Republican Peter Breen is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 48th district race in the Illinois House. Breen faces Democrat Terra Costa Howard in the general election.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations 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.
These are the answers Breen submitted to our questionnaire.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Breen:Too many Illinoisans feel they must uproot and leave the state they call home. Senior citizens are taxed out of their homes, or are just tired of supporting a state government they see as disconnected and corrupt. Students are heading to college out of state, never to return. Families are packing up for places with more and better paying jobs.
The solutions are not easy, but they are simple. Lower the tax burden on our residents and businesses—both income taxes and property taxes have to come down. Stop out-of-control spending at the state level, which is driving tax and fee increases. Embrace reform measures like Fair Maps, to ensure that legislators represent whole communities, not sliced up narrow groups of partisans. Our broken state government is the primary obstacle standing in the way of turning our state around.
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.
Breen:The latest studies indicate that, for every tax dollar the residents of DuPage County send to Springfield, only 31 cents come back. That’s a lot of money sent to Springfield, with very little to show for it.
For our district, when we identify a local issue that requires some action by the state, I’ve usually able to secure those changes. For instance, I was able to work with Sen. Chris Nybo and others on getting IDOT approval to bring in the new Mariano’s on Roosevelt Rd in Lombard. He and I also successfully sponsored a bill to allow a local nonprofit, SCARCE, collect cooking grease and oil, which had been prohibited under state law. And when a popular local microbrewery, Noon Whistle, were prohibited by state law from using innovative “360-lid” technology (allowing removal of nearly all the top of a beverage can, making it more like a cup), I drafted the bill to get that changed.
The people and businesses of our district are burdened the most by out-of-control spending and tax increases, onerous mandates on businesses and local governments, and excessive debt, all caused by past mostly Democrat-led majorities of the General Assembly.
Who is Peter Breen?
His legislative District: 48th Representative District His political/civic background: State Representative, 2015-present, Floor Leader, 2017-present Trustee, 2011-2014, & Acting President, 2012-2013, Village of Lombard His occupation: Constitutional Attorney & State Representative His education: Juris Doctor, University of Notre Dame Bachelor of Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Vanderbilt University Diploma, Naperville North High School Campaign website:votebreen.com
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Breen:I’ve been an independent advocate for the people of my district during my two terms in the Illinois House. There’s no person or group that can claim to “own” me.
However, my opponent is almost entirely funded by House Speaker Mike Madigan and his political operation. She’s staffed with his people. She uses the talking points his people provide her.
My opponent sat on a school board for 8 years, and she voted to increase property taxes every single year, including during the worst depths of the Great Recession. She even broke ties several years to raise property taxes. And those were large increases, some years as high as 12% or 15%, well more than the rate of inflation. My opponent raises taxes, and she has zero credibility in addressing the massive property tax problem plaguing our state.
I’ve repeatedly voted to freeze property taxes, and I support reducing and capping them. This isn’t new for me: while on the Lombard Village Board, I secured a freeze, the first property tax relief the people of the Lilac Village had experienced in 20 years. I also led the effort as Acting Village President to cut half a million dollars from our annual budget, with no loss of services, and return the money to the people by permanently eliminating the village vehicle sticker. If you drive in Lombard, you might see some folks still have a sticker on their car–that’s from 2012-2013, the final year of that most-despised fee.
Finally, my opponent has pointed to abortion either as the primary reason she decided to run against me or the only issue she would discuss in interviews with reporters. That sort of single-issue focus doesn’t fit our district, and it isn’t the reason Illinois state government is broke and bankrupt either. On abortion, my opponent supports taxpayer funding of elective abortions, while I do not believe tax dollars should be used for elective abortions. But I’m focused cleaning up the fiscal mess in Springfield and shining a bright light on the special interests who have taken hold of so much of Illinois government, at all levels.
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?
Breen:We should be terribly alarmed by our population loss. Our consumer base is powerful. But as we lose residents, the corporate and business base follows them out of state. Our start-up businesses, our education opportunities, and employment opportunities will all suffer. Reversing the trend means making Illinois a more hospitable place to live, with regard to our taxing policy, and a better place to start, expand, and run a business.
Our border state neighbors take full advantage of our poor policies with regard to property taxes, sales taxes, fees, and regulations. When a huge corporation chooses a location a few miles north in Kenosha County, it takes advantage of our highly skilled, highly educated work force, but another state realizes the lion’s share of the benefits of that corporation. Many residents will move a few miles to take even greater advantage of lower tax policies overall, and a lower cost of living. This scenario continues to happen to Illinois.
We have to lower the tax burden. Create policy that offers businesses a long-term vision of an Illinois that is hospitable to them and their growth. These are things that could happen quickly with the right governance. The reasons for not doing so are utterly selfish and self-dealing government policies. It’s not too late yet, but we are absolutely on the verge of passing a point where it is.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Breen:The General Assembly refuses to grapple with substantive pension reform. The Illinois Democrats rely heavily on government employee unions for campaign workers and dollars, and those government unions have taken a hard line against any pension reform. And the many government workers in downstate districts have firmly instructed their legislators, “don’t touch our pensions.” But these attitudes have us hurtling toward a future where our (clearly unsustainable) pension liabilities can’t be paid. The problem stems from politicians over-promising pension benefits, mainly in the 1980’s and 1990’s, leading to a 1000% increase in liability over the past 30 years.
The General Assembly should do everything possible to stem the tide of increasing pension liabilities. We should immediately convene a Blue Ribbon Commission, bringing together the top legal and economic experts, to lay out every option possibly available to us. That should lead into the broadest possible public, statewide debate on this crisis. Since Illinois politicians either refuse or feel they can’t address this issue, avenues should be explored to put the matter directly to the People.
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?
Breen:The causes for our college decline are both short-term and long-term. First off, we’re not competitive enough in the short-term for the students looking at schools. Our kids who in years past would attend an Illinois school are headed out of state for a variety of immediate reasons, including because they got a better financial package or because they felt the programs offered by an out-of-state school would better meet their educational aims.
A review of the data from the past few years shows that, for each of our state universities, the Illinois state government spends more money per pupil than nearly any other competing institution–and at the same time, our schools charge a higher tuition per student than their competing schools! This imbalance, where we’re pumping in more tax dollars but still charging more than competing schools, needs to be addressed openly and honestly.
The long-term issues relate to the desire of families and businesses to stay here. If families don’t see a future for themselves in Illinois, why would their kids bother attending school in-state? If there are more and better jobs elsewhere, why stay? We have to fix our broader governmental problems before we will stem the long-term tide of students leaving.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Breen:This term, I worked with Rep. Kathy Willis (D-Addison) to craft the state’s new Firearms Restraining Order law, which provides a mechanism to get guns out of the hands of provably dangerous individuals. That law is a significant step forward to addressing the issue of gun violence. I’ve also supported the licensing of firearms dealers, to stop the illegal flow of guns into the hands of criminals, and increased penalties on those who commit crimes with guns.
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?
Breen:At this point, we need to focus on reducing the burdens on businesses, and especially those facing small businesses, and help them create jobs and economic growth. In reviewing any regulation, my first question is “what are our competing states doing?”–that means reviewing the policies of the states that are now home to former Illinois businesses.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Breen:The law enforcement community is strongly against a full-scale legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana, and their concerns should be thoroughly investigated, discussed, and analyzed before legalization is considered.
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?
Breen:Opioid abuse has destroyed families and taken too many of our loved ones. I’m in favor of an all-of-the-above approach on this subject, whether in looking at alternatives to opioids, education campaigns, and law enforcement and criminal justice reforms, among others.
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?
Breen:I supported the Future Energy Jobs Act, and I was recognized this year by the Illinois Environmental Council with a 100% rating for my support of legislation protecting our environment. The Act appears to be working, but due to its complexity, it’s taken a while to fully implement. There will inevitably be bumps in the road, which the General Assembly should monitor and intervene to address if necessary.
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?
Breen:Every state has different ways of providing care for those on Medicaid, so as we look at reforms, there are myriad examples to draw upon. Whether you’re looking at managed care, or some form of individual savings accounts, or some of the innovative new medical practice models sweeping the country, let’s take an honest look. The point is to get the best care possible at the best price, and if there are better ways to achieve that goal, we should assess them.
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?
Breen:One of the purposes of prison is reformative, to provide the support necessary to the individual to be a productive member of society upon release. Whatever we need to do to bring that about, we should do. Work skills are absolutely critical to this–without those skills, you can’t get and keep a job. If folks who have been in prison can find good jobs after release, the incentives to commit crimes in the future obviously go way down.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Breen:At this time, with the terrible violence plaguing our communities, we need to first focus on protecting innocent folks across our state who are at risk of grave harm. The victims need to be our top priority.
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 ofthe PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported togetherhere.