Q&A: Mulligan, Gruen in House 65
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Republican Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines is the current state legislator from House District 65. She is opposed in the Nov. 2 election by Democrat Wendy Gruen, also of Des Plaines. Both candidates responded to the Daily Herald questionnaire.
Q. What is your No. 1 campaign issue?
Gruen: Budget Illinois' budget crisis is among the worst in the nation and until we can get our fiscal house in order, nothing else significant can really be accomplished.
Mulligan: Trying to restore fiscal responsibility to the State. I have been the chair or Republican Spokesman for Human Service Appropriations for 16 years. I do most of the negotiating (when we are allowed) for that area for House Republicans. Giving lump sums to a governor instead of properly appropriating state dollars has caused increasing problems.
Q. What is your No. 2 campaign issue?
Gruen: Jobs We need to make Illinois a friendlier place to do business. That means addressing our reputation as a corrupt state. Business should not feel that they have to "pay-to-play in order to get projects built, overcome regulatory hurdles, or otherwise move forward on a new venture. Further, we must also address our larger budget issues. Our mounting deficit is a red flag to any company looking to move here. I welcomed the small business tax credit program started by Gov. Quinn earlier this year and would support its expansion – both in terms of the duration of its availability and the types of companies that can qualify.
Illinois has numerous untapped resources, and state government should be doing all it can to link those resources with willing entrepreneurs and businesses. There is a tremendous amount of innovative research being done at universities and colleges throughout Illinois. We should partner those institutions with Illinois companies so that we can be on the cutting edge of the new economy. Illinois has all the resources necessary to make it a leader in a new green economy, but we cannot wait any longer to put those resources to work. One of Illinois' greatest resources is its people. For example, we have hardworking men and women throughout Illinois who built the cars that we drive but who are now unemployed. We should put those people to work building wind turbines or helping to develop new, green forms of transportation.
Workers from closed manufacturing facilities should be put to work making solar panels that will later be installed by tradesmen and women who are anxious to be productive again. The other resources that Illinois has that must be taken advantage of are physical: the factories, plants, and equipment left over from a loss of manufacturing. We should encourage business to find ways to create new industries and jobs from existing infrastructure – providing tax incentives to businesses who reinvent vacant facilities, encouraging local banks (through tax incentives or measures tied to state deposits) to provide low interest loans for plant rehabilitation. As a member of the Des Plaines Economic Development Commission and a business owner myself, I am involved in advocating for programs which link willing entrepreneurs with existing facilities and provide some incentive to locate in the communities of the 65th District.
Mulligan: Keeping jobs in Illinois and creating new employment opportunities. Representing and trying to solve problems for my local area. Two big issues have always been flooding and O'Hare Airport pollution problems.
Q. What is your No. 3 campaign issue?
Gruen: Education Improving the quality of education must be our highest priority, and it will certainly be mine. There is no panacea and anything that takes away from efforts to improve our traditional public school system – including expansion of charters and voucher programs – must be met with careful scrutiny. I am unwilling to sacrifice the education of the many to provide more for a few. We must address every factor known to lead to a better learning experience reduced class size, upgrades in books and computers, continuing education opportunities for teachers, a focus on creating safe schools, and a more innovative and comprehensive curriculum with less of an obsession on testing.
The three principal actors in any student's education teachers, parents, and the student themselves – must be given the tools they need to succeed and must be held accountable when they don't. Teachers should participate in high-quality continuing education programs focused both on staying current on subject-matter knowledge and on being exposed to new, innovative teaching methods. I would support changing the way we fund a public school system. With such a heavy reliance on property taxes, school funding leads to the perpetuation of a classed-based education system.
Mulligan: Integrating the new national health care into the Illinois system without breaking the bank.
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.
Gruen: My husband and I own a financial planning firm. Every day we see people who are trying to budget for their future, to make sure that they can pay their bills, save for retirement, and have a rainy-day fund for when things go wrong. The state of Illinois can't pay its bills, hasn't saved enough to pay for the retirement of its workers, and has raided its own rainy day fund even when there were surpluses. Illinois has a structural deficit that, if left unaddressed, will bankrupt the state. Budget cuts alone are not enough to get us in the black without sacrificing even basic government services, but they must be the first place where we start.
We should first look at ways to cut the budget that do not have an impact on state services or require the layoff of state employees. For example, restructuring the state's debt and improving government efficiencies could help close the budget gap. We should then look at consolidating overlapping state agencies and offices. Current proposals to combining the Comptroller's and Treasurer's offices and to merge DCFS and the Department of Juvenile Justice, for example, deserve consideration. We should also examine ways to eliminate redundant layers of government. Anyone who says that the state's budget can be balanced with spending cuts alone is either being dishonest or is prepared to make draconian cuts that would destroy the fabric of our state. We must find new sources of revenue. I would prefer a temporary tax increase as a stopgap measure for our current budget problems, but understand that our structural deficit may well demand more. However, I would condition my support for a tax increase on a couple other issues: increased fiscal responsibility out of Springfield, including budget cuts, and a move to a more progressive tax system.
The latter is critical because any increase in income taxes should not come on the backs of low and middle class families. Illinois has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation but its sales tax base is relatively low. I would propose addressing both of these issues: reducing the rate so that we are more in line with neighboring states and expanding the base to address the realities of an increasingly serviced-based economy. In addition to looking at income tax rates, we should also review all existing tax credits to make sure that they are meeting their intended purposes. One consideration is to means test for some credits – like tuition and property tax credits – so that they are available to those who need them most but do not burden the overall system. We should also review corporate credits and expenditures to make sure that they fit our current objectives. For example, we should eliminate tax breaks to the horse racing industry.
Mulligan: This state's budget crisis isn't going to be solved in 500 words or less. I think for the immediate future we need to cut or postpone things that can wait (no new state police cars, but fund early intervention because it can't be put off). We absolutely must stop giving lump sums to governors to dole out. We need to reestablish the actual appropriation hearing process. I have introduced legislation for an independent bureau of the budget that all members could access. At this time I would oppose an income tax increase or a state sales tax increase until we see who is going to spend it and how. The budget process should not be one that the Speaker can toss out on whim. When the new general assembly returns we need to assess midyear budget, what federal money we can obtain and redo line items with the purpose of cutting back. Spending should allocated on getting returns federally where possible.
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?
Gruen: To be clear, the mounting unfunded pension obligations that confront Illinois are not the result of extraordinarily generous retirement packages for state workers. Illinois' public employee pension benefits are at or below those of other Midwestern states. And while we can single out the "double and triple-dippers, those abuses are few and are not a major contributor to the larger problem. Indeed, for most retirees receiving state pension benefits, their state pension is their sole source of income as they do not receive social security benefits.
The main reason that Illinois has the largest unfunded pension liability of any state in the nation is due to irresponsible practices by our elected leaders and a still-unaddressed structural deficit. Even in good economic times, the state did not meet its obligation to fully fund the retirement system and instead used the funds to cover other government spending. The recently-enacted reforms do nothing to address this central problem even though it is clear that we must both increase revenue and decrease spending if we are to begin adequately funding our pension systems.
Though I think the recently-enacted pension reform measures were hastily passed and not geared toward addressing the current crisis, I do support some of the steps taken. An increase in the retirement age makes sense; however, I would have rather we get in line with other states (we now have the oldest retirement age in the nation) and think that we should have exempted more categories (in addition to the fire fighters and security personnel exempted, I would have, for example, set a lower retirement age for teachers). Let me reiterate – the only real solution to our pension funding crisis is to address the state's structural deficit. To do so will require both an increase in revenue and a decrease in spending. Furthermore, the General Assembly must be committed to fully funding the pension system. Pension holidays like the one allowed for the Chicago Public Schools in the recent reform legislation result in the sort of disaster that we are currently facing.
Mulligan: SB1946 was OK and I voted for it but it will take a lot more to solve this problem. We shouldn't have been skipping payments which has created this diaster. I have never voted to do that. A pension plan is a contract that you make with an employee who usually accepts a lower salary to receive that type of benefit. Changing the contract in midstream when you have been putting your money in seems grossly unfair. If the state payments had been made, they would have been earning interest. I believe we are obligated to fund the shortfall and it could be along the plan purposed in 1994 or 1995 that the Democrats threw out several years ago.
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?
Gruen: I believe that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the same rights and I believe that it benefits our nation to support families. Therefore, I would support gay marriage. If there is not sufficient support in the General Assembly for gay marriage, I would advocate for civil unions knowing that, as is the history of our country, we will eventually get to the right place on this issue – allowing for equality for all of our citizens. I started in politics as an organizer for the Equal Rights Amendment. My commitment to advancing the rights of women is what drove me to public life.
I believe that the right of choice is protected by the constitution and would defend that right as a matter of principle. Moreover, I would not support any restrictions on abortion that would put the life of the woman at risk, including, if necessary, late-term abortion. While I understand that parents have a right to know what is going on in the lives of their children and to help them make critical decisions, I also know that not all families are supportive. Young women from abusive or detached families should not be forced by the state to get their parents' permission on such a sensitive issue.
This position is supported by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, American Psychological Association and many other respected medical and patient advocacy associations. The right to own a gun is protected by the 2nd Amendment and, as a legislator, I would be duty-bound to protect that right. However, like all rights enjoyed by American citizens, it does not come without restrictions. We should, for example, close all background check loopholes, keep assault weapons off our streets, and increase the safety requirements for the manufacture of guns.
Mulligan: I support civil unions and gay marriage. I don't see a problem with people creating stable situations to live in. I don't support restrictions on abortion, I think it is a personal decision between a woman, her family and her doctor. I can only support parental notification if it includes a judicial bypass and additional family members who may be notified. I don't think anyone "supports late term abortion, but once again I believe it is a personal decision that arises out of unusual circumstances that should be left up to the woman, her family and her doctor. I support the FOID card system and I believe there should be safeguards regarding ownership for convicted felons. I would support proper storage of weapons to avoid accidents with children.
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?
Gruen: I applaud the legislature for its long-overdue passage of campaign finance legislation but do not think they went far enough. I definitely think that the recently-enacted contribution limits should be extended to legislative leaders and the committees they control. Moreover, while I think that the reform measures will help reduce the influence of money in government, I think that we must strive toward a system of public financing of elections as the only way to truly de-link money and politics.
The way redistricting is done in Illinois and other states throughout the nation is harmful to the democratic process. Looking at a map of legislative districts or of Congressional districts, the evidence of gerrymandering couldn't be more clear – boundary lines are almost impossible to trace and bear no relationship to any set of common community characteristics. I think an approach like the one used in Iowa that employs computer modeling to craft districts would be preferable if such a system can adequately account for the racial and ethnic complexities of Illinois and the need to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Mulligan: I believe the caps should be uniform including legislative leaders and parties. I would vote for Tom Cross again for leader. I support an amendment for a different political map system. I have been drawn out once by Republicans after losing in a Supreme Court recount the first time I ran in 1990 (Pullen v. Mulligan) to discourage me from running again; and once by the Democrats in the last map. I am a poster child on being redistricted out.
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.
Gruen: There are very few instances when I would ever argue for less transparency. I was pleased to see the General Assembly expand the state's transparency laws and expand the Open Meetings Act earlier this term. I have been, however, disappointed in the almost immediate attempts to roll back such changes with a series of new exemptions from Illinois FOIA laws. There may be legitimate instances to, for example, exempt some law enforcement personnel, but as a general rule I believe that we should always advocate for open, transparent government.
Mulligan: I voted no on that bill, but I also think we have to protect people from those who only want to create mischief and trouble. I think some situations may call for the ability to make sure a worker is doing a job that doesn't hurt the public in their actions (police, other workers that deal with the public), but the employer ought to be able to give a candid evaluation which may not happen if they are open to anyone to FOIA.
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