The 54th House District will have a new representative after the Nov. 2 election. Tom Morrison, of Palatine, beat longtime legislator Suzie Bassi in the Republican primary for this seat. He is opposed by Democrat Matt Flamm, also of Palatine. Here are their answers to the Daily Herald questionnaire.
Q. What is your Number 1 campaign issue?
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Flamm: We must preserve and improve our excellent public schools. My wife and I moved to Palatine 23 years ago so that our daughters could attend good schools, and they have received a first-class education. We must make sure our schools continue to be adequately and dependably funded and that they are responsive to the changing needs of students and our community in the 21st Century.
Morrison: The number one issue is getting Illinois back to work. Citizens of Illinois are suffering. The state ranks 48th nationally in economic performance, and slow population growth will cause us to lose a congressional seat next year. Illinois is above the national average in unemployment. These are the consequences of a chaotic, fiscally irresponsible state government ... raising fees and threatening to raise taxes at every turn.
We need a stable state where people feel safe to invest and create jobs. We need a state safe for business. Illinois needs to become business friendly, with a predictable low tax environment. The best economic development starts with a well-run state, not gimmicks and stimulus packages.
Q. What is your Number 2 campaign issue?
Flamm: We must help small and growing businesses flourish so they can create good jobs for Illinois residents. This should include targeted tax credits tied to creation of new jobs. We should not create incentives for multinational corporations without proof that the benefit to the community exceeds the cost to taxpayers and local businesses.
Morrison: We need to narrow the scope of state government spending. State Government spending has increased 39% between 1998 and 2008. This behavior is unsustainable, and has led to our present financial problems.
We need to reduce spending and narrow the scope of our governmentdefine our responsibilities and stick to them.
Our state leaders put capital bills ahead of balanced budgets, pet projects ahead of education and Medicaid bills, and special interest ahead of ethics reform. They ignore the serious problems facing our state. We need to get the basics right.
Q. What is your Number 3 campaign issue?
Flamm: I will be a moderate, independent, and responsible voice representing all the people of the 54th District. We need pragmatic solutions to our problems, not extreme and divisive rhetoric. I will listen and respond to the needs and concerns of all the people of the district.
Morrison: The third issue is pursuing the best education for our children. Education is crucial to our children and our future in a fast moving global economy. I've worked as a schoolteacher for six years; I understand we can't afford to compromise education.
I will defend local control and support education focused on the needs of parents and schools. While our local schools are good, this isn't true everywhere in Illinois.
That's why I support choices for children in need. We deserve the best education for our children, and that means empowering parents to make educational decisions.
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.
Flamm: Rep. Elaine Nekritz has proposed cuts totaling $1.1 billion and increased revenues of $100 million. This is a good start. We should eliminate unnecessary offices such as lieutenant governor and Township Highway Commissioner, and we should combine redundant and duplicative county taxing offices (Assessor, Treasurer, Clerk, and Recorder of Deeds).
Our state taxation system penalizes working families and seniors. Lawyers' services (including my own) and other services should be subject to sales tax, which would allow us to give property tax relief to homeowners.
Morrison: 1) The Illinois legislature must stop spending money it doesn't have.
2) Legislators must stop padding public pensions in the 5 state-funded systems.
3) The legislature should consider going to a 'defined benefit' pension for all new state hires, like many businesses are doing.
4) End all tuition giveaways at state colleges and universities.
5) End member initiatives.
6) Future budgets must have full public hearings, and be on file available to the public 10 days before passage. 8) Enact zero based budgeting.
7) Any capital spending plan (roads, bridges, infrastructure) must be a part of a transparent "Capital Improvement Plan that identifies and evaluates the benefits to the public (i.e.: NO PORK)
8) The legislature must resist borrowing to meet current obligations; and any 'one time' revenues should not be used to fund operations but to pay down debt and pension obligations.
9) Current state employees are going to have to pay a bit more for their retirement and health benefits; and retired employees are going to have to pay a little bit more for their health insurance costs. While these budget ideas won't solve every one of Illinois' problems, these ideas are certainly part of the solution.
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?
Flamm: The pension bill enacted this year contains some necessary provisions, such as a cap on the amount of earnings upon which payments are calculated.
Unfortunately, the manner in which it was passed created problems that will need to be resolved. The state has a constitutional and moral obligation to honor its debts, including what it owes to employees who have worked and contributed for decades based on the promise of a fair pension.
Morrison: Recent pension reform legislation passed is a step in the right direction, but inadequate. It fails to address glaring abuses in our present system and the fiscal condition of our state.
Current state employees are going to have to pay a bit more for their retirement and health benefits; and retired employees are going to have to pay a little bit more for their health insurance costs.
The state of Illinois has over-promised and the current system is unsustainable. Recognizing the hardship of Illinois citizens, politicians of the General Assembly should show leadership by eliminating the luxurious pension benefits they enjoy. Being a state lawmaker is a part-time job.
It won't make me popular in Springfield, but as a new Representative, I will file legislation to share the sacrifice among my fellow legislators.
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?
Flamm: People who are gay or lesbian should have the same rights as other people, including the right to marry. Abortion should be rare, safe, and legal.
I oppose government interference in matters which should be between a woman and her doctor.
I support the right of law-abiding citizens to hunt and to keep a gun in their home for protection, but we need to continue reasonable measures to prevent the use of guns by gangs, criminals and people with mental illness.
Unrestricted possession of handguns endangers police officers and interferes with their ability to protect the public.
Morrison: I stand firmly for the definition of marriage as one man, one woman. I oppose domestic partner health benefits for either heterosexual or homosexual couples.
There are already legal means in place to confer hospital visitation rights, end-of-life decisions, transfer of property upon death, etc., to unmarried homosexual or heterosexual couples who choose to grant such power to one another.
I respect the sanctity of life. I make an exception on abortion when the mother's life is directly at risk. I believe, however, that this is acceptable only after every attempt possible to save both mother and baby. Fortunately, these cases are extremely rare.
Likewise, I support stronger laws for parental notification.
I support basic firearm registration to the extent it doesn't interfere with your 2nd Amendment rights to own a weapon for protection of your life, family, and property.
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?
Flamm: Campaign finance reforms were enacted this year by the General Assembly. We should see how those reforms work before considering further changes.
I support full disclosure of campaign contributions, but as long as corporations are allowed to make unlimited campaign-related expenditures, I am concerned about creating an unlevel playing field. I do not yet know who will be running for caucus leader, so I can't say how I will vote.
I would have to consider the specifics of any redistricting proposal before deciding whether to support it.
Morrison: I not only support campaign caps for legislative leaders and political parties, I also support term-limits on leadership roles. We need massive changes in campaign finance, ethics and transparency laws. The new 'Freedom of Information Act' is a good start. However, all too often the legislature has passed weak legislation or legislation that has enforcement rubber teeth.
The legislature should also make sure it applies all disclosure, ethics and transparency laws to itself; not pass sham legislation that legislators can tout at election time. How I vote for the leader of my caucus will depend on my assessment of their sincerity to the agenda I'm expounding here, and who might be challenging him or her.
Lastly, the current redistricting process is repulsive; it leads to 'gerrymandering' which leads to one-party dominance. I support any effort toward a truly nonpartisan 'Blue Ribbon commission to redistrict Illinois into districts that are compact and contiguous -- free from political considerations.
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.
Flamm: The Illinois FOIA was recently broadened, and we should give it a chance to work before making further changes. There are procedures in place for evaluating and disciplining public employees.
Making their personal information available to the public would deprive them of protections enjoyed by private sector and Federal employees and would further discourage good people from being willing to serve the public, and would also discourage honest and open evaluations. I would consider a proposal to allow disclosure of evaluations of department heads and other high-level employees.
Morrison: Public workers work for us. Exempting evaluations for public workers from FOIA shields these same public workers from accountability. Illinois state government needs more accountability, not less.