Running for: State Representative Illinois 63rd House District
Political/civic background: 1) Democratic Party of Illinois - Elected State Central Committeeman 14th Congressional District
2) Board of Directors – Preservation Trades Network. PTN is a 501(c)3 non-profit membership organization founded to provide education, networking and outreach for the traditional building trades. PTN was established on the principle that conservation of the built environment is fundamentally dependent on the work of skilled people in all of the traditional building trades who preserve, maintain and restore historic buildings, and build architectural heritage for the future. www.ptn.org
3) Former Commissioner – McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission
4) Co-founder / Leader – Medicare for All Northern Illinois, events/educations based chapter of Our Revolution. https://ourrevolution.com/
Occupation: Historic Preservation and Restoration: President of Lumenelle Lighting Design and Restoration / Formerly Telecommunications Product Design at Motorola, Inc. / Telecommunications Infrastructure Design and Project Management at Scientech, Inc.
Education: Northeastern Illinois University / Wilbur Wright College / Lane Technical High School: Electronics/Telecommunications
Campaign website: pete4illinois.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates 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. Peter Janko submitted the following responses:
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.
Amtrak to Rockford: In 2015, the people of Northern Illinois were promised that a 30 year effort to restore passenger rail service to Rockford, with a stop in Huntley, would finally come to fruition. The project was on track and progress was being made until the newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner effectively killed it by freezing the funding.
With the recent election of pro-infrastructure Governor JB Pritzker, it is time to put Amtrak service back on track. Several of my fellow community organizers/activists and I felt that it was time to accelerate the effort to put Amtrak service to Rockford back on track, so we created a campaign to educate constituents and elected officials on the benefits of restoring passenger rail, and lobby Governor Pritzker to fulfill the promises made to our region years ago. Our efforts have been very successful, as the new state budget includes “The sum of $275,000,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is appropriated from the Multi-Modal Transportation Bond Fund to the Department of Transportation for all costs associated with the Chicago to Rockford Intercity Passenger Rail expansion.” (HB62, Section 190).
This is a project that will have far-reaching positive impact for our region in the near and distant future. Track and signaling improvements will be financed by the Amtrak service to Rockford project, opening up the likelihood of adding Metra service to Huntley and Marengo, a McHenry County goal since 2004, in the not-too-distant future. I would love to see a Green New Deal for Illinois, and as an elected member of the Illinois Legislature, I will be in a much better place to be able to foster these much needed changes.
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) Illinois 63rd House District and McHenry County are a public transportation desert. The residents have been paying RTA taxes since inception yet what we get in return minimal compared to other counties. Outside of Metra’s UP Northwest Line, public transportation has not kept up with population growth either. It is inadequate at best in the areas of McHenry County that has it and practically non-existent in the Southwestern part of McHenry County. Yet there seems to be no shortage of funds for questionable road projects.
We have an aging population that would like nothing more than to remain in their homes for as long as they can. Senior Citizens and the disabled need a way to get to the doctor, go shopping, and just lead normal lives without being dependent on the need to drive a car. We need to break our dependence on the private automobile for many reasons from the obvious like relieving congestion and improving air quality to asking the question will we get to the point where we have built too many miles of road that we run out of the required resources to keep them properly maintained (ie not enough money, equipment, or labor).
2) The possibility of running out of well water is also a concern by many in McHenry County and the 63rd District. We have also experienced severe flooding of our rivers. Maybe it is time to look at flood water retention as a source of drinking water or at least gray water for industrial use and irrigation. Projects of that magnitude are going to require state assistance.
3) Municipal and Rural Broadband. The 63rd is divided into broadband haves and broadband have nots. Because most of the population of the 63rd resides in the cities of Woodstock, McHenry, Harvard, and Marengo, there has not been a lot of political incentive to provide broadband to every residence in the 63rd. I believe we can get to a system that can do both provide an alternative to the costly cable companies for residents with cable as well as providing broadband to the “last house” in the rural parts of the 63rd.
There are provisions in the Infrastructure Budget for expansion of broadband access in underserved areas of Illinois. The 63rd District would be a good place to start.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
1) Property Tax Relief through School Funding Reform
2) Wage theft and lack of benefits misclassification of employees.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I not only support the Fair Tax but I am involved in promoting it with Democratic Party of Illinois and getting involved with Vote Yes for Fair Tax (Ballot Initiative Committee).
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?
Tax political campaigns. Proposing any new tax for Illinois taxpayers is pretty much suicidal in the 63rd House District. I struggled with coming up with a new tax that voters in the district would support. I think I may have found one. Place a tax on money coming into political campaigns. Here is an idea of how it could work.
IRS Form 1040 (Individual Income Tax) asks if the taxpayer and spouse would each like $3 to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Let’s assume that to mean that a reasonable suggested campaign amount per registered voter is $3. Illinois 63rd House District has a little less than 70,000 registered voters. So, let’s take 70,000 X $3 which equals $210,000 and exempt that amount from taxation.
According to Ballotpedia, in 2016, there were four candidates for IL63, and total campaign dollars added up to $2,321,722. $580,431 was the average raised. So let’s say one of those 4 campaigns took in $500,000. We subtract the $210,000 exemption which leaves $290,000 subject to taxation. If we were to tax it at, say 15%, that would be $43,500 added to the state’s coffers. Multiply that by four and that’s $174,000 for just one House Race.
This tax would apply to every political campaign in the State of Illinois, ie: Governor and all state-wide races; as well as federal races for President, Senate, House; and local races, such as State Rep, State Senate, County Board, Mayor, Alderman, etc. Given the recent records set on campaign funding in the last Gubernatorial ($240 million) election, it is clear that we are talking about some big money- tax revenue would have amounted to approximately $36,000,000 in that race, alone!
There are multiple other hidden benefits, such as an incentive for people running for office to encourage new voter registrations.
Political Campaign Tax Formula
[Number of Voters in the candidate’s specific District x $3 = [Exemption]
[Total Campaign Dollars Raised (including self-funding Dollars)] less [Exemption] equals [Taxable Amount]
[Taxable Amount] x 15% equals [Political Campaign Tax]
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No. Social Security, pensions, 401K withdrawals and payouts must remain off limits to taxation. Most retirees are on fixed incomes and dependent on these programs for housing, food, and medicines. No taxation on earned benefits such as Social Security results in more money being spent in our local communities, which greatly benefits small businesses, who, in turn, pay taxes.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
1) Every school should have a nurse on duty during all times when students are on the premises.
2) We must not only focus on, but achieve economic equity across all socioeconomic strata, especially with the issue of education. This not only includes funding for physical infrastructure, but also making sure that teachers (who are already paid less than other professionals with similar education and qualifications) do not have to reach into their own pockets to adequately provide basic supplies for their classrooms. It also means stop using student to teacher ratios in overcrowded, low-income areas as a political talking point, and actually DO something about it!
3) Schools need to focus more on teaching students critical thinking and less on rote learning and standardized tests to better prepare students for a complex world.
4) Schools should bring back shop classes. Vocational training prepares students for well paying jobs (construction, auto mechanics, etc.) that can not be easily outsourced to other countries.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Illinois has pretty good gun laws. Most gun owners are law abiding citizens. Most gun violence is caused by people with serious, untreated mental health issues, or gangs.
In case of the first, there is lots of room for improvement in our mental health programs. We absolutely MUST affect a paradigm shift in which mental illness is destigmatized and treated as just as important as physical health; this starts with our elected leaders.
In the case of the later, until we begin to take seriously the issue of poverty and wealth inequality in America, as well as the destabilizing factors such as mass incarceration of people of color and lack of good-paying jobs in so many areas, we are not going to see much improvement.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Oppose, because it is a double-edged sword that will remove both good and effective legislators, in addition to the bad and corrupt ones. I believe a better way elect and retain good legislators is through a combination of fair map redistricting, ranked choice voting, and campaign finance reform.
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?
Illinois should adopt Fair Map Redistricting
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?
It is a good start, but it doesn’t have strong enough teeth to really make it effective. Registering lobbyists and disclosing their financial interests is extremely important to the principle of transparency, but that, in and of itself, will not cause elected officials who want the money that the lobbyists represent to do the right thing.
As a candidate for office, I am seriously entertaining instituting a policy, for at least my office, that any interaction with lobbyists only be carried out only at open meetings or if not practical, recorded and the recordings made accessible by the public. It will certainly be tedious but at a time when no one really trusts our elected, I think little bit of transparency can help restore some trust in the people running our cities, counties, and state.
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?
Businesses do need to collect and store data on its customers to serve them well. But, I would strongly support legislation that would make it illegal to sell customer data to anyone outside that business unless the customer specifically opts in.
I would further support legislation that would prohibit and nullify any automatic default “opt ins” in user agreements and support relatively high financial penalties for violations.
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?
Ideally, Illinois should look into making state universities completely tuition free or at least tuition free based on income. If two fairly prestigious schools can do it, Cooper Union, New York, New York (free Tuition) and Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (free Tuition Based on Family Income) can do it, so can Illinois.
It would be an investment in our children’s future. Studies have shown payback in that higher education typically leads to higher salaries creating more disposable income which fuels the economy.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I am well-known for my support of public transportation which has been shown to be environmentally beneficial in many studies. I will continue to be a fierce advocate for environmentally friendly public transportation, as well as development of new, green technology that will help us, as a society, transition away from our heavy reliance on fossil fuels, but doing so in a way that is economically just, especially when it comes to jobs. Beyond that, I would like for Illinois to form committees made up of environmental experts to revisit all current environmental legislation and regulations and look for outdated regulations and propose changes to rectify inadequate protections to the appropriate agencies and/or legislators.
Priorities as to first acted upon should be based on issues with the greatest impact to the environment
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.
Jane Addams simply because she was an unwavering progressive and unapologetic reformer
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Doctor Who and the related series Torchwood. Pure but intelligent escapism that gives me some respite from day to day challenges.