Running for: House of Representatives District 63
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: McHenry County Welfare Services Commission (past); McHenry County Storm Water Management Commission (past); Woodstock City Councilman (past) and Mayor of Woodstock (present); McHenry County appointed Director to the Regional Transportation Authority Board (present).
Occupation: Retired College Professor & Administrator
Education: BS, Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Illinois; MS, Agricultural Economics, University of Illinois; MA, Instructional Strategies, Rockford College; PhD, International Development, Louisiana State University
Campaign website: people4briansager.com
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. Brian Sager submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
The State relies predominantly on revenues from sales and income taxes to cover costs of education, health care and other primary services. With the closure of businesses and resulting layoffs, these revenues have dropped significantly, creating a huge state revenue shortfall. With the health crisis yet to be resolved, the shortfall continues to grow.
In order to address the shortfall, the State must aggressively promote and support the passage of the Federal “Heroes Act” proposed to provide Illinois $18.7 billion over the next two years. The Act is intended to help close the budget shortfall and prevent reductions to other necessary program and service expenditures by the State.
Additionally, Illinois needs to pass the Fair Tax constitutional amendment proposed on the November 3rd ballot. Doing so would provide needed revenues to support education and pensions in the State and begin to address the rapidly cumulating debt associated with those major obligations. Doing so would partially relieve the burden of education and pension expenditure pressures on the general fund, releasing funds to cover unanticipated COVID-19 associated costs.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
I would assign a ‘B’. While I believe the Governor was wise to adopt the unpopular, more conservative approach regarding business closures and the stay at home order, it has been evidenced to be the better approach, placing Illinois in a more stable position today than many states that chose to be less restrictive and more amenable to early re-opening.
I fault the Governor on two points. First, while there were numerous efforts to communicate openly with the State-at-large, there was little initial effort to dialogue directly with units of local government, aside from Chicago, to consider the impact on local economies and possible collaborative efforts to manage the spread of the virus.
Second, there was little to no justifiable reasoning behind closing local small businesses while simultaneously allowing major corporate retailers to continue to operate. The backbone of local communities and, in fact the national economy, is small independent local business. The forced closure of small businesses and associated layoffs resulted in a severe drop in economic activity that will likely require at least a ten-year economic recovery period.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
First, I absolutely believe the vast majority of Police Officers are noble public servants who are willing to place their lives on the line every day to protect and defend our families, homes, businesses and communities and that they do so with honor and distinction. They deserve our respect and significant gratitude. There are those, however and as in any career, who fall short of the inherent obligations and responsibilities of the job and the question is whether or not Police Reform is necessary to address the issues of these few.
It depends upon the definition of Police Reform. While I do not believe extreme reform in terms of defunding or realignment of funding is necessary, I do believe there are basic procedural elements associated with police enforcement and protection interaction in potentially volatile situations such as arrests, searches, domestics, protests, etc. that must be addressed. Primary among these are the use of body cameras; prohibition of potentially deadly holds or strikes unless there is deadly threat to the police officer or other victim(s); the more routine use of non-deadly force; and mandated, strict and swift accountability for unacceptable behavior on behalf of police officers.
We have lots of established training requirements for police officers, but we need to be more aggressive with areas of accountability. While I firmly believe in personnel remediation, Police Officers, as public servants, must be held to an incredibly high standard of accountability. Too often repetitive, unacceptable misbehavior is tolerated in the name of remediation. The practice needs to be addressed. One approach to the question would be through review of labor laws associated with employee discipline and dismissal in public service arenas.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes. Woodstock has utilized body cameras over the past two years and the practice has proven effective in evidencing proper interaction with individuals and, although we have had no negative situations, we have gained insight into how we can improve police interaction with the public. In cases of inappropriate police behavior or action, body cameras can provide evidence for accountability.
Major considerations are financing cameras for an entire police force and proper training. Woodstock applied for and received a grant for the purchase of the cameras and initial training was provided by the supplier.
Illinois should absolutely mandate the active and routine use of body cameras by on-duty police officers in the State. It should not be an unfunded mandate, however. Consideration must be given to financial and training assistance, particularly for smaller communities.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
First, there is plenty of blame to go around. ComEd and other corporations are understandably profit motivated. The criminal nature of their motivation is when they wish to cut costs, inflate consumer costs for public services or utilities, or attempt to limit competition by buying or corruptly seeking political influence. In doing so, they are an equal and culpable partner with the elected or appointed official willing to peddle their influence.
Second, in order to remove such corrupt, and unfortunately routine, activity from our State, we must do several things. A) strengthen the revolving door policy that would prohibit retiring Legislators from becoming lobbyists immediately upon leaving office; B) place the General Assembly, its officers and agencies under the Office of the Attorney General for ethics oversight and review, rather than under a self-policing Legislative Ethics Commission; and C) have mandatory face-to-face training and follow-up sessions for all Legislators and staff conducted by the Office of the Executive Inspector General rather than the current self-policed online training module. I strongly support all of these changes.
Finally, I do believe Madigan should resign. I do not want to negate the significant accomplishments made by the General Assembly of the State of Illinois during his tenure as Speaker. However, the microscope has been refined and improved significantly and the shadows of doubt associated with influence and overstep cast upon his leadership are becoming clearer and more defined. It is time for him to step down under a new era of strong, definitive ethics reform in the State of Illinois.
Brian Sager submitted the following responses before the March primary:
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
Served as Mayor of the City of Woodstock since 2005. Worked with City Council and Staff to:
1. Not raise the municipal property taxes by the allowable PTELL rate for the past 8 years;
2. Reduce the municipal property tax by 10% in 2017;
3. Adopt a Local Government Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 2017;
4. Establish a 1% municipal sales tax in 2018 to increase available funds for street improvements with no public objectors at the public hearing or enacting City Council meeting;
5. Establish a $.03 per gallon municipal fuel tax in 2019 to increase available funds for street improvements with no public objectors at the public hearing or enacting City Council meeting.
6. Produce and distribute 15,000 municipal reusable bags to 9,000 households, residents and businesses in the City in 2018-19;
7. Adopt a Retail Single Use Bag Program in 2019 to reduce the utilization of plastic and paper bags in the City with no public objectors at the public hearing and only one objector at the enacting City Council meeting;
8. Work with the McHenry County Council of Governments, McHenry County, IDOT and the Illinois Legislature for 14 years to promote and successfully secure funds in the 2019 Capital Bill for improvements to IL Rt 47 in Woodstock;
9. Establish a 562 acre TIF District in 2019;
10. Continue to chair a task force of McHenry County service agencies working to establish a permanent, year-round homeless shelter which should be open April 2020.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
1. Restore Local Government Distributive Funds to their full 10% distribution level.
2. Economic growth and job creation to reduce reliance on property taxes.
3. Address increasing opioid & alcohol addiction & mental health issues contributing so significantly to health care needs & homelessness.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
1. Addressing ethics in politics.
2. Encouraging a mutually respectful and collaborative environment in Springfield.
3. Improving economic and job growth in Illinois.
4. Stabilizing funding for K-12 public schools by continuing efforts to increase the State’s ability to more closely meet funding obligations and thereby reducing school districts’ extremely heavy reliance on local property taxes.
5. Stabilizing higher education funding by continuing efforts to increase the State’s ability to more closely meet funding obligations, including guaranteeing MAP Grants, and thereby reducing the need for routine, heavy tuition increases.
6. Working to offer universal early childhood education opportunities.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support the graduated income tax as it taxes those earning lower incomes at appropriately lower rates and those earning higher incomes at appropriately higher rates. Further, it does so on a marginal basis.
We know as individuals and households that to improve a financially challenged condition, there are three and only three choices...increase revenues, reduce expenses or a combination of the two. The fact is you can’t cut your way out of a financial crisis, but you can’t work yourself into oblivion and efficiencies will take you only so far. So it must be a planned, manageable combination.
None of us like paying taxes, but if we continue to call upon increasing levels of services, with those services regularly increasing in price, we have to pay for them. Obviously, we must work consistently to be efficient, fiscally responsible and sound in our expenditures and work to cut them when and where we can, but again, we can’t cut our way out of this crisis. We must increase revenues while simultaneously and responsibly controlling spending and cutting where appropriate.
The income tax is a stable, foundational, primary source of state revenue and it should be applied fairly.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
We should reconsider the Sate Prompt Payment Act which has the best of intentions, but the financial impact is adding significantly to our debt obligations and should be reviewed.
We should also consider taxing pensions on wealthy individuals using the same structure as the proposed graduated income tax.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Yes. Imposing a graduated income tax on retirement pensions is fair and equitable and would certainly increase state revenues. It, too, should be done on a marginal basis.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Stabilize funding for K-12 public schools by continuing efforts to increase the State’s ability to more closely meet its funding obligations. Doing so would reduce school districts’ extremely heavy reliance on local property taxes, remove annual funding uncertainties, and allow investment in teachers, support staff, teaching equipment/materials and the teaching-learning environment.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I am a strong proponent of gun rights, but do not understand why private citizens need access to AK-47’s or similar high-powered military weapons. We are guaranteed a right to bear arms. The constitution does not say we don’t have the right to bear every high-powered military weapon in the world, but it doesn’t say we do. We have to introduce responsible, reasonable common sense into the discussion.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I am open to the discussion of term limits in Illinois, but generally believe the people are in the best position to determine the term limit of a given elected official.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
District boundaries must, of course, be redrawn every 10 years to accommodate population migration and established representation. The party in power has traditionally had control over the created lines. Major challenges that result are incredibly contorted geographic and ‘gerrymandered’ districts.
One way to approach this is to establish a bipartisan panel charged with the responsibility. It may also be possible for the majority party to self-impose measured geographic constraints that would limit extreme geographic ranges and simultaneously introduce greater political diversity.
I support a bipartisan redistricting panel(s).
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
I support the Act and believe it should be rigorously enforced to prevent elected officials from engaging in lobbying efforts associated with the body to which they are elected and to hold the beneficiaries of such lobbying financially liable.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
I don’t believe the Legislature should regulate the practice. When consumers enter and engage in the internet arena of today, they should be fully cognizant of the data collection, sale of information collected and mobile tracking. That is common knowledge today. Consumers must be aware, knowledgeable and responsible.
If anything were to be done, it might be to provide routine advisory blitzes; something similar to the regular outdoor tornado siren testing or monthly TV and radio emergency warning announcements. Frankly, however, those systems are for emergency applications and I don’t believe consumer warnings of that nature are warranted.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
Collectively, Illinois has some of the finest state universities in the nation. They are forced to raise tuition and reduce the numbers of students accepted, however, because of the lack of financial support from the State.
Stabilizing higher education funding by increasing the State’s ability to more closely meet funding obligations, including guaranteeing MAP Grants, will reduce the need for heavy tuition increases, allow universities to invest in high-demand curriculum accommodating greater student acceptance, and reduce long-term student debt.
All of these will encourage more attendance by in-state students.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I would encourage reasonable State support for a Carbon Fee and Dividend Policy.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Senator Paul Simon. He was a strong leader and proponent in the areas of education and job-training. The first thing he did upon retiring from the Senate was to return home and start teaching at SIU. As an educator, I believe in the power of education to grow people, states, countries and economies. I would like to think Senator Simon and I share a common passion.
He also championed balanced budgets in government. I have a fervent belief in fiscal responsibility, as well.
Finally, I believe he was a man of integrity and ethics who was willing to extend himself across the aisle to work together in the best interests of people, state and country and whose hand shake was his bond. He was a powerful political mentor.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
It remains even today, ‘I love Lucy.’ I prefer television shows, movies, and stage plays that entertain, take you totally away from your everyday life and force you to smile.
Lucy was the consummate slapstick comedian. She showed us that it’s normal, OK and even fun to just be who we are. We always aspire for what might come next and sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. But, through her comedy she suggested, whatever it is, we should smile and enjoy the journey.