Sid Mathias, a Republican from Buffalo Grove, has been in the legislature since 1999 and has held the 53rd House seat since 2003. He is opposed in the Nov. 2 election by Democrat Linda Birnbaum of Wheeling.
Candidates' answers to the Daily Herald questionnaire are below.
Q. What is your Number 1 campaign issue?
Birnbaum: Jobs. Double-digit unemployment is not acceptable. Instituting innovative programs that will create permanent jobs and give small business the support and tools needed to grow and prosper is crucial. I will work with local businesses to encourage new ideas and support the entrepreneurial spirit that will distinguish the 53rd District.
Mathias: Real estate property tax relief. I am the chief sponsor of HB 4732 which provides that the 7% tax cap on assessments become permanent. It also increases the maximum amount of the exemption to $60,000 of assessed valuation. The bill was never voted out of committee and therefore never received a vote in the Illinois House. The 7% tax cap was due to expire this year but SB 3638 was signed into law which extends the current law for an additional 3 years but with lower maximum amounts of assessed valuation. Since my legislation would create a permanent tax cap and result in higher savings than current law, I will continue with my efforts to pass my bill.
Q. What is your Number 2 campaign issue?
Birnbaum: Budget. The hard work of balancing the budget must be done NOW. It is time to live within our means and find new sources of revenue beyond that of taxes. I will work to cut spending and operate more efficiently. It's not enough for the 53rd District to just survive -- it should thrive.
Mathias: I am the chief House sponsor of SB 3622 which has already passed the Senate. This bill creates the Taxpayer Transparency Act. It provides that a bill making an appropriation from the General Revenue Fund must be available on the General Assembly's Internet website for at least 4 calendar days before final legislative action by the General Assembly. The public would then have time to read the legislation and contact legislators with their comments. Current policy of presenting budgets to legislators only hours before a final vote does not give the public or the legislators sufficient time to review the bill.
I am also the chief sponsor of HB 6271 which was recently signed into law by the Governor. This legislation requires the Department of Central Management Services to establish and maintain the Illinois New Employee Portal on its official website. This new law specifies the information to be included, such as compensation, on a searchable database concerning new State employees. It is my intention to file additional legislation to include all current state employees in the database.
Q. What is your Number 3 campaign issue?
Birnbaum: Education. I will continue to be a champion of education to be sure our children are prepared to be successful, productive citizens. Along with a strong standards-based curriculum, we need to provide teachers with the time and resources to empower students to become creative problem solvers and innovative thinkers. Many young people I know are eager to learn about the process of taking leadership roles in government. I will make the most of my opportunities to mentor them and get them thinking about issues and their vision for the future of our communities.
Mathias: To enhance the quality of life for my constituents by advocating for enhancement of better modes of transportation. I will continue with my efforts to improve road transportation through the extension of Route 53 from Lake Cook Road into Lake County. Now may be a golden opportunity to advance this project since the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) is currently studying this project as part of their long range planning. I recently testified before the ISTHA board of directors along with other officials to communicate our reasons why this extension is a necessary component in improving the transportation system in our area. It has become apparent that in our struggling economic times, this project would create a substantial number of much needed jobs. Also the only way to pay for this project is through the sale of bonds by ISTHA.
In addition to road projects, I will also continue in my efforts to improve the mass transit system in our area. I am currently the minority spokesman for the House Mass Transit committee and will use my influence to add more commuter trains on the North Central Service Commuter Line. This should include trains to start up weekend service and additional weekday trains.
Q. What should be done to solve the state's budget crisis? What specific measures should be cut for how much in savings? Would you support or oppose an income tax increase or a state sales tax increase? Lay out a specific plan of what needs to be done.
Birnbaum: Examine the State budget line item by line item and cut more in areas that don't directly affect education, social services, and public safety. Declare a moratorium on new purchases. Eliminate all perks, travel, and pay raises. 2. Institute methods that ensure services are not duplicated and are delivered only to those who are entitled to them. 3. Develop Illinois' potential for wind power as a way to create jobs, conserve energy, and generate revenue. 4. Regulations that limit the ability of small business to be more profitable must be addressed. We need to partner with local businesses and brainstorm ideas to help them become more successful. 5. More opportunities for volunteerism could be developed for citizens to help out where cuts have been made. 6. A sales tax increase is out of the question because it hinders consumer spending and business profitability, but, as the economy improves and the jobless rate goes down, a graduated income tax system should be considered. Business as usual will not cut it any more. Changes need to be made in all areas. We need to work together and think outside the box.
Mathias: The first thing that must be done to solve our state's budget crisis is to change the image of Illinois from one that is seen as burdening our businesses with new taxes and fees to a state that wants new business to come to Illinois or to expand our current businesses. I don't think we can measure the damage done to our job climate by our former Governor's plans to enact both a gross receipts tax and a payroll tax as well as enacting substantial fees on businesses in prior years at a time that we are lagging far behind other states in job creation. We can't just blame it on the economy. Our budget crisis has been developing over the last 7 years by overspending and continuing to borrow to pay for programs that we cannot afford.
I support programs to enhance Illinois as a leader in research and development which will assist and attract new businesses to our state. Targeted tax credits to expand research and development while assisting businesses with tax credits and grants to assist them with the rising costs of health care will ultimately help our economy.
I oppose an income tax increase which will drive more jobs out of Illinois. While I also oppose an increase in the state's sales tax rate, I can support additions to the list of taxable items. Depending on what we add to the list we may actually be able to lower the overall sales tax rate and still increase sales tax revenues.
I am the chief House sponsor of HB 715 which I filed last year to repeal the previously enacted 1 % sales tax increase by the Cook County Board. This increase will drive shoppers out of Cook County and will cause businesses to close or move outside of our area, resulting in loss of jobs and declining tax revenues. The bill failed to receive the necessary 3/5 majority to pass although it did receive a simple majority.
Q. What is your view on the pension legislation passed last year? Do you support or oppose lower benefits and higher employee contributions for current state workers? Specifically, how should state officials resolve underfunding problems?
Birnbaum: The legislation does not reduce the estimated $130 billion unfunded pension liability. We cannot afford to ignore this debt. We must all work together to keep our State solvent even if it means lower benefits and higher contributions for current employees. However, these stakeholders should have a voice in the process at some level. I would like to meet with union leaders so that their memberships can help us find ways to cut expenses and balance contributions and benefits paid. We need to put in the time it will take to reach a mutually beneficial solution.
Mathias: SB 1946 creates a two-tier pension system. It applies to all new employees covered under thirteen pension systems after January 1, 2011. The legislation raises the age for retirement to age 67 with a reduced benefit at age 62. It also reduces cost of living increases and it prevents a person who is collecting a pension from going back to work under another system, commonly referred to as "double dipping. I voted in favor of SB 1946 since the benefits are more in line with social security age requirements and reflects the increase in life expectancy. It is estimated that these changes can save the pension systems up to 15 billion dollars.
Article XIII Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution states, "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.
This provision has been interpreted to mean that pension benefits for current state workers cannot be lowered. I agree with this interpretation since current state workers were hired with pension benefits as part of their employment contract. It would be unfair to these workers to change their contract unilaterally since it was part of the agreement when they were hired. This is why the recently passed legislation only applies to new workers who will be hired under a new pension system.
The General Assembly previously passed legislation in 1995 to fully fund our pension systems over a forty-year period. That plan was workable and should have been maintained. However, our former Governor and the Democratic majority several years ago succeeded in restructuring the pension payments to the detriment of the state pension plan systems. I voted against this legislation. The deferral of $3.5 billion dollars in payments at that time may result in over $38 billion dollars in additional costs to these systems. Now that the damage is done, we will have to wait for better economic conditions and then repay the amounts in future years and go back to the original funding formula.
Q. Do you oppose or support civil unions? Gay marriage? What abortion restrictions do you support? What about parental notification? Late-term abortion? Should there be controls on gun ownership? If so, what would you support?
Birnbaum: I believe that same-sex couples have just as much right to the pursuit of happiness as heterosexual couples. Therefore, I support civil unions and gay marriage. I believe in a woman's right to choose especially when it comes to decisions that impact her body and her health. I do not believe in legislating any restrictions on abortion. I do believe in controls on deadly assault weapons.
Mathias: I support current Illinois law that prohibits same sex marriage. I do not support SB 1716 which would allow civil unions since it would legalize all of the benefits of marriage. I can support legislation that would allow certain reasonable benefits such as hospital visitation rights.
I believe that the issue of abortion is best determined by a women in consultation with her doctor. I have previously supported parental notification bills. A 1995 parental notification bill was signed into law and is still being litigated after 15 years.
There should be reasonable controls and restrictions on gun ownership. Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned the city of Chicago's ban on handguns, it affirmed the right of governments to place reasonable restriction on gun ownership. I support the current FOID card laws and the requirement of background checks that prohibit felons and certain other individuals from purchasing firearms. I also support stronger penalties for criminals who use firearms in the commission of crimes.
Q. Where do you stand on campaign finance caps for legislative leaders and parties? Will you vote for your current caucus leader? Do you support an amendment for a different political map system? Why or why not?
Birnbaum: As I walk door-to-door in the neighborhoods of the 53rd District, I am reminded of the current crisis in public trust. Without limits, campaign costs continue to escalate and fuel the pay-to-play culture that undermines public confidence in state government.
I believe that no matter who the Speaker of the House is, the legislative process must be opened up to more input by the public and the House members who represent them. I would support an amendment for a political map system that is sensible, fair and nonpartisan.
Mathias: I am in favor of campaign finance caps for legislative leaders and parties. I am the chief sponsor of HB 4946 and also a sponsor of HB 5008. Both of these bills place the same campaign finance caps during the general elections that are currently in place for primary elections. Neither of these bills were assigned to a committee or were allowed a public hearing on the merits of the bills by the majority party. It is grossly unfair to allow legislative leaders and their parties to give unlimited campaign contributions to their candidates while restricting candidates from receiving unlimited campaign funds from their friends, relatives and supporters. This will give the leaders even more power as candidates are limited in receiving funds from independent sources.
I also previously filed HJRCA9 and HJRCA39 which are constitutional amendments to place term limits on legislative leaders. If either of these proposed amendments became law, leaders would be limited to 10 years in one office and a total of 14 years combined in two or more offices. Unfortunately the majority party refused to allow a hearing on these bills or to refer them to a substantive committee. The longer a leader stays in power, the more power accumulates and grows. Our current Speaker of the House has been in leadership since 1977 and first became Speaker in 1983.
I am wholeheartedly planning on and looking forward to voting for Rep. Tom Cross to be the next Speaker of the House and to also continue to be our caucus leader. I have worked closely with Tom both in his current position and as an assistant leader under former representative Lee Daniels. Based on my observations and experiences, I would without reservation vote for Leader Cross. Tom listens to the members of his caucus and understands that open debate is healthy. He always supports my decisions even if they differ from his.
I not only support an amendment for a different political map system but I have filed HJRCA8 and HJRCA49 which are proposed constitutional amendments which would require that redistricting be completed by an independent commission using a computer program that excludes information regarding previous voting records and party affiliations. Again, the majority party has refused to refer my bills to a substantive committee for a hearing. There are other plans that I support such as allowing the Senate and House by a supermajority vote to draw their own maps. The last three legislative maps were drawn as a result of picking a name out of a hat. The person whose name was picked was the deciding vote in choosing a new map after all other procedures failed.
Q. Legislation recently passed that exempts the evaluations of all public workers from FOIA. Do you support such an exemption? For a certain class of public employees (e.g. police officers, road workers etc.)? Explain.
Birnbaum: I support transparency in government. At a time when people have lost faith in the system, public officials need to do everything possible to promote openness and restore trust. I do not support legislation that erodes the FOIA law.
Mathias: I am a strong proponent for transparency in government. I recently was the chief sponsor of HB 6271 which was signed into law on July 29, 2010 by the Governor. This legislation requires the Department of Central Management Services to establish and maintain the Illinois New Employee Portal on its official website. The new law specifies the information to be included, such as compensation, on a searchable database concerning new State employees. My bill did not mandate disclosure of evaluations of public employees. I am very concerned that publicly disclosing performance evaluations will diminish the integrity of the process. It is my opinion that it will effect the candor of the evaluations which are given for the purpose of improving the skills of the employee as well as determining if an employee should be retained. No one benefits if supervisors become overly cautious in their written evaluations because of fear of disclosure.