On Feb. 9, Tonia Jane Khouri appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the GOP nomination in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 49th District:
My name is Tonia Khouri I’m a candidate for state representative in the 49th district. I am a wife, a mother, a small business owner and a public servant. I am on the DuPage County board as chairman of economic development I was elected in 2012, re-elected in 2014 and very proud of my record, I can talk about that later. But I am also a local business owner, my husband and I own Green T Services, which is a home services company that we started literally with one man and one truck, my husband Joe was the service and I was the office. And we now have over 27,000 customers in Chicagoland area and employ almost 200 local residents.
So my top priorities is what I hear from the people in the 49th district, is property taxes. People are literally being priced out of their homes. And what brought me into the race was the 32 percent income tax hike without any reforms, because we already pay one of the highest taxes in the nation and then we are hit with another 32 percent income tax hike without any reforms and I think the key in that phrase is ‘with no reforms.’ So one of my main reasons for going to Springfield is to lower our property taxes, but we can never balance our budget or lower our property taxes if we don’t tackle pension reform. So I’m going to be focused on pension reform, I’m going to be focused on fair and equitable property tax assessments, and consolidation. If we can do all these things we can lower people’s property taxes.
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:
TOPIC: Top priorities
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: 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 actually 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. So CPS is being cut short what they should be receiving from all of these under assessed properties and TIF districts.
To add insult to injury, the rest of the taxpayers around the state have to pick up the tab, even though we are paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation.
Tonia Jane Khouri
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives 49th district
Political/civic background: DuPage County Board Member, 2012-present
Occupation: Owner, Green T Services and DuPage County Board Member
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
TOPIC: Top district needs
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: 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 literally pricing people out of their homes, especially our senior population.
John from West Chicago currently pays $16,000 a year in property taxes. He recently bought a home of equal market value in Colorado where he would pay only $4000 a year in property taxes. Unfortunately for us, John is moving to Colorado. Taxpayers are fleeing the state in record numbers and taking their wealth and tax dollars with them. Those that are still here can’t handle any more tax increases.
Illinois loses 1 resident every 4.6 minutes to other states and millennials are leading the pack as they look elsewhere for better opportunities, lower taxes, and a more stable government.
We need to turn around the mass exodus. We are losing too many taxpayers. With millennials being the biggest age group leaving the state we are also losing our future taxpayers. Turning those two things around will increase revenue and keep people and families in the district.
TOPIC: Pension debt
QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?
ANSWER: Here’s a constitutional approach that would make a significant dent in the debt: Representative Batinick has introduced a few variations of a pension buyout. It is clearly constitutional because it is OPTIONAL. It 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. For example, a person who is set to earn a $60,000 / year pension at retirement has a net-present value cost to the state of about $1M. He could exchange that for a $30,000 / year pension and a $500,000 accelerated payment minus a small discount to the state. That discount would be the savings. We could also offer optional buyouts to move current employees into defined contribution plans, and even offer buyout for benefits like the 3% COLA. COGFA estimates show that this could save billions. With pension costs being about 25% of our budget and increasing, this is an area that desperately needs addressing.
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TOPIC: Minimum wage
QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?
ANSWER: Minimum wage should be a local issue. Minimum wage should reflect local costs, conditions, and preferences. After all, one-size shoes don’t fit all, and neither should a one-size minimum wage. For instance, it is much more expensive to live in the city of Chicago than it is in Batavia. Let local municipalities decide what is best for their residents.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: The state should stop looking for ways 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.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago? What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: See above answer.
TOPIC: Property tax freeze
QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.
ANSWER: A freeze is not enough because our property taxes are too high. Residents in the 49th district are literally priced out of their homes. We need to lower property taxes. We need to reform how property taxes are assessed, the state has to do a better job of funding education from the state level, and we need to make government deliver its services in a more efficient way. All of these things will help lower property taxes and allow Illinois residents to stay in their homes.
TOPIC: School funding
QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?
ANSWER: Our current education system is funded primarily by property taxes. Unfortunately for the Chicago Public Schools, the city of Chicago and Cook County are not paying the appropriate amount of property taxes to fund their schools. 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. So CPS is being cut short what they should be receiving from all of these under assessed properties and TIF districts.
To add insult to injury, the rest of the taxpayers around the state have to pick up the tab, even though we are paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation. One of the first pieces of legislation I will file will be to reform how property taxes are assessed.
QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.
ANSWER: 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 in an attempt to recoup costs of battling an epidemic of addiction.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: I support gun suppressors to prevent hearing loss.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: There are currently federal guidelines already in place for all gun dealers. The majority of guns used in crimes are from out of state dealers bringing guns across state lines.
QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.
ANSWER: Looking at mass murders, by and large they were carried out by mentally unstable people. Unfortunately, IL is ranked at the bottom for funding of people of mentally disabilities. Providing for mental health needs is the issue that needs to be addressed.
QUESTION: What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
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.
TOPIC: College student exodus
QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
ANSWER: We need to bring down the cost of college tuition. Some of the same things that are driving up the cost of our “job creators” are the same things driving up the costs of government. Universities are not immune from this. We must look at reforming prevailing wage, workers comp costs, and general shrinking of existing bureaucracies.
TOPIC: Gov. Rauner
QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.
ANSWER: Some of Governor Rauner’s principles and decisions I agree with are his vetoing of the tax increase, his efforts to address property taxes, and his job friendly reforms.
Some of Governor Rauner’s decisions I disagree with are the signing of HB40, and vetoing the Debt Transparency Act.