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Illinois House 58th District Republican nominee: Rick Lesser

Video by Rich Hein

Republican Fredric Byran “Rick” Lesser is opposing Democrat Bob Morgan in the 58th Illinois House district in the north suburbs.

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.

Lesser submitted the following responses:


Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.

Lesser: There are three main reasons I am running for State Representative that I will make my top three priorities: Enact term limits, balance the budget, and reform pensions. We need everyday people to fix Illinois for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

First, we need to enact term limits. Our state government is calcified by old men who have been in power for decades, including Speaker of the House Mike Madigan who has been in office since 1971. These politicians serve special interests instead of doing what is in the best interests of the taxpayers back home.

For Mike Madigan, who is also the Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, this has been a very long and lucrative career. He has profited off the system by helping the wealthiest and most politically powerful people in Illinois avoid paying their property taxes, pushing those taxes onto the rest of us. Madigan rules Springfield with an iron fist. He created a system where not a single piece of legislation can make it onto the floor without his approval, even if every other legislator is in favor of the bill. We, the taxpayers of Illinois, cannot even amend our own Illinois Constitution, because it requires Madigan’s approval.

We need term limits desperately. It’s time these politicians who created our problems got out of the way so everyday people can fix our state. Public service was never supposed to be a career. Our founding fathers envisioned a government run by citizen legislators. Instead, our government is dominated by lifelong professional politicians who earn lucrative salaries and pensions. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we need to return to a system where our elected officials are serving us.

Second, we must also balance our budget. The only way our children and grandchildren will find opportunity here is if we fix the fiscal disaster that politicians have created. We need to balance the budget so we can sustainably fund necessary services, lower property taxes, and increase economic development.

The first step is to stop borrowing money we don’t have to pay for services we can’t afford. We need to cut any spending that is not absolutely essential, so we can focus our spending on important services like supporting those who cannot support themselves.

Springfield needs to stop turning its nose up at efforts to increase efficiency and decrease costs. Private industry has become tremendously more efficient and productive thanks to technological improvements, yet government continues to be stuck in the stone ages, refusing to save money for taxpayers. State government has also been artificially increasing costs for taxpayers by requiring all governments to pay the highest possible rate for public work, when paying fair market value instead would reduce costs significantly.

Another way to reduce costs is to address our $14 billion backlog of unpaid bills. The State of Illinois voluntarily pays as much as 12% interest on these past due bills, which has cost taxpayers over $1 billion over the past few years. This interest isn’t being paid to the nursing homes or social services that need the money; it’s paid to debt holding companies owned by retired politicians who have found yet another way to profit off the system. We need to retire this debt, and in the meantime, stop voluntarily spending away taxpayer money on interest, because as rates rise this debt will become more pressing.

Finally, we need to dramatically reduce the number of governments in Illinois. We have more units of local government than any other state, including states two and three times our size. Consolidating governments would streamline processes, eliminate redundancies, and decrease the number of politicians with the power to levy taxes. This would lead to substantial tax savings.

If we can take these commonsense steps, we can stop losing families and businesses to neighboring states who long ago figured out the need for fiscal sanity and balanced budgets. For instance, all you have to do to see economic development is drive just north of the border to Kenosha. If our state finally gets its act together, we can create our own economic boom here in Illinois.

This means higher wages for working class people. It means opportunities for low income Illinoisans to reach the middle class and beyond. It means futures for our children and grandchildren, giving them incentive to put their roots down here instead of seeking greener pastures elsewhere.

It also means lower taxes for over-burdened taxpayers. Illinoisans pay among the highest taxes in the entire country, including the 2nd highest property taxes, sky-high sales taxes, and ever-increasing income taxes. With a return to fiscal responsibility, we can generate true tax relief for Illinoisans.

Third, we need to finally reform pensions. It’s long past time that we solved our public pension crisis. With anywhere from $140 billion to $250 billion in unfunded pension liability, this debt is a dark cloud hanging over Illinois, bringing us to the brink of bankruptcy and scaring away businesses and potential employers. This is an immense problem that we must address now.

This isn’t the fault of our teachers, police officers, and firefighters who served our communities for years. They did their part. The problem was caused by politicians in Springfield. They intentionally overestimated the return on investment, underestimated the life expectancy of the employees, and failed to contribute into the funds. They knew what they were doing, yet they kept making empty promises to their supporters in order to get re-elected.

This crisis is hurting everyone in Illinois, and we all have a vested interest in solving the problem. The first step when you find yourself in a deep hole is to stop digging. We need to move to a system where all employees hired from here on will get a defined contribution plan, like those of us in the private sector, not a defined benefit plan with compounding interest.

We then need to repeal Article 13 Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution, which would finally allow us to pass fair, meaningful, and sustainable pension reform in Illinois that provides public workers consideration in their pensions while reducing the unfunded liability.

We cannot continue to kick the can down the road. When residents flee Illinois, their portion of the debt still has to be paid by someone, which means the burden becomes even heavier for the rest of us. The longer we procrastinate, the bigger this problem will grow.

By taking these commonsense steps, we can stop losing families and businesses to neighboring states. We can create our own economic boom here in Illinois, leading to higher wages, increased opportunities, and lower taxes for our over-burdened taxpayers.


Who is Rick Lesser?

He’s running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 58th District

His political/civic background:

  • Lake Bluff Village Board of Trustees, 2003-2011
  • Former President Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce
  • Former President Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Rotary Club
  • Former President Lake County Bar Association
  • Former President Lake County Bar Foundation
  • Former President Lake County Estate Planning Council
  • Former President Deerfield Optimist Club

His occupation: Small Business Owner & Estate Planning Attorney

His education:

  • Bachelor’s Degree from University of Illinois
  • J.D. from University of Michigan School of Law

Campaign website: LesserForIL.com


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.

Lesser: The fact that we have not had a balanced budget severely effects the 58th District. Without a balanced budget, the citizens of this district have become more and more over-burdened by taxes. That includes high property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. If we can get a handle on our fiscal issues, we will stop losing people, jobs, and businesses in our district to neighboring states.

Another concern is that the state takes more money from the citizens of this district than it puts in. The state is stifling the opportunity people can have in this district because they are using the tax money from this district and putting it elsewhere. The taxpayers see little to no return on their investment.

Third, the property values of homes across the district are decreasing. Overtaxing and spending more than we bring in is diminishing the value of our homes. As an estate planning attorney, I have seen this firsthand. In Lake County, for example, residential real estate decreased 2% while nationally it increased over 8% during the same time frame. Taking these commonsense steps will encourage people to stay in the district to start their family and create a business here.


SUN-TIMES 2018 ILLINOIS VOTING GUIDE


What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?

Lesser: First, I will not vote for Mike Madigan as Speaker of the House. We need everyday people to fix Illinois for the sake of our children and grandchildren. That means it is time for the politicians who created our state’s problems to step aside so real change can happen. If elected, I will reject and refuse a pension plan for what is a part time job. I am also voluntarily term limiting myself to serving no more than 8 years in office, if the voters choose to elect me. I would be honored to represent the people of the 58th District, and if given that honor I will lead by example. I will also fight for a balanced budget so we can fund necessary services, lower property taxes, and increase economic development in the 58th District.

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?

Lesser: Our legislature needs to create opportunity in our state. Opportunity for the younger generation, opportunity for families, and opportunity for businesses. This opportunity starts by getting our state’s fiscal house in order.

I wasn’t intending to run for State Representative. Admittedly, I’m having fun spending my free time with my two-year-old grandson, who lives just eight houses away! But when I was asked to step up, I knew I had to do it for my grandson.

With thirty thousand people fleeing Illinois every year, equivalent to the population of Highland Park, would my grandson even have a future in this state? The thought of our grandson potentially not wanting to stay here is heartbreaking for me and my wife. We live in a beautiful community full of wonderful people. Our state has so many positives, including educational opportunities, cultural values, and transportation advantages.

Yet we’re missing the thing every young person really needs: opportunity. Our young people don’t want anything handed to them, they know they have to work in order to build their future. But they need opportunity so they can harness their energy, growth, and potential. They need growing businesses, increasing wages, and thriving communities that can support a modern lifestyle.

I want my grandson to prosper right here in Illinois. But, he can’t do that without opportunity. We need to pass on a better Illinois for our children and grandchildren. Time is running out for us to get our act together.

In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?

Lesser: This isn’t the fault of our teachers, police officers, and firefighters who served our communities for years. They did their part. The problem was caused by politicians in Springfield. They intentionally overestimated the return on investment, underestimated the life expectancy of the employees, and failed to contribute into the funds.

We need to stop kicking the can down the road. It is long past time that we solved our pension crisis. This crisis is hurting everyone in Illinois, and we all have a vested interest in solving the problem. The first step when you find yourself in a deep hole is to stop digging, especially when that hole is over $130 billion deep.

We need to move to a system where all employees hired from here on will get a defined contribution plan, like those of us in the private sector, not a defined benefit plan with compounding interest. We then need to repeal Article 13 Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution, which would finally allow us to pass fair, meaningful, and sustainable pension reform in Illinois that provides public workers consideration in their pensions while reducing the unfunded liability.

We need to honor the state’s obligations to retired public employees and to those near retirement, but we need to reform pensions for employees with less than 10 years of service.

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?

Lesser: College freshmen are leaving Illinois for the same reason people are leaving Illinois to live elsewhere – there are less opportunities for them here. They are going to states who have fiscal integrity and can provide them with better tuition prices and financial help than colleges here in Illinois.

Students can go to other states and get just as good of an education for a fraction of the cost. If we can get our fiscal house in order, our public schools would not have to charge more for tuition, which would help keep Illinois students in Illinois, and also draw people from out-of-state into our schools. And if we can make Illinois a place where young people can prosper, our state can once again be the destination for talent that it used to be.

What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?

Lesser: The legislature should ban bump-stocks. That would be a significant first step. There is no reason why people should be allowed to make legal guns into illegal guns. Also, we need to have effective background checks. Our background checks should ensure that mentally unstable individuals do not have access to purchase 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?

Lesser: No, the Illinois Legislature should not pass a “fair scheduling” law. We already over-burden and over-regulate our businesses. We have an unfriendly business environment already, that is why businesses are leaving Illinois for neighboring states. We should not give businesses another reason to leave our state. We want businesses to grow here in Illinois, to create jobs and increase economic opportunities, which would incentivize businesses to adopt fair scheduling rules on their own, because workers will flock to opportunities at companies that treat their employees best.

Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.

Lesser: I have an open mind on this. Legalizing marijuana would reduce the cost of incarceration and also increase revenue for our state. I don’t believe this should be done strictly for economic reasons, as we must also ensure it is sound policy, but it is a conversation I am open to having.

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?

Lesser: The numbers and facts should discourage physicians licensed by the state from prescribing opioids in unnecessary amounts. Medical marijuana has been passed as a substitute and alternative to opioids. The anti-overdose medication, Naloxone, should be available and provided to medical providers and police departments. Also, physicians need to accurately record the diagnosis that the opioid is treating. We should take a serious look at alternatives and ways we can reduce the amount of opioids given to patients.

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?

Lesser: I support anything that will strengthen our economy in Illinois, especially if it improves energy efficiency and helps care for our environment. Our economic “recovery,” if you can call it that, has dramatically lagged that of the rest of the country, including surrounding states. However, in the future, I would prefer more broad actions that do not benefit a single sector of the economy, which often comes at the expense of another sector. We need to make this state more welcoming for job creators and entrepreneurs overall, which will help jumpstart our economy and take advantage of the economic boom the rest of the country is experiencing.

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?

Lesser: Illinois should provide only the benefits that the federal government funds and should not provide excess benefits, bringing our benefits and costs more even with neighboring states. We must also ensure we are continuing to weed out fraud and abuse. This will allow Medicaid to properly benefit people in need and function as it is intended to. In regards to managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries, I certainly support making healthcare decisions based on the individual’s best interest.

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?

Lesser: The road to recovery for many who are incarcerated is helping rehabilitate them into society, so in theory I support giving inmates opportunities for employment. However, looking at the lack of a state budget and our ever-increasing taxes, it is clear that we need to save money in every matter we can, so additional spending isn’t likely something we will be able to pursue or sustain. If it requires state funds, then employing incarcerated inmates is not the best use of our funds.

Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?

Lesser: Yes, because an incarcerated prisoner costs the state $167,000 per year. Reducing those cots by paroling nonviolent offenders may help reduce our budget deficit. We should examine this more closely and pursue it for nonviolent inmates.

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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.