becomes a productive member of our society and avoids going back to prison. The failure to properly fund prisons and the crisis it nearly caused were a direct result of the Rauner administrations failed budget policy. Research shows that investing in preventing recidivism is one of the best investments a state can make. We should re-invest so that we can reduce our prison population and save the state money.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Martwick: The state has a moral obligation to consider how our system of criminal justice affects the person incarcerated. However, we have an even greater obligation to consider how that system affects the victims of those crimes. Thankfully, this discussion has been plentiful as we have considered and acted on criminal justice reforms. I have supported measures that steer people away from crime, provide alternative sentences, and create opportunities for ex-offenders to find employment. I will consider changes to our parole as a part of that discussion, but I will demand that the concerns and needs of victims are considered before any changes are made.
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.