Incumbent Republican Tonia Jane Khouri is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 49th Illinois House district race. She’s is running against Democrat Karina Villa.
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.
Khouri submitted the following answers to our questionnaire, and watch the video above to find out why she’s seeking re-election.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Khouri: One of the main reasons I am running for State Representative is to lower our property taxes. Most people don’t know that Springfield can do something about our property taxes. One of the first pieces of legislation I will propose will be to reform how property taxes are assessed to ensure the City of Chicago and Cook County pay the appropriate amount of property taxes.
Several properties in the City of Chicago are under assessed. For instance, Willis Tower was recently sold for $1.5 billion, but is assessed for less than half that – $550 million. CPS is being cut short what they should be receiving from all of these under assessed properties and TIF districts leaving taxpayers in my district to make up the difference.
The people of Illinois are taxed out! We cannot afford any more tax increases.
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.
Khouri: Speaking with residents in the 49th district, their main concern is that property taxes are too high, and this pressure is causing many to start looking to live elsewhere. Our families pay the one of the highest property tax rates in the nation. Property taxes are pricing people out of their homes, especially our senior population.
2018 is a very important election for Illinoisans. I have knocked on thousands of doors over the last several months and the overwhelming concern is high property taxes. One afternoon, I met a lovely woman in West Chicago. She and her husband have six children, he’s making good money working for a union and they used to live in a beautiful home in West Chicago. They are now living in a 2-bedroom house (remember they have 6 kids) because they couldn’t afford the property taxes. She was so frustrated and angry and told me, “It’s so unfair. We work hard, we play by the rules, we pay our taxes, and yet it still isn’t enough”.
I agree – it’s not fair that property taxes have increased 6 times faster than the average household income. It’s not fair that people are leaving Illinois in droves because of high property taxes, corruption, and a general mistrust of our state government.
High property taxes are by far the number one concern for people in the 49th District. If a candidate is NOT talking about property taxes, they are completely out of touch with the district.
Who is Tonia Jane Khouri?
Her legislative district: Illinois House of Representatives 49th district Her political/civic background: DuPage County Board Member Economic Development Committee – Chair Legislative Committee, Vice Chair Public Transit – Vice Chair Finance Committee Health and Human Services Committee Judicial and Public Safety Committee Ad-Hoc Collective Bargaining Committee Board of Directors, Choose DuPage Board of Directors, DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, DuPage Workforce Board Board of Directors, Aurora Family Services Indian American Republican Organization Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce Aurora Chamber of Commerce Naperville Woman’s Club Naperville Township Committeeman Daughters of the American Revolution, Aurora Chapter Her occupation: Owner, Green T Services and DuPage County Board Member Her education: Harvard Kennedy School 2013, Senior Executives in State and Local Government Southern Illinois University 1991, Bachelor of Science: Public Relations Campaign website: ToniaKhouri.com Twitter: @tonia_khouri
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Khouri: There are very stark and important differences between me and my opponent.
First, independence. My opponent is not an independent voice for the district. She has received over $200,000 from Mike Madigan, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. My opponent has not signed the “NO Madigan Pledge” because my opponent is beholden to the funder of her campaign. On the contrary, I AM and independent voice. I have not received money from Mike Madigan or Bruce Rauner because I want to answer only to the people in the district. It is time we have representatives who represent the people’s interests and stand up for the hard-working taxpayers.
Second, priorities. My main priority is lowering property taxes because that is by far the main concern of the people in the 49th District. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, male, female, married, or single – we are all paying too much in property taxes. My opponent talks about raising property taxes which demonstrates she is completely out of touch with the district.
Third, experience. I have the experience of being a business owner and a DuPage County Board Member. I know how business works, and I know how to balance a budget. As a County Board Member, I have never voted for a tax increase. In fact, we cut our overall budget by $36.5M saving taxpayers an estimated $100M through consolidation, joint procurement, and shared services. My vision for our state government is to implement same types of reforms where it is desperately needed. My opponent has no business experience and no government experience. She is woefully unprepared and inexperienced for the job as a State Representative.
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?
Khouri: To make Illinois a more desirable place to live, the Legislature should stop raising taxes and change the culture in Springfield. There are two major reasons people are leaving Illinois. First, it’s too expensive to live here. We pay one of the highest property taxes in the nation. In fact, our property taxes have increased 6 times faster than our average household income. We must lower our property taxes. We must start looking at the spending side of the budget and not always the revenue side because all things are related back to the budget. Illinois hasn’t had a true balanced budget in almost 20 years because lawmakers always default to raising revenue instead of cutting spending and reforming how government operates.
The second reason why people are leaving because they don’t trust state government. They are tired of the corruption, cronyism, and the blatant abuse of power by politicians. I’m running for State Representative to change the culture in Springfield. I have a successful business because we created a culture of accountability, integrity, and delivering results. Unfortunately, right now, the culture in Springfield is not accountable, not demonstrating integrity, and definitely not delivering results. I’m running for State Representative to have a government that serves the people of Illinois instead of protecting the status quo because the status quo isn’t working.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Khouri: I’m glad to see this question on the survey because we will never have a balance budget or lower our property taxes without real pension reform. I supported the recently passed “Batinick Buyout” that allows individuals in the pension system to exchange a benefit for a lump sum value that would be rolled into a retirement account tax-free. With pension costs being about 25% of our budget and increasing, this is an area that desperately needs addressing.
Another proposed solution is combining pension plans. Illinois currently has 650 pension plans where surrounding states have about 12. The larger pension plans are less expensive to administer and receive better rates of return compared to the smaller plans. If we merge only the administrative costs for these plans the state could save more than $250M a year.
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?
Khouri: We need to bring down the cost of college tuition to not only help families, but to keep our intellectual talent here in Illinois. Most of a college’s costs are related to employees, and their health care and benefits which continue to get more expensive. Also, as with any governmental institution, we need to look at “administrative bloat”. There are always ways we can streamline and consolidate to make governmental institutions more efficient and effective.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Khouri: I live in the City of Aurora. Back in the 1990s, Aurora was known as the “Murder Capital” of the Midwest. But then something changed – Elected Officials called in the FBI. The FBI worked together with local law enforcement and people in the community who were committed to turning their city around. They convicted several leaders of gangs, cleaned up their streets and changed the future of Aurora. That’s how you fight crime and gun violence. It must be a collaborative effort.
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?
Khouri: Our economy is just starting to come back, but unfortunately, Illinois is far behind in the economic recovery. I would be reluctant to put any further burdens on small businesses who create 63% of net new jobs.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Khouri: I do not believe recreational marijuana should be legalized. I agree with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association that legalizing marijuana will have tremendous costs to the state such as an increase in crime, addictions, and school dropouts.
To see what the future might hold if we legalize marijuana, we don’t have to look far. The Colorado Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area puts out a comprehensive yearly report that reports the impact legalizing marijuana has had on Colorado. According to their report, marijuana-related traffic deaths more than doubled (66 percent increase). Marijuana is now the leading cause for drug treatment among youth and property crime increased 8.3% and violent crime increased 18.6% since legalization.
The state should stop looking for “quick fixes” to increase revenue to the detriment of our young people and start looking for ways to reform the structural spending of our government to balance its budget.
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?
Khouri: I am a member of the Judicial and Public Safety Committee on the DuPage County Board where in 2013, we created the DuPage Coalition against Heroin to combat the heroin epidemic in DuPage County.
We believe that heroin is a community problem that requires a community solution. That’s why DuPage County has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars in our effort to educate, prevent, and train law enforcement throughout the county.
Taking matters one step further, DuPage recently joined four other collar counties and filed a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical manufacturers to recoup costs of battling an epidemic of addiction.
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?
Khouri: Taxpayers and working families should not be forced to bailout a profitable, billion-dollar company and we should not force rate hikes on families to enrich politically connected companies. Because each individual proposal in this bill was unpopular, the politicians in both parties worked together to buy off special interest groups and opposition until they gathered enough support to pass the bill as a whole. This is exactly the type of cronyism and corporate welfare that I will oppose in Springfield.
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?
Khouri: First, we need to scrub the Medicaid rolls to rid of fraud and abuse. Second, there needs to be more checks and balances to ensure that people are currently eligible to receive Medicaid.
But the best way to ensure Medicaid’s long-term viability is economic growth. Turn people from receiving governmental aid to paying taxes is not only good for Illinois’ economy, it is good for the overall success and quality of life for Illinois residents.
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?
Khouri: Although this issue is happening in the Northeast, if inmates here in Illinois are not receiving the mental, spiritual, and medicinal care that is needed, we should have a look at it.
As a DuPage County Board Member, I have voted to fund Just of DuPage every year. Just of DuPage is a nonprofit organization that works to meet the needs of inmates in the DuPage County Jail and their families.
Operated primarily by volunteers, they offer programs that deal with addiction recovery, education, spiritual enrichment, and social services. They are changing lives for the better and reducing the amount of recidivism.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Khouri: A concern I have is the number of criminals that are on the street even though they have been convicted of multiple offences. The criminal who shot and killed Chicago Police Commander, Paul Baur, had been previously arrested for numerous charges for drugs, armed robbery and gun possession and yet was free on the streets of Chicago.
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.