Illinois House 50th District Republican nominee: Keith R. Wheeler
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Republican Keith Wheeler is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 50th district race for the Illinois House. He faces Democrat James Leslie in the general election.
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.
Wheeler submitted the following responses, and watch the video above to find out why he is running for re-election.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Wheeler: Property taxes are the most acute issue for taxpayers in the 50th District. For my four years in office, property tax relief has been at the forefront of efforts in the House that have ultimately been thwarted by Speaker Madigan. Since more than 2/3 of property tax bills pay for local education, a better balance of funding for schools is a critical step. I voted for the school funding reform bill last year that will drive more state money to our local school districts. In addition, I have been supportive of mandate relief for our schools since many costs are driven by Springfield without appropriate funding to pay for those costs. Improvements in local government efficiency are another element in driving down the levies which ultimately show up on our property tax bills.
Job creation is vital to our success as a state. Families aren’t finding the balance between high-paying opportunities and Illinois’ high cost of living. We pay the highest (or second-highest) property taxes in the country. The Illinois economy has been lagging behind national economic growth due to over-regulation and over-taxation. For families who see better earning opportunities paired with a lower cost of living in other states, they are going to find those opportunities very attractive. Many have left and they won’t consider coming back unless Illinois makes real changes.
Let’s make Illinois more competitive by driving down the cost of doing business in our state so employers invest here and create more jobs here. That means reforms to our workers’ compensation system (8th highest nationally) and property taxes (1st or 2nd highest nationally) since both those business expenses occur whether the company is profitable or not. We need to keep a low, flat income tax rate for both personal business returns (small business income is typically filed on personal income tax returns) so business owners can see how they can make a return on investment.
Ultimately, if small business owners and budding entrepreneurs don’t see a path in Illinois where they can be successful, they don’t make that investment here which means that they don’t hire here. By lowering the employer overhead costs dictated by government, we will see greater hiring opportunities and higher wages for Illinois families.
In April of this year, I filed HB 5864, the Blue Collar Jobs Act, which uses the model of the improved EDGE program (which I helped negotiate to improve small business access, to improve transparency, and to directly benefit the state) in an innovative way to incentivize construction jobs in Illinois which has support from both labor and business.
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
Property tax relief
Property tax relief
Property tax relief
In addition to property taxes, job creation is top of mind as there have been changes announced at three large manufacturing facilities. Like in many districts, transportation infrastructure needs attention due to increases in population while some vital roads haven’t been expanded to accommodate the higher levels of traffic.
Who is Keith R. Wheeler?
He’s running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 50th District
His political/civic background:
- State Representative for the 50th District
- Bristol Township Trustee, Appointed in 2013-2017
- Kendall County Food Pantry Board of Directors, Chairman 2008-2014
- Oswego Bears Youth Football and Cheer Board of Directors
- Treasurer 2010-2014
- Football Coach 2010-2012
- District 308 Teaching and Learning Committee, Appointed Member 2012-2014
His occupation: State Representative for the 50th District and self-employed business owner
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.A. in Economics
- Oswego High School, Diploma
Campaign website: www.keithwheeler.net
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Wheeler: I have stated that I will under no circumstances vote for Michael Madigan for Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Wheeler: Outmigration is a huge problem and we must fix it. This is the key to our success. For families to see Illinois as the best place for their future, they need to see economic opportunity paired with a reasonable cost of living for the communities in which they want to live. For that family’s economic opportunity to exist, large and small employers must find Illinois to be their best opportunity for investment, growth and profit.
Employers see Illinois’ high property taxes, high workers’ compensation costs, high litigation costs and growing income tax as obstacles to making a real return on their investment. The General Assembly can negotiate real reforms that can bring down these costs and make Illinois much more competitive with other states. Illinois has everything we need to succeed if we can just get state government to cooperate.
We have a tremendous workforce, unparalleled transportation infrastructure, world-class universities, some of the richest farmland on the planet, and a remarkable balance between urban, suburban, and rural communities. With this combination of assets, Illinois should be leading the national economy, not trailing it.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Wheeler: The General Assembly should continue to work toward reforms that generate cost savings. In the FY2019 budget implementation bill (BIMP), there was language that I supported to allow for buy-out options related to the entire pension value for certain pensioners as well as for the 3% cost of living adjustment, which could save the state over $400 million initially and much more over the long-term. I signed on as a sponsor of HB 4027 which is a comprehensive pension reform proposal which received bipartisan support in a committee vote, but Speaker Madigan didn’t let it move to the Floor and the bill has since relegated back to the Rules Committee.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?
Wheeler: The high cost of doing business in Illinois doesn’t escape our universities. It is often pointed out that Illinois higher education had experienced reduced funding. However, our state still ranks in the top tier of states supporting higher education on a per full-time equivalent student. When students and their families examine choices for a four-year college, it becomes apparent that Illinois schools are struggling to compete with out-of-state options. That’s because our in-state costs outpace out-of-state expenses for Illinois families. It’s encouraging to see that my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is taking new initiatives to compete for Illinois students so that more of our best and brightest stay in Illinois.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Wheeler: While I am a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, I try to look at every proposal with an open mind. I recently voted in favor of the firearms restraining order bill which has an important focus on mental health. It should be emphasized that some of the gun violence that we hear about, especially in Chicago, would be better addressed by enforcing the laws that are already on the books- especially for criminals who have previously used guns in the commission of violent crimes.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Wheeler: No. State government is not the proper venue to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to scheduling between an employer and an employee.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Wheeler: I support the current medical marijuana pilot program which is in place. I am still researching the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Wheeler: In 2017, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted a State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan which is based on three pillars: Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, and Response. The legislature needs to work collaboratively with the experts at the department as well as stakeholders across our state to provide the appropriate support to see this program to its success.
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?
Wheeler: I voted against the Future Energy Jobs Act on the floor. While I certainly appreciated the intent to keep power plants in Illinois open, I didn’t see an appropriate balance between consumers, large corporations and small business.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?
Wheeler: Medicaid costs need to be contained to maintain the long-term viability of the program. Reforms for Medicaid have to be considered and managed care and accountability should be at the forefront of the discussion.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Wheeler: I would need to study the Auditor General’s findings regarding this issue.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Wheeler: Over the four years that I have served in the Illinois House of Representatives, we have made substantial criminal justice reforms. I have not been involved in the discussions regarding the reinstatement of parole. I have questions about how the system should work and what reforms should be instituted should parole be reinstated. In my district, there are serious concerns as a mass murderer, whose case occurred under the parole system, was granted parole over the objections of law enforcement and the victims’ families.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.