Republican incumbent Christopher Lauzen of Aurora is taking on Democrat Leslie Juby of Geneva in the 25th District Illinois Senate race.
Q. What is your Number 1 campaign issue?
Juby. For many months, I have been going door to door, listening to the concerns of thousands of people in my district. As to be expected, unemployment and underemployment have been top concerns. People are struggling to make ends meet and are concerned about the uncertainties that loom in the future. While they hear that there has been some economic relief, they are not experiencing it and are looking for real answers from their elected leaders.
The absolute first thing we have to do is put people back to work. Unemployment is Illinois' number one problem. Families are struggling to feed their children and make their mortgage payments, and people are losing unemployment benefits and overstressing social services. State government can affect job growth by creating a favorable business climate, providing targeted tax incentives, and investing in Illinois companies. Illinois could employ an approach similar to the Manufacturing Strategy Board, which was proposed at the federal level. The Illinois version would bring together state business and industry leaders, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to ensure that manufacturing policies are sensible, unified, and work together to encourage growth. A great example of well-targeted investment is the Technology Development Account. It leverages money the state would already be investing to support up-and-coming Illinois companies. These companies all are involved in the development of cutting-edge technology and create good long-term jobs. Fostering partnerships between community colleges and local businesses to create customized training programs is another way to keep the job force relevant and forward-thinking.
Lauzen. Restoring trust in public institutions begins with the personal donduct of elected officials.
Q. What is your Number 2 campaign issue?
Juby. Our second priority should be addressing the state budget and reforming the broken system in Springfield. Not only does fiscal instability scare away businesses and hurt job growth, it hurts our schools, hospitals, and public safety services. It is imperative to go through the budget line by line, prioritizing programs and eliminating waste and inefficiencies. State agencies should be required to complete self analyses to identify areas of consolidation and elimination.
One of the reasons the state has not been able to pass a balanced budget for years is that there is too much partisanship and finger pointing. The resulting gridlock prevents us from enacting real, much-needed changes. From my work on the Geneva School Board, I've learned how important it is to listen, to compromise, and to work with people who are coming from vastly different experiences. We need to find real solutions and "NO" is not a solution. Significant ethics reform is necessary to put an end to the corruption that has plagued state government for decades. Instituting term limits and stronger campaign finance reform would prevent our elected officials from becoming career politicians.
Lauzen. Protection and creation of more jobs paying higher wages in the private sector.
Q. What is your Number 3 campaign issue?
Juby. Thirdly, education and education funding reform are also concerns that I hear when walking door to door. Many of the families have students in schools districts that have had to make hard decisions due to late or non- existent state funding. These families don't understand why their children's educational opportunities are dependent on partisan fighting. Property tax relief is tied to educational funding reform as property taxes fund education. While people understand the need to fund education, they would prefer this funding come from a different, dedicated revenue stream so that they won't have to choose between paying their property taxes and living in areas with great schools. Many older citizens are being forced to sell their homes because their property taxes are based on an asset that can only be realized when the house is sold.
Lauzen. Cut spending and innovate in order to live within our budget means without further tax increases.
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.
Juby. Given the state of the economy and Illinois' unemployment rates, a tax increase is simply unsupportable right now. Although in the long term, we may need to consider modernizing Illinois' revenue code, first we need to demonstrate to voters that we have cut every last bit of waste from Illinois government. We need real reform that puts an end to corruption in Springfield. Only after we have won back the trust of the people and restored credibility to our state can we even begin to consider changing our revenue system.
The absolute first thing that state government must do to confront the budget crisis is make real cutsparticularly to obvious examples of waste, mismanagement, and bloated bureaucracy. Since 2000, Illinois has reduced its work force by 21 percent. It needs to reduce office space by the same amount, consolidating offices and ending unnecessary lease agreements and renegotiating others. The state also needs to be more energy efficient. State workers can live with hotter buildings in the summer and cooler buildings in the winter, can turn off the lights when they leave the room, and make other sacrifices that cash-strapped families make every day. All new state construction and major renovations should meet energy-efficiency standards. State contracts, especially those entered into under the Blagojevich and Ryan administrations, should be re-examined and, when necessary, renegotiated or terminated. State officials can further cut waste by reining in outrageous travel expensesparticularly the use of the state plane. Rank and file workers travel between Chicago and Springfield by car, train, and bus. Legislators, the governor, and administrators can, too. At-cost mileage reimbursement payments are more economical than providing a fleet of state cars and planes. Only those that are necessary and cost-efficient should be kept
We need to prioritize education, public safety, and the social services that people rely on for their very survival. As a school board member, I am intimately acquainted with the challenges confronting Illinois schools. Many of them stem from the lack of fiscal responsibility in Springfield. Providing our children with a high-quality education is the best investment we can make in Illinois' future, and cutting funding to schools will impact our state for years to come. The Quinn administration's failed early release program is the best argument I can make for protecting public safety funding. I am deeply committed to public service and have spent much of my life volunteering to make my schools and community better. While I recognize that we may need to make some cuts to human services, we will have to be particularly careful not to cut programs that Illinois residents rely on for their very survival, like medical and mental health assistance and the Department of Children and Family Services.
We need to ask state agencies to define which programs are most vital to their missionsmaking it clear that there WILL be cutsand go from there. I am certain there are many smaller programs that serve an important purpose but can be put on hold during this financial crisis.
Lauzen. Those who have had total control over Illinois state government for the past seven years blamed Blagojevich for all our problems. However, nearly two years after his impeachment, the financial condition of our state is significantly worse that it was in January 2009 because the same policies and personnel are still basically in place under Governor Quinn.
If higher taxes were the solution to balancing state finances, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey would be the most fiscally-healthy states in the country. The tax increase premise is obviously wrong, and results in employers and seniors with assets taking their jobs and wealth in retirement elsewhere.
Besides a disciplined, thorough review for elimination and/or reduction of each program in state government, there are three main actions that can be taken to balance our budget. We have more revenue projected in FY 2010 than we actually had in 2008, which was 25-30% more than we had in 2003. This is due to the $9.4B of federal so-called stimulus funds that Illinois is scheduled to receive over 20 months, starting in February 2009.
Rather than accepting restrictions on how this money can be spent, we should join 49 other states that are chafing under the requirements to maintain programs and spending levels that we can't afford, and get our former senate colleague and current president (Obama), along with the second most powerful member of the U.S. Senate (Durbin), to increase the spending flexibility for these funds.
However, until that occurs, we ought to implement a common sense managed care system to control costs of Medicaid in Illinois (experts estimate savings that range from $500M to $1,500M annually). Blagojevich and his enablers increased spending from $23B G.R.F. in FY03 to $30B in FY08. We have climbed too high on that ladder and should climb down the least-urgent 33% of those increases. This annual savings of $2B is mostly the expansion of Medicaid eligibility where the cost of 1-out-of-6 people in Illinois are covered and the cost of 1-out-of-2 babies born is paid by state taxpayers. Finally, Illinois ought to promise less in its pension benefits, but actually pay for what's promised. Billions of annual savings in this area will be addressed later in this survey.
Of course, we need more revenue in Illinois, but the dispute is how we get it. The current Ruling majority and Governor believe that we should increase taxes 33-67% and apply sales tax to many services for the first time in our State's history. I believe that we ought to get more revenue by putting more folks back to work. Seventy-five percent (75%) of our State's general revenue comes from income and sales tax. Both of these increase when people are working and spending money to support themselves and their families.
We must say "No" and now reduce programs that Blagojevich/Quinn and their enablers put into place. Edgar cleaned up after Thompson by ignoring those who mocked him calling him "Governor No" until the economy caught up to government spending. When he left office, we were paying our bills in 24 days and had a $1.4B reserve in the bank. To the contrary, when George Ryan left a budget mess, the Blagojevich/Quinn administration compounded the problem by instituting substantial spending increases.
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?
Juby. Illinois' pension obligation is unquestionably a real problem that needs a real solution. . It is incredibly disappointing that incumbents in Springfield have let this problem fester for so long. However, I think the General Assembly finally took a step in the right direction last year when they reduced pension benefits for newly-hired state workers; however, I am troubled by the legal controversy and partisan fighting that surrounds most other ideas for paying off our pension debt. The idea of reducing benefits for current employees seems particularly problematic, given that well-respected law firms have come down on both sides of the question of constitutionality. I think we need to find consensus and work with all the stakeholders involved to come up with the best solution possible. I also believe that fair is fair. The state promised these employees that they would receive a certain pension when it hired them and these employees paid into the system in good faith. To change the terms of the negotiated agreement, especially without adequate stakeholder representation, would be disingenuous.
Lauzen. The current pension system is bankrupt under two definitions of the word, i.e. "unfunded liabilities exceed assets" ($76B vs $50B) and "inability to pay back" the shortage (GASB requirement of 30-year amortization without any interest means the State taxpayers would have to come up with $200,000,000 every 30 days for 30 years!). This really jeopardizes the financial stability of the families of rank-and-file teachers and state workers who have done their duty for 34 years, but also represents an unsustainable and unfair burden for taxpayers. The crippling deficit and abuses of the system, especially by the highly-compensated, demonstrate that too much has been promised, and those promises have not been kept.
I presented a description of the problem and several solutions regarding the pension crisis to the annual conferences at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Atlanta on 7-17-2009 and the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in Philadelphia one week later, at no expense to the taxpayers. The title of my presentation was "Illinois Becomes Unhinged from Financial Reality."
Excessive benefits for the highly-compensated (e.g. in 2007-2008 there were 5,200 employees of Illinois public universities and Chicago City Colleges who were paid more than $100,000; the present value of the future benefits for merely the top 100 highest--paid pensioners in the system is a staggering $687,000,000; etc.) . . . the failure of the current Ruling Majority to fully fund the schedule of payments from the 1995 reform law that I lead co-sponsored (they effectively raided the state pension funds for $2.3B even after we gave them a 10-year warning of increasing pressures) . . . and a lack of appreciation for the "exponential" power of compounding interest as a fundamental tenet of sound long-term financial planning . . . have all led to the current reprehensible situation.
The painful solution to our current pension bankruptcy requires that we declare an "actuarial emergency" to marshal the extraordinary authority which will be required to avoid putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound; converting new teachers and state employees to a hybrid social security defined benefit and defined contribution pay-as-we-go 4-5% matching plan; cap benefits for current employees at $100,000 and make reasonable adjustments to amounts paid in by employees; insist in law that annual defined contributions must be paid; restrict the collection of pension benefits to 62, rather than the current age 55; and begin working down unfunded liability debt.
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?
Juby. I support civil unions. All citizens should be afforded the same rights and privileges under our state and federal constitutions regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, color, religion, and/or related factors.
I believe that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. Everyone, including elected officials, community leaders, educators, and religious leaders, should work together to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
We need to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and societyconvicted felons, gang members, and the mentally ill
Lauzen. I support the traditional definition of marriage and oppose homosexual marriage and civil unions (I have offered to simplify state contractual laws so that health care, property, etc. issues between same-sex couples are simplified, but I've had no interest expressed which leads me to wonder if the motivation for changing the definition of marriage is not different than what is usually expressed.)
I am pro-life with exemption for life of mother. (In my eighteen years in the General Assembly, we have never even discussed laws to restrict abortion in cases of rape and incest.) I successfully sponsored the ban on brutal partial birth abortion.
I support the U.S. Constitution, including the Second Amendment regarding gun rights.
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?
Juby. I support campaign contribution caps for legislative leaders. Public outcry for campaign finance reform arises from the justifiable belief that money corrupts the political system. Though legislators have recognized the need for campaign finance reform and have instituted new rules, much more regulation is needed to limit the size and source of donations and expenditures and make the transactions much more transparent to the public. As long as there is an over-reliance on private monies to fund campaigns, there will be the potential for special interests groups to unduly influence the political process. Campaign reform provides ordinary citizens with the opportunity to participate in the political world.
I believe that we should not institute campaign finance limits for some and not others. If individuals, corporations, political action committees, and unions have limits, legislative leaders should have limits, too. After all, if a corporation can exert undue influence over a candidate or legislator with its donations, a party official or legislative leader, who already is in a position of authority, can influence a legislator that much more.
One possible way to regulate contributions I believe Illinois should explore is Clean Elections, a voluntary system that puts the voters in control of elections by allowing candidates the opportunity to qualify for full public funding instead or relying on special interest campaign cash. Clean Election campaigns have been successfully run in Maine, North Carolina, Connecticut, New Jersey, Portland, Oregon, and New Mexico. It is certainly an idea worth exploring.
When the time comes to select a senate president, I will carefully consider all of the candidates and select the one I consider best for our area and the state of Illinois.
I absolutely support changing Illinois' broken system for drawing a political map. It is disgraceful that the future of the state can be decided by a name drawn from a hat. However, we must ensure that the new system is in the best interests of the entire state and takes Illinois' unique geography and population into account. The reform must change the way the congressional map is drawn as well. The current congressional map is a shameful display of backroom dealing that created an absurd, gerrymandered, incumbent friendly map (PA 92- 0004).
Lauzen. The so-called campaign finance reform legislation that passed this year is a sham that merely strengthens the already-powerful (i.e. legislative leaders and self-serving political parties) and caps challengers and change-agents.
We cannot pass enough laws to make a crooked man go straight. Current laws need to be strictly enforced and corrupt politicians aggressively prosecuted. Those who enrich themselves and their families and friends (i.e. Hynes, Hastert, members of other political clans, et al) should be punished and shunned while those who hold public officials accountable (i.e. Fitzgerald) should be lauded and re-electednot run out of either party.
We strengthen the natural competitiveness of a healthy political "market" by reducing the costs to participate and the barriers to enter, i.e. shorten the campaign season (move primary to August-September), drastically reform the redistricting procedure, institute a system of self-imposed campaign spending limits, and in the Republican Party pass SB600 to restore every Republican primary voter's right to vote for Party leadership.
Experience has taught me that it is not prudent to commit to a caucus leader vote until all options and programs are on-the-table and clear.
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.
Juby. Increased transparency is one of the best ways to hold government accountable. However, I am deeply concerned that making employee evaluations public would not be beneficial. It would hurt the state because many supervisors would not make honest evaluations if they know they are open to public scrutiny. It would hurt employees because all of their evaluations would be fair game when they apply for future jobs. In some cases the bad review might be more indicative of a bad supervisor or situation than a bad employee, but future employers would have no way of knowing it. Legislation creating this FOIA exemption passed with strong bipartisan support.
Lauzen. No, but I appreciate the complexity of the issue: I'm very concerned about the practical value of an employment review when the 12.5 million citizens of Illinois are looking over the shoulders of supervisor and employee.