On Feb. 9, James M. “Jim” Caffrey appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic nomination in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 47th District:
My name is Jim Caffrey. I am running for state representative in District 47. I graduated from the University of Michigan. I spent the next ten years working in and out of democratic politics. During that period of time I also spent two years in the Peace Corps and I went back to graduate school and got my MBA from Boston University. In the last 20 years I’ve been working in business. Most recently, for the last fourteen years for Clorox.
I have three top priorities. The first one is to select a new Speaker of the House. The second one is to end gerrymandering and the third one is to get our financial house in order and to do that by paying back our unpaid bills and finding a solution to our pension crisis. I would like to work with other freshman legislators, perhaps create a freshman caucus. To work on making a new selection for speaker of the house. For the end of gerrymandering, I think, we need a new redistricting process. I think to model it on what Iowa does, where they have independent commission work on it and then it goes to the legislature for a simple up or down vote. And then for our financial house in order, we need to pay back or unpaid bills and we need to make a priority of our budget. Well, with regards to our pension crisis we need to reamortize our debt of over fifty years and have a level payment system over that period of time and mandate that we pay into it. Then going forward we need to create a retirement system that is stable and secure for our current employees, but also sustainable and manageable for the state of Illinois. Then we have GARS. I would like to eliminate the GARS retirement system and make it a simple 401 k plan. Because GARS general assembly retirement plan is designed for elected officials. Elected officials are technically a part-time job, they don’t need a full-time pension plan for them.
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. Caffrey 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: I have three campaign priorities:
Select a new Speaker of the House
Putting the state’s fiscal house in order
Prioritizing the payment of overdue bills
New Speaker: Illinois deserves a new Speaker of the House. During Mike Madigan’s years as Speaker, Illinois has experienced significant financial deterioration and the state’s reputation has taken a beating nationally. We need a new Speaker who is able to compromise with other elected officials to find solutions to our budget problems.
End Gerrymandering: We need to stop the practice of drawing legislative districts for purely partisan purposes. Finding a fair process to draw districts will create more competitive campaigns and provide better representation for our state.
Putting Financial House in order: My priorities will be to pay the billions in overdue bills and resolve our pension crisis so the state has the funding available to invest in education and the restoration of our social service network.
Prioritizing the payment of overdue bills:
Create a short-term plan to repay all old debt as part of the budgeting process.
Borrow as much as possible, at rates lower than the interest currently being paid on the late bills themselves, to save interest expenses (some of this has been done already, but I suspect more could be done).
Reduce late payment interest penalties on future bills. Yes, we should pay our bills on time, but there is no reason why late payment charges go up to 12%. Let’s find a way to reduce those interest rates that are more in line with what other states pay.
Reduce our unfunded liability: We should re-amortize our pension debt over the next 50 years to get it somewhere between 80-100% funded. Paying a level amount would reduce future spikes in payments and spreading out the payments over a longer period of time (currently set to end in 2045) would reduce the amount paid annually. We should also make it mandatory that pensions payments are paid in full each year.
Create a sound retirement system for the future. All options should be on the table including traditional pensions and 401K style plans. I am hopeful that the Tier III pension system (that passed his summer) can be a starting point to constructing a program that offers a stable and secure income for retirees, and a more affordable model for state government.
Illinois should phase out the current GARS pension (General Assembly Retirement System) and replace it with a defined contribution plan. Elected officials in Illinois should not run for office for the pension plan. A DC plan during the years that a person is an elected official should be sufficient.
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives 47th district
Political/civic background: I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1987 and then worked in national politics off and on for roughly 10 years. I worked on four Democratic campaigns including positions on Mike Dukakis’ 1988 and Paul Tsongas’ 1992 presidential campaigns, respectively. During that same 10 year time period I served two years in the Peace Corps and earned an MBA from Boston University. I worked in business for 20 years, with last the 14 years at Clorox. I resigned this past July to enter this race for State Representative.
My family moved to Elmhurst in 2006. I have been very involved in many community organizations including volunteer work as a Democratic Precinct Committeeman, PTA Secretary at Churchville Middle School, and board member of Elmhurst Youth Baseball.
Occupation: Clorox – Sales
Customer Team Manager – White Space
Resigned from Clorox in July 2017 to run for this office.
Education: University of Michigan, AB Political Science 1987
American College in Paris, Winter Semester 1986
Boston University, MBA, 1995
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: A permanent “Fly Quiet” program that properly balances the impact of overnight flights from O’Hare
Resolving the expansion of I-294 in a manner that doesn’t unfairly impact Hinsdale and other areas in the southern part of District 47
Economic redevelopment of the McDonald’s campus in Oak Brook
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: Yes, I support re-amortizing the pension debt (see earlier question for more detail). I would prefer to not go down the road of amending the constitution to reduce the liability of the pension debt. I cannot say, however, that I would never, ever support such a move.
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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: Yes, Illinois should increase the minimum wage. I don’t have a target amount, yet, but it has not been raised since 2010 and that is too long for workers to not get a raise
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. Legalizing marijuana in a tightly regulated fashion will promote a safer product, reduce crime rates, and allow police to focus on more important issues. Some additional tax revenue will also be raised in the process, but that is secondary to the other benefits noted here.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago? What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: I could support more casinos (and possibly racinos) in Illinois, including Chicago. I would prefer that Illinois grow its economy through other industries, but understand that it may be necessary to expand casinos in order to mitigate the money and businesses going to neighboring states.
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: I do not favor a property tax freeze at this time. It would put too much pressure on local governments who currently have no choice but to rely heavily on property taxes.
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: Yes, Illinois should spend more on schools. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to make that type of investment until the state has a plan to pay back its overdue bills and solve the pension crisis.
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: Opioid abuse is a very difficult issue. The state will need to attack it from many different angles including the prioritization of treatment over jail, improved prevention education, prescription guidelines, and proper health care coverage. I would like to see more efforts like the one in Lake County that has begun a program called “A Way Out.” This effort allows people in need to get assistance from police stations without the getting in trouble. The station connects folks in need of help to inpatient or outpatient treatment centers.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Maybe. Silencers are legal in most states and very little crime is attributed to silencers because of strict national legislation that I support. I would like to review the data on the impact experienced in other states that legalized silencers before making a final decision.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. I support HB 2541. Additional oversight to ensure gun stores are operating properly is a small price to pay to help reduce the illegal sale of firearms.
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: I don’t know. While I empathize with the sentiment in this possible legislation, I’m concerned that someone who has not been convicted of anything can have his/her gun(s) taken away.
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?
ANSWER: Yes, I support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and I support the path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries. Funding Medicaid expenses must be a priority in our budget planning process. However, we must continue to look for innovative ways to reduce Medicaid costs like expanded managed care.
Understanding that the costs may be prohibitive, at least in the short term because of the state’s fiscal situation, I am interested in a exploring a public option for health insurance in Illinois. It could be Medicaid expansion, or something else.
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: The best way to attract Illinois students to attend college in state is have a healthy economy and a strong and reliable investment in higher education. Similar to other areas of concern in this state, the economic growth and investment will only happen once we re-establish trust between voters and elected officials and regain control of our fiscal situation (as discussed in the very first question).
Illinois does not have too many state universities. We do have too many university boards. We should consolidate into one university board, like Wisconsin, and work to streamline programs and costs.
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: Three issues in which I agree with Governor Rauner:
Passage of FEJA (Future Energy Jobs Act)
His signature to end the “trigger law” and to support women’s reproductive health care (HB-40)
His efforts toward developing a campus on the South Loop for the Discovery Partners Institute
Three issues in which I disagree with Governor Rauner
His unwillingness to negotiate without prior approval of his turnaround agenda
His veto of the budget bill during the summer of 2017
His position on “Right to Work”