Janet Yang Rohr
Running for: Illinois 41st District State Representative
Political party affiliation: Democrat
• Naperville Community Unit School District 203 School Board Member
• Naperville Educational Foundation Trustee
• Lisle Township Precinct Democratic Committeeperson
Occupation: Director of Global Data at investment data and research firm, Morningstar
• Master of Business Administration in Finance, Accounting, and Entrepreneurship, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
• Bachelor of Arts in English and Economics, Northwestern University
• Naperville 203: Naperville North High School, Kennedy Junior High School, Ranch View Elementary School
Campaign website: JanetForIllinois.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. Janet Yang Rohr 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.
Our state’s economic future is inextricably tied to the health and safety of its people. When we work together—washing hands, keeping safe distances, wearing masks when close to others— we help keep restaurants and businesses open, which directly strengthens our local and state economies. We all want life to return to normal, but for that to happen, the virus needs to be contained; this can only happen if each of us recognizes the important role we play in prevention and protection.
As we face unprecedented budget challenges, we also need to work together to reprioritize spending needs. It will require tough decisions and making hard tradeoffs. As someone who builds businesses and products, I make those difficult decisions daily—deciding what we have to do now and what we can save for later. We must properly invest in our community’s most needed resources—like first responders, healthcare and COVID-response measures, and education—while strictly overseeing every single dime spent. We also must invest in programs to meet newer pressure points, such as resources for displaced workers and PPE for frontline workers. Very few state legislators—of either party—have a business and finance background similar to mine. I’m eager to take that experience and put it to work, evaluating the state’s budget and working with others for commonsense, data-driven, and cost effective measures to shore up the state’s budget.
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?
It’s hard to assign a grade amid a truly unprecedented situation. I am grateful that Governor Pritzker listens to scientists, medical experts and public health professionals. Doing so may not be politically expedient, but there’s no doubt that choosing politics over science results in more deaths and greater economic devastation. I believe the governor made the decisions he thought were best based on information available at the time of those decisions. Looking back, there are things I would have done differently and decisions I’m certain he would also rethink, such as strengthening the unemployment benefits system to be more responsive and accessible to the needs of the newly unemployed.
Moving forward, the legislature should be more engaged in the decision making process. These actions have a very real and profound impact on Illinoisans, and lawmakers should be able to provide input and better advocate for their communities. As we have had time to reflect on the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the various responses, I believe we are better positioned now to make decisions based on hard data and facts, rather than the more reactive decision-making nature that was necessary during the onset of the pandemic.
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?
The deaths of George Floyd and other people of color are clear examples that we must do more to ensure our police have the right training and resources needed to deescalate situations without using lethal force, and that they are held accountable for wrong doings. These deaths of our fellow citizens and neighbors at the hands of law enforcement is unacceptable; the violence that has broken out from rogue individuals as a response is also unacceptable and unproductive.
I believe all of us would benefit from more listening and learning in order to understand the policy changes that can best improve community-police relations. Nurturing these relationships improves our community for all of us and should be something we all work to achieve.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
In 2015, the state of Illinois was the first state in the nation to pass a major package of police reforms that included provisions for the use of wearing body cameras; however, body cameras were not required, as doing so would put an unfunded mandate on communities. While I support the use of body cameras, the legislature must find ways to help communities pay for these and similar tools.
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?
My top priority is and always will be the residents of my district. Right now, I am focused on speaking with them and understanding the issues that matter most to them.
If elected, I would work to develop policies that increase transparency on lobbying by making it easier for individuals to track who is paying lobbyists and how the lobbyists are spending their dollars. I support enacting additional rules restricting when former elected officials can register as lobbyists after their term in office and further increasing transparency in lobbying practices. Illinois residents have the right to know who their elected officials are working with, and the legislature must update its ethics laws to do so.
Janet Yang Rohr 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.
As a member of the Naperville 203 School Board, my greatest priority has been to provide educational and academic excellence for all students. In the last two years, this has included expanding early childhood education, investing in summer and learning support resources, and hiring the district’s first Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Director of Safety & Security.
We did this while lowering and abating property tax and debt service levies by millions of dollars in each of the years I’ve been on the board--accomplishments that were unprecedented on the 203 Board and generally rare within the state of Illinois.
These efforts have brought real and measurable progress for our community. For example, each of our schools was rated as Exemplary or Commendable in 2018 and 2019 by the Illinois State Board of Education; in each of those years, Naperville 203 has had more Exemplary schools than almost any other district in the state.
Whether it’s been on the school board or with other similar organizations, I use my business and finance experience to push forward each group’s goals and missions in measurable ways that use resources wisely. As a state representative, I will bring this commonsense mindset and drive for practical solutions to get things done on behalf of all community members of the 41st District.
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.
Three issues consistently come-up in my door-to-door conversations with the community: Property tax relief, economic growth & opportunities, and education.
While we’ve made some inroads at the local level to lessen property taxes, there’s more that state legislators need to do to make a bigger impact, such as passing PTELL reform and expanding exemptions for homeowners, seniors, and veterans.
We need to make it easier to do business in Illinois, especially for the small businesses that form our economy’s backbone. Let’s make it as easy as possible to start and run a business in Illinois, with streamlined application process and lower small business registration fees.
Finally, education remains foundational to our community and our state’s long-term prospects. Investments in education--particularly in early education and in our university system—pay dividends in future growth for our entire community.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
I’ll focus legislation in areas that address the needs and values of the community and where state-level action will make the greatest impact. These include:
- Property Taxes: PTELL reform, expansion of exemptions
- Business Growth: Streamlined and less burdensome registration processes and costs
- Supporting Education: Evidence-based early education program and investments in post-secondary opportunities, including our community colleges, university system, and vocational schools.
- Ethics Reform: Set longer probation periods for former politicians and political operatives to work as lobbyists
There’s also a special class of legislation where we need to do more, and that’s in flexing our negotiating strength and influence as the fifth largest state in the nation:
- Affordable Healthcare: Negotiate for lower prescription drug costs
- Sustainable Environment: Move toward emissions standards and carbon-free initiatives that compel improvements nation- and world-wide
- Retirement Savings: Allow small businesses and individuals to access and benefit from the size and scale of state-level retirement investment programs
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
In the last two decades, income inequality has grown in Illinois. The top 10% of Illinois earners, for instance, has seen 110% of the state’s wage growth, while the remining 90% has seen wage decline. A graduated tax policy like that of the federal structure could prevent tax increases for 97% of Illinois residents. My priority is ensuring that the middle class is protected from unaffordable tax increases. It’s important for voters to decide whether or not they support these efforts when this question is on the November 2020 ballot.
I support any step to lessening property tax burdens by providing more funding for education at the state level. This is especially important for retirees on fixed incomes or those facing employment hardships, allowing us to deemphasize large fixed tax payments in favor of tax policy that flexes better with economic growth.
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?
There are no easy answers to a structural budget deficit that has that has been in place since the 1960s, and anyone touting easy answers (such as “no new spending”) is not being honest with voters. On the issue of pensions, for example, pension reform passed in 2013 was struck down by courts as unconstitutional and didn’t save taxpayers a single penny. To make real progress, we need to stop political grandstanding, sit down with all parties, and figure out solutions that will pass constitutional muster.
In the meantime, we can pass practical legislation that still save taxpayer funds, such as refinancing debt and consolidating the investment management and administration of public investment funds. Moves like this save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with little to no impact on the quality of services they receive.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
As I go door-to-door, older residents constantly tell me that it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Between the rising cost of prescription medications and healthcare, skyrocketing property taxes and the increased cost of living, seniors in communities like mine are struggling. I do not support taxing seniors who are already disproportionately impacted by taxes and fees.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Illinois’ relatively new evidence-based funding formula made important inroads in providing students across the state with access to a high-quality education. School districts like Indian Prairie Community Unit School District 204 have already seen increases in state funding contributions as a result of the change. We need to continue supporting these state-level contributions to help local school districts meet their minimum adequacy revenue targets while paving the way for meaningful local property tax relief.
In addition, the Illinois Association of School Boards Delegate Assembly voted to support Resolution 3: School Safety Grant Program at its November 2019 meeting, which provides funding for hiring Student Resource Officers. While the school districts within the 41st District are in the fortunate position of already having strong SRO partnerships, not all schools in Illinois enjoy the same benefit. This legislation will be important in providing for a safe learning environment for all students, including those within the 41st District that often travel to other school districts for school competitions and events.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
There are a number of pieces of legislation we need to pass that the vast majority of Americans support and will make a difference in reducing gun suicides, school shootings, and domestic violence. They include:
- Stronger safe storage laws, such as increasing penalties and liabilities for adults that do not securely control access to firearms from minors
- Stronger red flag laws that allow law enforcement and family members to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who may be of danger to themselves or others
- Closing the gun show loophole and strengthening universal background checks
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Illinois voters have the ability to limit any elected official’s term in office every time they go to the polls. Especially given the frequent shortage of well-qualified candidates willing to run for office, if voters and constituents are happy with their elected representatives, they should have the ability to vote to keep them in office without the added constriction of term limits.
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?
The Democratic Party may be in the majority now in Illinois, but this might not always be the case. I support a process that provides equal representations to both of Illinois’ major parties in redistricting decisions, ensuring that everyone must work together and make sensible compromises, while upholding the Voting Rights Act.
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?
Increased transparency for lobbying efforts is always a good thing; the ease of use and search to uncover lobbying activity created by the Lobbyist Registration Act’s electronic database is especially useful for making the data actionable and to truly hold politicians accountable. We need to further these efforts, such as enacting additional rules restricting when former elected officials can register as lobbyist after their term in office and further increasing transparency in lobbying practices.
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?
Given the pervasiveness of wireless communication and the repeated breaches of security related to internet privacy, Illinois lawmakers must do more to protect its residents. This starts with prominent disclosure in plain language describing how users’ information is used and if it is being sold. We need to particularly protect the rights of minors, allowing them, for example, to request the removal of content related to themselves from web sites and other online services.
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?
Illinois has been systematically starving its higher education system for almost the last two decades, with state funding in that period cut by almost half in real dollars. In 2002, Illinois covered 70% of the cost of public higher education for students. That number has fallen to less than 30%, and as a result, tuition has grown by more than 50% greater than the national average. The state budget impasse only further hampered the ability of universities to thrive.
We need to pass balanced budgets on time that properly invest in universities and need-based programs like MAP to give families and administrators a sense of security and stability. Universities are one of Illinois’ most important sources of growth and a productive workforce; we need to reverse these trajectories and recommit to investing in post-secondary education.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
We have a moral obligation to our children, grandchildren and future generations that haven’t been born to do our part in averting global climate disaster. Our state emits more CO2 into the atmosphere than all but six other states in the country. Some of that’s attributable to our large population. But not all: New York emits roughly 25% less CO2 than we do despite a much larger population.
We can do better than we currently are. Renewables--almost entirely wind--account for a paltry 7% of our state’s total power generation. While we’re less reliant on coal-fired power generation than we had been a decade ago, we still rely on the black stuff for over one-third of our power. Let’s provide more state-level incentives for businesses, individuals, and municipalities to go green, while moving more of our state resources (buildings, cars, etc.) in the same direction.
We also must invest in green jobs and green technology that will not only have a positive impact on our environment, but create good-paying jobs in economies of the future.
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 stands as a personal inspiration to me. While she is well known for her work founding Hull House, Addams contributions went far beyond that community. She was also a leader in many other reform movements, such as establishing a juvenile court system, demanding better urban sanitation and factory laws, and protecting women’s labor and voting rights. The number and breadth of those accomplishments is a great reminder that there’s always more we can do and to never rest too comfortably on our laurels.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
30 Rock is my favorite show of all time. It’s quotable, rewatchable, and always makes me laugh. Liz Lemon’s worldview nicely closes out this candidate questionnaire: “All of humankind has one thing in common: The Sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.” Let’s keep moving forward as a community and a state in allowing everyone to have maximum opportunities to earn and eat their sandwiches in peace and prosperity.