Republican incumbent Tom Morrison faces Democrat Maggie Trevor in the 54th district Illinois House race.
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.
Morrison submitted the following responses, and watch the video above to find out why he’s running.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Morrison: I am focused on meaningful pension reform, property tax relief and essential business reforms we need to grow the overall Illinois economy.
Illinois has $250 billion pension and health care liabilities, and the longer we delay dealing with this, the more difficult our financial problems will be to solve. We also need to address the out-migration of residents—our tax base and talent pool. One way to accomplish this would be to lower property taxes and enact policies that will lead to job growth. High taxes and bad policies are driving people out of our great state.
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.
Morrison: What I have heard going to door to door is the concern for the high property taxes in Illinois. Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country and my constituents want property tax relief. Related issues to property taxes are pension reform and unfunded mandate relief. Almost every mayor in my district has mentioned the need for pension reform and mandate relief as a way of relieving escalating property taxes. The expansion of gambling across the state and at Arlington Park racecourse is another issue. The extension of IL Route 53 beyond Lake-Cook Road is another issue that affects residents and businesses in my district.
Who is Tom Morrison?
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 54th District
His political/civic background: Current State Representative
His occupation: Former Small Business Owner, Former Teacher
His education: Hillsdale College, B.A. in History
Campaign website: morrison4staterep.com
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Morrison: There are many differences between me and my opponent. For starters, she has not refused to vote for Michael Madigan for Speaker of the House, whereas I have not and will not vote for Madigan for Speaker. My opponent claims to be an “independent,” yet she has received over $310,000 to date from the Democratic Party of Illinois, of which Madigan is the chairman. He is the only state legislative leader in the nation to also serve as a party chairman. I have an actual record of voting against or standing against my party leadership on consequential bills or positions when it was warranted. She supports raising taxes, and I am opposed to tax increases. My opponent will vote to keep the status quo and will not support the kind of reforms we need to turn our state around.
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?
Morrison: One of the first things we need to do is lower taxes and/or enact actual reforms to the way we govern at the local and state level. We need to give residents confidence that the political games and inaction of the past are over. We also need to make Illinois more business friendly. Currently, Chief Executive Magazine ranks Illinois the third worst state in the country for doing business. In addition, Illinois has the highest workers’ compensation rates in the Midwest, making it difficult to attract jobs and opportunities to the Land of Lincoln. Illinois must take steps such as this and other meaningful reforms to reverse the out-migration trends.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Morrison: I have long been an advocate for real pension reform. According to Moody’s, Illinois’ actual pension debt is closer to $250 billion.
Pension debt is affecting our credit rating and making it difficult for the state to meet other financial obligations. The Courts have not allowed even modest changes to our pension systems, which means we have to look at changing our Constitution if we are going to fix the pension crisis in Illinois. We need to move all new hires into a defined contribution plan, and we need to end compounding COLA’s on a go-forward basis for retirement benefits.
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?
Morrison: We know that schools in other states aggressively target students in Illinois and try to convince the best and the brightest from Illinois to go to school elsewhere. Often times these schools are successful in luring Illinois kids out of Illinois.
Illinois universities need to do a better job of marketing and promoting themselves to Illinois students. We also need to look at the sort of reforms Purdue University in Indiana is pursuing to keep tuition and fees affordable for its students. We need to demand more accountability from Illinois universities and make sure the money taxpayers invest in these institutions is being spent wisely.
Throwing additional money (the state doesn’t have, by the way… see answers above) at Illinois universities is not going to fundamentally solve our problems.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Morrison: The most important thing we can do is enforce the laws we already have. Light sentencing and an inability to properly prosecute gun violence cases in Chicago has resulted in criminals getting back on the street and allowing these criminals to commit more crime. Before we enact new laws, it would make sense to actually enforce the laws we already have.
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?
Morrison: Government does not need to get involved in the scheduling policies of private businesses. As a small business owner myself, with 10 full-time employees and another 10 or so part-time employees, it was smart management for us to try to best accommodate our employees, their needs, along with the ebb and flow of the work we had to do for our customers. We built mutual trust with our employees, and their subsequent loyalty and job satisfaction helped us grow rapidly as a company as a result.
Overall, we have enough business regulations in Illinois. We do not need more. The 2017 Illinois Administrative Code contained 259,832 restrictions and just under 15.1 million words. If a person spent 40 hours per week and read at an average of 300 words per minute, it would take 21 weeks just to read the entire 2017 Illinois Administrative Code. It is time to simplify these rules and regulations and make Illinois more attractive to employers, otherwise employees will be harder pressed to even have hours to schedule—they won’t have a job.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Morrison: Legalizing recreational marijuana is a bad idea. It is true, recreational marijuana is bringing in money to some states, but these revenues are being offset by the costs associated with the extra policing needed as a result of legalizing marijuana. Crime and accident rates have gone up in Colorado, and many are blaming legalization of marijuana for the jump. Furthermore, employers who need employees in sensitive positions and/or positions involving heavy equipment or risks to the general public are having difficulty finding employees who are drug-free.
We need to see what the long-term impact of legalization of recreational marijuana has on places like Colorado before we jump into legalizing it here in Illinois.
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?
Morrison: One thing the Legislature can do is hold additional hearings to see if there is anything we can do at the state level to make sure prescriptions are not being over-prescribed. We need to hear from county health departments on what they are doing to educate families about the dangers of prescriptions and to make sure potent drugs are not ending up in the hands of minors.
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?
Morrison: I am all for a comprehensive approach to energy. I think we need to welcome new and cleaner forms of energy production, but the state should not pick winners and losers. I voted against the bill for several reasons, but one of them is that Exelon should not have been able to receive from ratepayers $2 Billion in additional fees over the next 10 years to sustain two of their money-losing nuclear power plants. It is likely that federal and state policies on renewable energy production have distorted the marketplace and contributed to the lack of profitability of these facilities. A far better strategy would’ve been to level the playing field among energy producers rather than forcing Illinois ratepayers to pay more than necessary. Illinois is an excess energy producer, and this kind of bailout unnecessarily hurts Illinois businesses and consumers.
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?
Morrison: We need to make sure Medicaid operates as it was designed: to provide medical care for the truly needy and those with severe health problems who have nowhere else to turn. To ensure long-term viability, we should pursue managed care as well as ensure only Illinois citizens are receiving Medicaid dollars.
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?
Morrison: I think we need to look at ways to reform our prison system. I am all for identifying ways to help prisoners find success outside of the prison walls. We need to seriously look at what we are doing in our prisons because right now the only thing prisoners seem to be learning in prison is how to be better criminals when they get out. The Legislature should absolutely lead on these issues. We need to look at other states and see what other states doing to reduce recidivism and help prisoners become productive citizens.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Morrison: I am open to this. I would need to see specific legislation first before committing one way or the other. I remain concerned about those convicted of violent crimes or crimes of a sexual nature. These individuals were locked up for a reason, and the safety and welfare of the general public takes precedence over those legitimately convicted.
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.