On Jan. 24, attorney Bart Goldberg appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the Illinois State Senate 20th district in the March 2018 primary:
I’m Bart Goldberg and I don’t have a tremendous amount of civic or political background. I have run for alderman previously, I’ve worked for many years in a very active neighborhood association where I serve on the board, the Old Irving Park Association. And outside of Town Homes and the like that I’ve been president of, that’s about it.
You know really I think my top priority in the district would be working on the minimum wage legislation, because there’s a lot of people in the district, in some areas 25 percent are below the poverty level which is at $23,000 for a four person family, clearly you can’t live at that level. So I’m a full proponent of the minimum wage, I want the full $15 an hour minimum wage. But my biggest objectives are probably not just district wide, it’s the state that’s such a problem. It’s worse than people want to talk about.
I would say the two pillars of my campaign, and they really get to the gist of the problem, I’m a very progressive guy but I’m different from progressives in these two regards: One is taking special interest money out of politics and the second is really aggressively attacking the unfunded pension debt. And the one problem led to the other. As for the first, we all know about the dangers of special interest money, we’ve had that problem in Illinois since time immemorial and when people give politicians in Springfield a lot of money they expect goodies in return and we pay the cost. And we’re nowhere near having the type of campaign finance reform we need and that I would work for, and in my own campaign I’m just doing it, and this is what we need. And by what I mean is that I won’t take a cent from anything, only people, only small. That way there’s no doubt that I have no obligations except you and my conscience and I don’t think we’re ever going to have honest government until we start electing people that do that.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois State Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Bart Goldberg submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: Before I answer this question, I want to state that my views and objectives are progressive ones. That has indeed become a generic term that is claimed by nearly all candidates. What I mean by that term is that I have a profound belief that a moral government has an absolute obligation to help those that are less fortunate or otherwise are in need of help in our society (such as the physically or mentally disabled, the sick, the elderly, the poor, recent immigrants, etc). We must also provide a quality education to all of our citizens (even more so to the poor) and we must take care of the environment. I also believe in the benefits of regulations to restrain unfettered capitalism. Now to answer the question, while I am progressive, I differ from other such candidates in two very specific regards that are my signature issues: campaign finance reform and aggressively addressing the unfunded pension liability debt.
Campaign Finance Reform: We will never have honest government, that being a government that has no motivation other than to provide fairly and justly for our people, until we take the money out of politics. We all know this, and yet nothing gets done. We know that obscene amounts of money are now contributed to candidates by all sorts of special interests: corporations, PAC’s (political action committees) trade associations, political parties, unions, as well as some individuals. It cannot be more obvious that these special interests are not motivated by public charity, but that instead they expect things in return. They expect a big return on that investment, and they have found that political donations are a very wise investment. At the very least they receive access to our leaders that the rest of us don’t have, but in IL they have received much more. They want legislation and special favors that directly benefit them, and which are to the disadvantage of their competitors or the public at large. The resulting cronyism and corruption has plagued this state practically since its creation, and it is the main reason why we are in the mess that we are in. All other problems flow from it.
MY PERSONAL (AND COMPLETELY UNIQUE) SOLUTION: Because I feel so strongly about this I simply refuse to just talk about it. I AM DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW, BY SETTING THE FOLLOWING STANDARDS FOR MY CAMPAIGN:
I will talk no money from any entity of any type. Only people can contribute to my campaign. To be absolutely clear I will not take a single dollar from a business, a corporation, a trade association, a political party, a union, a political party, or any other type of entity. It doesn’t matter if it is the Red Cross, I will refund it. It is not right for me to pick and choose the entities that I think are “good ones” as the point is that no one except people should have influence over our government.
I will accept contributions only from people (in fact I really need some) but they must be LESS THAN $1,000 from that person in any one election cycle.
Even though my opponent may well have ten or twenty times as much to spend on their campaign than I will have, I would not allow myself to run any other way. We need to take a stand so that we will all know that at least this State Senator is not beholden to anyone except the good people of the 20th District. By setting an example of what an ethical candidate looks like, I am hoping that in the future the voters will only want to support such candidates
Subsequent Legislative Solution: As a Senator I will push for legislation to further Campaign Finance Reform. I would favor a limited form of public election financing (our budget woes require it to be limited at this time, but it would certainly be a good use of public funds to rid ourselves once and for all from most forms of corruption and cronyism). My preferred form of legislation would provide that candidates could get funds from the State to be used in their campaign so long as they agreed to take no contributions from any source (I doubt that we would be able to limit this to people, as I would prefer) that were over $1,000 per election cycle, in two different ways:
People that live in the district could give authorizations by signing petitions circulated by the candidate to allow the candidate to be given $25 by the State. This would be similar to having people sign petitions to get on the ballot, but here people would understandably be more hesitant to sign these authorizations since this is cost being paid by our government. Just as with ballot petitions there could be a process for objections to be filed challenging the validity of the signatures. There would have to be real penalties such as not being allowed any of these funds if a certain percentage were found to be invalid. There would also have to be a limit on the amount of the authorizations, which would depend on the office being sought (perhaps 2,000 for State Senator).
There could also be a matching program where the State would match small individual contributions (no more than $100 per contribution). My proposal would be for a one to one match. I have seen proposals where the State matches by a multiplier (such as 6x the contribution) but I think that those are too expensive and ripe for abuse. Again there would have to be a challenging mechanism, and a limitation on the amounts.
I would also push for heightened disclosure requirements on advertising being paid for by third parties. Such supposedly “uncoordinated” spending is of course very common, and there are no financial limits on it since the Citizens United decision. I would want the disclosure of who is paying for the ad to be made more prominently, and for information to be made readily available as to the ultimate identity of the supporters of any PAC engaging in political advertising. With such disclosure being made more prominent, it is my hope that the voter will soon learn to disregard such ads.
ATTACKING THE UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY: The anchor around our neck is the unfunded pension debt. I want to stress that this is not the fault of the employees of the State of Illinois. I believe that our predecessors in Springfield were probably too generous in many of the contracts that they negotiated with the public service unions (but we should not be mad at them as representing their members is their function, and we certainly should not be mad at the worker’s that served our state). We made a deal, and they have every right to rely on it. The full blame goes to the Governors that negotiated these contracts and the legislators that simply failed to fund it.
No state has funded their pension systems to a lesser degree than IL, where our state pensions are on average only about 39% funded. The state estimates the unfunded debt at about $135 billion dollars and Moody’s (who may still place us on junk bond status) estimated it at closer to $250 billion. If we take a figure in the middle, that is about $40,000 that is owed by every working person in IL to this substantially unfunded liability. The scariest part is that the amount we are required to pay towards the pension liability for the state increases substantially each year (it was placed on a ramp back in 1994 with the consent of Gov. Edgar and the democratic legislature, and that ramp has only gotten steeper due to a multitude of reasons). Last year the required payment was about 9 billion dollars, which was about 25% of our own state source general revenue. In a little less than ten years the required payment will double, meaning that at current revenue levels the pension obligation will by itself eat up 50% of our revenues. That leaves absolutely inadequate amounts for all of the other functions that government is supposed to provide (education, social services, the environment, infrastructure, etc.).
I call this problem Inter-Generational Theft. By not adequately addressing these pensions for so long we have effectively stolen from our children. As it stands now, they will be burdened by high taxes and will get the benefit of only minimal levels of government services. As a result, I feel that the only honest solution to this problem is to make funding the pension a first priority. To be clear, I want the State of IL to pay MORE than is required each year into the pension funds. As a result I favor cutting expenses where we can, and raising additional revenue (see below). I would also INSIST that these additional funds be paid annually into the pension funds themselves so that we will not have mortgaged the future of our children and our state to such a shameful extent. Here are my budgeting proposals so that we can make good on this.
Consolidate governmental units: IL has far and away more governments than any other state, with over 6.000 separate governmental entities, all of which get to levy taxes. The governments are often overlapping geographically and can be duplicative in services provided. In many areas our real estate tax bills reflect taxing from more than ten separate entities. It is obviously inefficient and expensive. There has been movement in this area in recent years in the face of much lobbying against it from local government trade groups, but it has to be accelerated. Two obvious places are the elimination of the archaic township governments, and consolidating elementary school districts and high school districts.
Moving to a managed care system for Medicaid services. See answer to question below on Medicaid.
Legalize Marijuana and Crime Reform: See details in my answer below regarding Pot.
Outsource Real Estate Management: Experienced third party management companies should be hired to make better use of our real estate, including the possible rental or sale of parts not being used, and to manage the maintenance of the buildings.
Addressing Bills Promptly: The interest we had to pay due to the non-payment of bills during the budget standoff was shocking, around two million dollars a day. We could also save a lot of money in the future by being more aggressive in addressing infrastructure problems now. When our highways are not properly repaired it makes the future repairs many times more expensive.
Progressive Income Tax: IL levies a flat income tax at a current rate of 4.95%. Our flat rate tax is an anachronism in today’s world. We are one of only seven states that do this. I believe that our society overwhelmingly agrees with the idea that the very wealthy should pay taxes at a higher rate than those people who are not as wealthy. I believe that progressive taxation is just, and as an aside I want to point out that until the recent change in federal tax law that has capped the deductibility of state income taxes paid, our flat rate tax was actually a regressive one (since the wealthy got a larger federal deduction and were therefore actually paying a lower effective state tax rate)! The proposal that I would propose would be to keep tax rates where they are right now for people making less than $500,000 per year. Above that amount the rate would increase to 7%, and then it would increase further to 8.5% for incomes over one million dollars. This proposal would hopefully result in about an additional two billion dollars for the state, which again I would want to go straight to the pension funds until they are adequately funded. The major problem, of course, is that our state constitution requires the flat tax rate. In order to amend the constitution to allow the progressive income tax it must first pass in the State Legislature, and then be submitted to the electorate for their approval at an election. I will work tirelessly to get it passed in Springfield and then at the ballot box. I pledge to be its strongest advocate in the Senate. The other Senators may tire of my efforts on its behalf, but I must do this as I believe that addressing the debt in this way is absolutely crucial in order to protect our state. It will undoubtedly be a struggle as the Koch Brothers and their ilk will certainly mobilize against it. However, I am convinced that if we can get it out of Springfield the voters will approve it overwhelmingly.
Services Tax: According to US News and World Report the average state in the US levies a tax on 56 types of services whereas IL taxes only 17 types of services. The service tax is at the rate of 6.25% which is the state sales tax rate. As a result, IL is leaving a potentially large amount of revenue on the table. In today’s service based economy, taxing just goods is becoming less and less important, and it has become regressive. There have been recent proposals in Springfield to extend it to other sectors of the economy such as storage spaces, pest control, landscaping, and some types of personal care, etc, but it has been defeated so far. I will work to not only pass these services taxes, but to extend them to others area of the economy as well. For example, I would even support a tax on legal fees. However, I would be willing to consider taxing services at a lower rate.
Pension Tax: IL is one of only three states that have an income tax, but then completely exclude all retirement benefits. This started in 1984 and it is costly. There is no tax on social security, 401k’s, or distributions from IRA’s, for example. I would support an income tax on these amounts so long as it is just a tax on amounts that exceed $75,000 per year. That way the people who have relied on receiving these funds tax-free at retirement will not be affected so long as their pensions (plus social security) are relatively modest. But people that are receiving large annual pensions (such as $200,000 per year which is not uncommon in IL) will pay income tax on just the amounts that exceed the $75,000 threshold. I have read that such a tax could raise approximately 1.5 billion per year for IL. I would agree to this tax only on the condition that it be specifically earmarked to be paid directly to the state pension funds, so that we can decrease the pension ramp that will be so painful for our state and our children in the near future.
Running for: Illinois State Senate 20th district
Political/civic background: I ran forAlderman in the 38th Ward in 2012. Currently serve on Board of the Old Irving Park Association. Presently President of a homeowner’s association.
Occupation: Attorney that is self employed.
Education: BA in Economics (1981) and a JD (1985) both from the U of Chicago. Considerable continuing education since then on a wide variety of subjects.
Campaign website: bartforstatesenate.com
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: Increasing the Statewide Minimum Wage to $15 per Hour: The 20th Senate District is a very diverse area, and that is of course an excellent thing. But there is income inequality in the District that has to get addressed. There are some segments of the community where people are really hurting economically. For example there are areas where about 26% of the people live below the present poverty line which is about $23,000 for a family of four. There are areas such as Hermosa where 28% of our families are earning less than $25,000 per year, and where the median family income is about $39,000. In my mind, this is not a living wage. About 90% of the people seeking work there are working, so the problem is not so much the need for more jobs, but the need for higher pay at the jobs that exist. This is why we need to dramatically increase the statewide minimum wage. Please see the question below for details on my proposal.
A Local Community College: In a world where post high school education is required for sustained success many parts of our community are being left behind. There are areas in the 20th District where only 10% of the people have four year college degrees. Community Colleges are absolutely vital as they provide people an opportunity to get the first two years of a great college education before transferring to another school (hopefully in-state) to complete their four year degree. Beyond offering Associates Degrees, they offer certificate programs and workforce development programs that can lead to jobs those employers are really looking to fill. Many of the people that want to attend a community college cannot afford to do so full time, and staying in a dormitory on a campus is not a good option for them, perhaps because they are working. As a result, if we want people to avail themselves of education it has to be provided in convenient locations for the students. In that regard I feel that there needs to be a first class community college located in the district. The travel times to go to Harold Washington, Wilbur Wright, or Malcom X are substantial and therefore they discourage some students. I note that while there is a Humboldt Park branch of Wilbur Wright located at 1645 N. California, it offers only a very limited selection of courses. I would like to see a school that offers a wide selection of courses (like Wilbur Wright) located in the southern part of the district, possibly in the area of Pulaski and Belmont.
Affordable Housing: Maintaining the diversity and character of our communities is very important to me and to most of our people, but I note that many people feel that they have been priced out of their neighborhoods. I have heard this from many in Logan Square and some are starting to worry about it in Avondale. This is of course a national problem, and many have come to see how important it is to society to prevent the type of economic and cultural stratification that has led to the ruin of many cities and towns. I am committed to the ideal that we should have a mixture of income levels in our communities. We already do in most of the 20th, but in some areas we need private and governmental assistance to make it a reality. As a result, I am committed to affordable housing. For example, I support the recent approval of the new Independence Park Branch Library that is being constructed at 4022 N. Elston Avenue, which besides providing a new gorgeous library that is long overdue; it will include 44 units of affordable housing on the upper floors.
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: As detailed above in the answer to the first question I believe that the unfunded pension debt is the biggest problem facing IL today, and as problems go is probably one of the most potentially crippling problems that any state has had to recently face. I believe that we need to pay MORE towards the unfunded pension debt than is required by the “Edgar Ramp”, and as a result I would be vehemently opposed to any proposal to re-amortizing that debt. If I am in Springfield I will work to restore the future for our children, and will not participate in further mortgaging it.
I have not run this by any constitutional experts, but I strongly suspect that any attempt to escape the liability of the pension debt via a constitutional amendment would be unconstitutional itself. Furthermore, it would be immoral so it really does not merit further consideration. I want to be very clear about what I am saying here. A couple of years ago, the legislature tried to address the pension mess with the enactment of SB1, and then the Supreme Court invalidated the law as being unconstitutional. The Supreme Court got the issue completely right in their decision. In Re Pension Reform Litigation, 2015 IL 118585. The state constitution provides that a state pension is a contract and that “the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired”. We may not like that it says that, and it certainly seems incongruous that benefits can be increased and still be protected, but they can never be decreased. The Court said that once an employee starts working under those terms they are protected. Now, we could certainly pass an amendment to remove the present clause in the constitution that protects pensions from ever being diminished, and maybe we should. But I would guess that it could not be applied retroactively to solve our present problems.
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: I favor raising the state minimum wage to the same $13 an hour that will be paid in Chicago, and it should be made effective at the same time which would be in July of 2019. The suburbs in Cook County that have opted out have probably done so in large part due to the difficulties of businesses trying to compete with a business nearby that has very different employment expenses. This is the beauty of doing this on a state wide basis.
I would then also favor a further scheduled increase up to $15 per hour soon thereafter. I believe that we would then have a true living wage. A two person adult household could then earn $60,000 per year. They would then be able to afford good housing and child care for their children.
I view the minimum wage as providing a union for all of our citizens. It gives all workers in Illinois essentially the wage negotiation benefits that are now obtained by those that are fortunate enough to be in private unions. This is only fair as people that are working hard should not be left behind in what was once considered the “American Dream”. By allowing a minimum wage that was not nearly a living wage our government was essentially subsidizing wage payments for our businesses. An employee that was working for much less than a living wage had to receive benefits from many different social agencies and programs in order to survive, and those payments were of course being made by our government and therefore the taxpayers of IL. By raising the minimum wage the employer is then paying the full cost of living to their employee.
Of course, we have to be realistic about the costs and benefits of such a significant change in policy. For one thing there will be less employment. Many proponents of minimum wage increases try to deny this, but it is a fact. Some businesses will switch to automation where they can to save money. For example you may end up ordering via a computer at a fast food restaurant. That machine may not have made sense for the company when a person could be hired at $8.25, but it may then make sense at a full living wage. But that restaurant will still need many employees. In many businesses that are labor intensive (and there are very many where mechanization will not be an option) the business will continue to hire virtually as many as before and pass these costs along to the consumer in slightly higher prices. So while there could be marginally less employment (and therefore more expenses to the state in that regard) I believe that it will easily be offset in the benefits to the state in two ways: (1) reductions in the amount spent on programs for food stamps, subsidized housing, etc.; and (2) increased revenues in both income taxes and sales taxes (since most people at minimum wage will still be spending virtually all of their income). This could then obviously allow for reductions in taxes for all since we then have higher employment earnings being taxed and less costs for social programs.
I would also favor a reduced minimum wage in the instances that it is now allowed by the federal government, such as to full time students and to programs designed to allow hiring of the disabled. I think we should also explore lowering the minimum wage for teens and younger adults (possibly up to age 25) since this will encourage businesses to hire them and they will then develop the skills and reliability that employers will be expecting at the higher wage.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I would support the complete legalization of marijuana (and of course I would also support a pretty good tax on its sale in order to boost revenues). Beyond the obvious revenue benefits of taxing pot, the savings from not prosecuting the crime would be substantial, both in terms of not wasting valuable police manpower and in reducing the prison population. There is no need for further study on this issue, as the past 60 years of American history have told us all we need to know regarding the use of pot.
Related to this issue, I would also support early parole for all people presently incarcerated for drug offenses, if they are found not to be a danger to the public. I am deeply disturbed by the fact that our prisons contain disproportionate percentages of the mentally ill and African-Americans. Sheriff Tom Dart has done a great deal to publicize the fact that there are so many people in jail simply because they are mentally ill. These people can be treated more humanely and more cost-effectively. This of course goes back to the issue that we are not taking care of our mentally ill in this State due to budget problems. We have to address the budget problem so that we will have the funds to help our sick. The over-incarceration of African-Americans is one of the more shameful episodes of recent history. Beginning with Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and the “Three Strikes Your Out” policies of Clinton, and the enforcement of these policies against blacks, we know have the sad result that approximately 10% of young African-American males are currently in prison and several times that have served prison time. This has had a devastating effect on our cities and our families. Obviously, going to prison is an awful experience, but the terrible difficulty of trying to re-enter productive society after serving time is possibly an even worse problem. I will advocate for laws that would make it illegal for an employer to ask (or otherwise find out) if a person was ever convicted or incarcerated for a misdemeanor violation or a felony that was a drug offense. As a result, such a person would have a better chance of being able to support themselves and their family.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: I am mindful of the costs of gambling in terms of addiction and its resultant costs that are borne by society. However, I support legalized gambling for the following reasons: (1) it is enjoyed by many responsible adults; (2) it is a fact of life throughout most of our nation and we are losing valuable tax revenues to our neighbors; and (3) it could actually boost tourism and the convention business in Chicago, and in that regard I think that we should insist that any casino built within the City limits be a very attractive high-end facility that would entice tourists.
I would also support racinos (casinos at racetracks). Since gambling is already going on at a racetrack, I see no reason to not allow this additional source of revenue. In terms of expanding casinos I think we should be careful to not over expand as I believe that it could dilute the product.
I am hopeful that the future for gambling in this state will also include sports wagering. The US Supreme Court is about to render a decision that will hopefully invalidate a federal law that banned sports gambling everywhere but Nevada. If it happens, IL should follow suit to swiftly legalize it here. The amount of betting on sports is vast (such as on the NCAA basketball tournament), and the tax revenue to this state could be quite significant.
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. However, I absolutely favor lower property taxes! With the state finally picking up a bigger portion of the tab for spending on education, we should now demand lower tax bills. Of course the CPS is but one of many governments that levy taxes. This is a big part of the problem as IL has too many governments that can tax us, and as a result it is not unusual for a real estate tax bill in a given location to show taxes from ten or more governmental units. All of these budgets have to be watched and we have to hold our county officials accountable.
The reason that I do not favor a freeze is that I fear that it will lead to irresponsible behavior. Instead of becoming more efficient and controlling costs, I fear that it will instead result in ways that our various governments will simply pass costs on to the future. Examples include more borrowing or contracts that are back loaded with benefits for vendors, etc. I fear it because IL is famous for it. Our state has not truly balanced a budget in a very long time, as it has borrowed just to meet costs of operation. The present unfunded pension mess (that I have written about in other answers) is of course the most egregious example of this. If IL is to pull itself out from the abyss it must start living honestly; meaning that it must start living within its budget and not pawning expenses off on future generations. So we should tax only the amount that we spend, and it is that spending that we have to watch.
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: Providing a first rate education to ALL of our children is absolutely essential to our continued progress, as it benefits all of us when talents that might not otherwise be nurtured are given the encouragement and tools to flourish. In fact, I believe that our capitalistic system is morally justifiable only when every child is given a real chance for success. I believe that if children from disadvantaged backgrounds require higher per capita funding in order to provide them with a good education, then it is our duty to provide it.
I was very pleased with the passing of the school funding bill that was arrived at in the most recent session. The most immediate benefit of the bill was that the schools could open on time. However, certainly the best two things about the bill were: (1) the state was finally picking up a bigger tab for education so that we could decrease our reliance on real estate taxes for educational funding, which had previously resulted in shocking differences in educational funding depending on the wealth of a community; and (2) that the state was finally making a substantial contribution to the Chicago Public Schools pension fund. This remedied a longstanding inequity (that went back to a deal made long ago when the first Mayor Daley wanted home rule powers) where state revenues were paying into pension funds for educators everywhere but Chicago. Another benefit for the CPS was the ability to raise additional tax revenue to help address its own unfunded pension problem. The statewide funding split was also more equitable in my view in that the poorer districts (particularly downstate and Chicago) received a larger share of the funds.
I will work hard to make sure that the gains obtained for education in the last bill will not be lost. Since I feel so strongly about the vital role of education, I will also push for additional funding. However, as I have said above, my first priority will be to address the unfunded pension debt and to get IL back on stable footing. If we do not do that there simply won’t be the ability in the future to provide anything resembling the education that should be provided to all of our children.
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: Opiod abuse has certainly reached crisis proportions making it the worst drug problem of our time. Addressing it here in IL will continue to be the responsibility of the state legislature. Our present Governor has had a poor record concerning the problem. The Governor has recently released and now trumpets his State of Illinois Opiod Action Plan. I take him at his word that he now wants to address the problem but remain skeptical that it will be anything more than re-election grandstanding for the following reasons: (1) The plan sets goals that on their face are not aggressive enough. The plan points out that nearly 2,000 people in Illinois died from opiod overdoses last year and then sets a goal of reducing the fatalities by 33% by the year 2020. However, that reduction is from the future projected death total which they predict will otherwise rise by about 33% by then. Another words, their goal is not a reduction at all, but only an attempt to act to keep the fatalities at about the current 2,000 per year level! We have to do much more than that. (2) The Action Plan lauds the State’s Heroin Crisis Act of 2015 as a step in the right direction. This is galling as the Governor opposed this Act that had passed with nearly unanimous support of both parties. He then vetoed the Act, and the veto was overridden by huge margins from both parties. Since that time Representative Lou Lang (the sponsor of the bill) has argued that the Rauner administration has been deliberately delaying implementation of the Act, and that he has cut funding for drug treatment providers by 25%.
I certainly would have supported the Heroin Crisis Act. I also applaud the IL Prescription Monitoring Act and the recent legislation that will now require all controlled substance license holders (the vendors) to register under that Act. That will make the data available to Doctors and the rest of the medical community more complete so that when they check the data base before prescribing (as required by law) they will know if their patient is also getting the same medication from other legal sources. I will also work to insure that medically assisted programs for the treatment of heroin and opiod problems will continue to be available under Medicaid.
As even Governor Rauner proposes in his Action Plan, we must make every effort to provide diversion programs so that the people suffering from this addiction do not end up in our criminal justice system. It usually does not help the person, and it is of course a very economically inefficient way to try to address the problem. The war on drugs has been an abject failure. As I stated in the answer concerning marijuana above, the key to addressing drug problems is early intervention and treatment, not incarceration.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Much needs to be done, especially at the federal level, to stop the flow of illegal dangerous guns into our communities. That said, I have questions about whether focusing on the issue of silencers alone is an adequate response to the problems we face with gun violence. I am afraid that I will have to plead that I need to see further research in order to make up my mind. The argument boils down to substantial hearing loss for millions of gun owners vs. the possibility that a mass shooter might not be detected quite as quickly. We are presently one of only five states that outlaw them, and there was legislation last year that was receiving bipartisan support that would have lifted that ban.
The advocates point out that the name is a very misleading misnomer since they do not silence gun shots, they instead suppress it like a muffler does. That is why they are called “suppressors”. According to the Washington Post the decibel reduction from a suppressor still makes them about as noisy as a jackhammer and that movies unfairly portray their lack of sound. However, the 25 to 30 db reduction is evidently very important to preserving the hearing of gun users, and particularly hunters that like to shoot without ear protection since they say that they need to be able to hear things moving around them. They also point out that they are not widely used in crime because gun regulations make them as difficult to obtain as a gun and they are expensive. They think that they do not cause a substantial crime problem that needs to be solved. However, on the other side if someone does not hear a gun shot down a hall due to a suppressor and it results in a mass shooter killing even one more victim that would be tragic and awful. The Chicago Police Department does oppose them.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: This one is an easy one, as of course gun dealers should be licensed. When something as dangerous as a firearm is being sold, we need to know how the selling is being done and who is doing it. I would go further and require the registration of guns themselves. See the sections from my website that I have included below where I discuss other gun control measures that I would want to take.
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: Yes, I think that they should be able to do this, both for their protection and the protection of society. Of course, just like in a guardianship proceeding the person should be able to oppose this and if need be a guardian ad litem should be appointed to interview them and advocate for their rights.
Gun Control: Over 100,000 people are shot in this country each year, and it has been obvious for a very long time (way before Las Vegas) that it is absolutely critical for our safety as a society. There is so much that can be done to address the problem that is consistent with our 2nd Amendment rights, so long as you have the stomach to take on the zealots and the NRA. We have to start treating guns less like magic freedom wands and more like what they actually are: dangerous weapons. Some of the measures I would try to enact include:
Registration of Guns: 66% of Americans think that every single gun should be registered. Yet there is no federal registry for guns and the NRA has fought hard to make sure that it does not happen. States can require registration of guns and six states have done so. Making IL the seventh would go a long way toward curbing illegal gun ownership and use. Every gun should be registered and transfer of registration should be required to sell a gun. Registration coupled with real penalties for unauthorized transfers of guns would be very helpful. Registration records would also be very useful for law enforcement in crime investigation.
Prohibition of Bulk Purchases: There is a significant correlation between guns recovered in crimes and bulk sales. A few states have outlawed buying more than one handgun per month. This seems like common sense.
Public Database of Multiple Gun Owners: I have not seen this suggested before but this idea of mine seems like the best way to give society a chance to detect and stop someone who may commit a mass shooting. Often the perpetrators of these mass shootings (as in Las Vegas) have legally acquired all of their weapons. I think that we can agree that when a person owns more than four or five firearms there is a chance that the person might be of a personality type that would result in their use for purposes other than sport or self-defense. I would want a law that provided that anyone who owns that many or more guns would be listed in a state database that can be accessed by the public. That way their friends and neighbors could be made aware of this and have a chance to intervene or notify authorities if they found that person exhibiting potentially dangerous behavior. While most such owners may be collectors or aficionados that present no threat it would seem that other people in the neighborhood should be entitled to know when a cache of firearms and/or ammo is present. Of course, enactment of this database requires the enactment of registration as well.
Banning Assault Weapons and Large Ammunition Magazines: The federal ban on assault weapons lapsed in 1994. Since that time it has become abundantly clear that there is no legitimate public need for this type of weapon. The numbers of people killed and injured would decrease dramatically in mass shootings if these weapons were eliminated.
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: Providing medical services for the disadvantaged is a core function of moral government, so we must protect the viability of the Medicaid system. It is a bigger problem for us because, unfortunately, IL is receiving the lowest reimbursement rate from the federal government for Medicaid, approximately 50%. Some of our neighboring states are receiving over 65%. Our federal representatives need to address this inequity. We must of course strive to keep our costs for this important social service as reasonable as we can, and that is why we have to continue to move towards a managed care system for Medicaid medical services. Much money can be saved by diverting people to a primary physician so that expensive emergency rooms won’t be the unnecessary entry point for care for so many. The managed care providers can bid flat rates for all the people they serve, as opposed to billing on a fee per service basis. They will then have incentive to encourage wellness practices as well. Projects like the recently discontinued Community Care need to be both revived and expanded to keep the elderly out of nursing homes until they are needed.
I certainly support the prior decision for IL to participate in Medicaid expansion under the ACA. While it does create further expense for our State it is way too good of a deal for our citizens to not participate in it when the federal government is picking up 90% of the cost. The Republican’s in Congress have been trying to pass modifications to the ACA that would lower the percentage that the government would reimburse to participating states, and that is particularly problematic for IL since we passed prior legislation that said that we would quit offering the program if the reimbursement rate was ever lowered below 90%. If the rate is lowered a little bit, I would support the repeal of that law so that we could continue in the program. However, if the funding rate was decreased to 50% (or even less) for us, then I do not know that we could afford to offer it at this time (though I would like to very much). When thinking about health care, I always thought that the “public option” would have been a good idea, so as a result I would not be opposed to the idea of everyone being able to buy into Medicaid. However, the costs of the buy-in would have to be borne by the individual so the key is the pricing, both for the individual and for our State. Given the very pressing budget problems in our state I could not support the “buy-in” unless we were very confident that the plan had been structured in such a way that it would not cost our State substantially additional funds.
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: No, I do not believe that IL has too many state universities, but outside of our world-class flagship university in Champaign, we need to improve many of the rest of the state schools. I would like to propose two solutions along with an unusual program of my own.
Our budget problems have had very negative consequences for our public universities. Many of our professors have been poached and hired away by universities in other states, because of the lack of state funding. It has been reported that many have left because of erratic funding for their schools and departments, while others are of course worried about their pensions. Most of all they are probably worried about how the state’s future problems are going to affect their schools and careers. As a result, one solution is the same here as it is for nearly all of the problems in IL: we have to attack the unfunded pension debt and restore stability to IL. The speed with which we do this is imperative for our schools since bouncing back from a prolonged “brain drain” will be very difficult.
We need much better oversight for our universities. By this I mean that their operation needs to be combined in a couple of ways. For example, purchasing and supplies should be better organized over the whole system, so that efficiencies can be obtained. However, I think that the most important change that has to be made is to encourage specialization in academics. All of the schools are good, but they nearly all offer many of the same departmental courses of study. That has to be to a certain extent. But we should encourage the development of different specialties at different schools. Instead of each school having an anthropology department, we should encourage one school to really stress that discipline so that its level of expertise in that area will become nationally significant and students interested in that subject will really want to attend.
Inspired by completely unrelated research from Richard Thaler (recent Nobel Prize winner from the U. of Chicago Department of Economics) that found that people react much more favorably to incentives that are actually given to them and then can be taken away (as opposed to promises of future benefits) I will propose a program that would help our public school students and help to keep our students here in the State. Let’s give each student in public schools in IL starting in the 7th Grade an account that is funded with a voucher worth a certain amount of money ($7,500, for instance) . The amount of the voucher would be reduced for each grade received that is less than a “C”, for failure to meet scholastic expectations for each grade or such other benchmarks including graduation, and could be increased for “A’s” in core subjects. The voucher could then be used for tuition and direct college expenses at any IL public university or community college. If they chose to go to a private school, including trade schools, but stay in IL, they would receive 50% of the value of the voucher. If they graduated and chose not to go further their education in IL they would receive 10% of the value of the voucher upon reaching the age of 21. The students could have accounts to track the value of their funds, but it would not involve an immediate expense to IL since it is a voucher. When the voucher is used for tuition or costs at a public university the school would then be entitled to reimbursement from the State for one half of the value of the voucher being used, and in this way the schools would be sharing in the cost of the program.
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: I want to applaud this question as it behooves our state to not fall into the partisanship divide that has paralyzed our country. While I disagree with Governor Rauner far more than I agree with him, he is not the devil. As a result, not all of his ideas are bad, and even assuming that he is not re-elected, future legislatures are still going to be composed of democrats and republicans, and we must work together.
HB-40 (concerning abortion rights). The primary function of the bill was to eliminate a law passed long ago that provided that if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned that abortion would then automatically become illegal in IL. His decision to not veto this bill was both ethically correct and politically courageous in that it could lead to greatly diminished support amongst socially conservative Republicans. He would have of course preferred to support abortion while vetoing the part of the bill that provided for abortions for the needy that are paid out of state revenue, and he could have utilized an amendatory veto, but fortunately he did not. I say it was fortunate, because just like the vast majority of Democrats I supported this bill, and it is not clear that there would have been the votes to override a veto.
Technology Initiative. The Governor was certainly correct that the State needs a major investment in technology, particularly modernization of their information technology systems. There are multiple reports of how outdated they are, and that the systems are not coordinated in any way. These inefficiencies are very expensive for us. The Governor made no headway on this at this time, as it will be costly and as a result the final budget did not provide any assistance. However, he loses a lot of good points on a related subject when he vetoed the legislation that would have required state agencies to report on their unpaid bills on a monthly basis. Fortunately, his veto was soundly overridden.
Workman’s Compensation Reform. This was another failure for the Governor as this reform was a large part of his “Agenda”. Illinois recently ranked as the fourth most expensive state for businesses to acquire compensation insurance. Some have argued about the reasons for this, but it seems clear that a big part of it is our standard for causation where recovery is allowed if the plaintiff can simply show that the injury may have been caused by the workplace. I would support changing that.
The devastating one was his insistence on trying to tie his seriously flawed “Turnaround Agenda” to the budget. The Governor badly overplayed his hand, alienating both sides of the aisle and has little to show by way of actual accomplishments. He had attempted to hold the budget hostage unless packaged with his legislative wish-list. The costs of the delay were disastrous, with increased borrowing costs, flirting with junk bond status, high late fees to vendors, and most importantly the lack of funding to social service agencies. By the middle of 2017 over 70% of the social service agencies in IL had not been paid that year, which threatened what is probably the cardinal function of humane government, which is to provide services to those that are in need. More social service agencies were forced to close every day that the standoff continued, and those agencies were providing absolutely vital services to the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, to our senior citizens and recent immigrants, amongst others. Many of these agencies have been forever lost as a result since they cannot just magically recreate themselves once funds are available. After over two years, when the problem had reached an absolutely critical juncture, the Governor had no choice but to essentially give in as he was perceived as the one that was trying to add extraneous issues to what should have been solely a budget negotiation.
As recently as last week the Governor continued to fight Democrats over the very popular Community Care program, which he wants to eliminate for every Senior Citizen not receiving Medicaid. The program was serving about 36, 000 seniors by providing adult care services and in-home services that allowed them to remain in their home instead of going into nursing homes. Not only was this program greatly appreciated by the elder community it was financially sensible since it was saving IL the additional costs that are incurred by the State when people need Medicaid assistance when living in a nursing home.
Environmental Decisions: IL needs to join the United States Climate Alliance to pledge compliance with the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the Governor has stated that we will comply with the Paris Agreement he has refused to join the Alliance. Much more troubling is his EPA’s recent push to ease IL rules for coal plants. The proposal is being made to benefit Dynegy Inc that operates coal plants in central and southern IL. It would allow some plants that are quite old (and evidently not worth making proper environmental improvements to) to keep operating while polluting at levels that are higher than what was previously allowed. The pollution from these plants can drift to Chicago and downwind destinations as far away as New York. Lest you think the amounts are insignificant, the amount of CO2 generated by all eight of their plants would equal the amount generated by 6 million autos (more than on the roads in Chicago).