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updated: 9/21/2012 4:41 PM

Jim O'Donnell: Candidate Profile

28th District Senate (Republican)

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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.

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BioKey IssuesQ&A



City: Park Ridge


Office sought: 28th District Senate

Age: 61

Family: Married 38 years to Martha Sons Bryan (30) and Conor (26)

Occupation: Camcraft, Inc. - Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Education: University of Notre Dame - BBA in Accounting with High Honors CPA, Illinois

Civic involvement: Park Ridge Soccer Board of Directors for 17 years, student mentor at Springwood Middle School in Keeneyville District 20, National MS Society volunteer fundraiser, Chicago Marathon volunteer

Elected offices held: None - First-Time Candidate

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

I believe we must repeal the 2011 increase in the state income tax passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature and signed by our Democratic Governor. It should be noted that this District?s incumbent Democratic Senator Dan Kotowski also supported the increase. That tax increase and the general mindset among Democrats that Illinois can tax, borrow, and spend its way to prosperity is the reason I believe incumbents who voted for this ill-advised tax hike need to be replaced.

Key Issue 2

Create a positive economic climate for the State of Illinois so that existing businesses and families are not forced to leave and new businesses begin to consider Illinois as a place to start up or expand. Currently, we are in a downward spiral with businesses and families leaving the state. This erosion of our tax base puts further strain on our state?s budget and a greater tax burden on the people and businesses that opt to stay. By creating a better business climate, we can reverse this spiral and, over time, improve the quality of life for families and the economic outlook for employers.

Key Issue 3

Through my actions and behavior, I will attempt to restore belief in the honesty and integrity of government and government officials. People need to believe that their elected officials are not just seeking office to accumulate power, wealth, or status. I am seeking office to run the government in the most ethical and efficient manner possible. As a citizen legislator, I will serve the interests of the people of my district and Illinois, not special or personal interests.

Questions & Answers

How would you fix the state's pension gap? Should pension costs be shifted to suburban school districts? Why or why not? Should this issue be voted on in a lame-duck session? Why or why not? How can partisan gridlock be eased to solve the crisis?

We must immediately reform our state pension system. The various pension systems have promised over $600 billion in future benefits and have only $70 billion in assets to pay for them. I believe we need to look to Rhode Island where they were able to reduce their unfunded pension liability by almost 50%. Some of the ways they accomplished this: - Suspend COLAs until the unfunded pension liability is reduced. - Create a hybrid plan that blends defined benefits and defined contributions. - Increase the minimum retirement age for certain employees (Specifically those not at or nearing retirement age). - Preserve pension benefits earned to date, and ensure there is little or no impact on the ability to retire for those currently eligible to retire. Failure to take bold action all but ensures that our pension system will collapse beneath its unfunded liability and deny public sector workers their retirement benefits. I also believe the legislator pension program should be eliminated and replaced with a 401(k)-type plan. I plan to lead by example on this reform and will opt out of the legislative pension system that currently exists when I am elected. I do NOT support shifting the Teacher Retirement System?s liability and future payments to local property tax payers. Besides adding to what is already an unbearable property tax burden, this has the potential to create unfunded mandates for the local districts because the General Assembly would continue to set benefit levels. Partisan gridlock can only be eliminated by replacing the career politicians that currently control the General Assembly. I am not a politician and this is my first run for office. I am a businessperson and CFO who will approach the challenges we face in Springfield with an eye for pragmatic problem-solving and data-driven solutions. As a businessman, I?ve learned to keep an open mind until I understand both sides of an issue. I will apply the same mindset in Springfield, allowing me to work across party lines to make our pension system solvent, balance the budget, pay our backlog of unpaid bills and begin to eliminate our long-term debt. As long as the legislation is real reform that responsibly addresses our long-term, unfunded pension liability, I don?t object to it being called during a lame duck session. The problem is too serious to delay real reform any longer.

How, specifically, would you cut the budget? What does Illinois need to do to fix its status as a "deadbeat state?" How will you vote on future gambling bills? What is your view of slots at racetracks? Casino expansion?

I would cut the budget as follows: First, State pension reform ? please see above regarding my plan to reform the State?s broken pension system. Second, scale back the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Too often DCEO has been the source of pet projects with little oversight to guarantee that taxpayer funds are not wasted. Third, ensure the recently passed Medicaid plan reforms are implemented. Additional reforms should be enacted to return eligibility in some Medicaid programs to the national average to bring Medicaid spending in line with what our budget can afford. We must also continually fight against the ever-present pressure to expand eligibility for this program, and we must be constantly vigilant to root out corruption and waste. Fourth, I am pleased to see that the General Assembly took a good first step to reform retiree health benefits. These benefits need to be treated in the same manner as in the private sector. Beneficiaries need to share in the cost, both in premiums as well as deductibles and co-payments. In addition, this reform should be expanded to legislators. Fifth, reduce the number of Governor appointments and state commissions, or at a minimum, eliminate paid positions thereon. Far too often, these paid positions are nothing more than rewards to political supporters, family members, and insiders. Sixth, I supported the elimination of the legislative scholarship program. I don?t think gaming is a desirable way to generate revenue for the State of Illinois, but I do recognize that it is not going away and it does generate economic activity and provides a form of entertainment that assists the tourism and convention industries. I do not support video gaming in every liquor establishment and I do not support slot machines at our airports. I do not support expansion of gaming beyond what can be effectively regulated by the State Gaming Commission. As a practical matter, I believe there should be a properly regulated casino in Chicago, and casinos placed strategically at the Wisconsin and Indiana borders to prevent Illinois gamblers from losing their money to the benefit of neighboring states. In addition, we should follow the lead of other states in protecting the horse racing industry by allowing either slots at the tracks or a revenue sharing arrangement with the casinos.

What can you do specifically to help the economy in your district? How can you help create jobs in your district and statewide? What is your view of the tax breaks granted to companies like Motorola Mobility, Navistar and Sears?

As an executive in the manufacturing industry and the former owner of my own business, I think I have the experience to help make the Illinois business climate more attractive to the people who decide whether or not to come to Illinois, or whether or not to flee Illinois. The problem we have right now is we are forced to give incentives to convince existing businesses to stay, which is the exact opposite of our true goal. Businesses trying to escape are not the best marketing campaign for attracting new businesses and jobs. Providing my fellow legislators and administration officials with the perspective of the business owner will curb some of the pro-tax and anti-business legislation, which is counterproductive in the long run. When the government makes it difficult for businesses to succeed, they often shut down or leave the state. Without the tax base provided by profits and wages, the State will continue on a downward fiscal spiral from which it cannot recover. The tax breaks granted to companies like Motorola Mobility, Navistar, and Sears are directly related to Springfield?s failure to enact sensible tax policy. Rather than establish a stable environment for businesses to expand, the politicians in Springfield have adopted a pattern of one-time revenue gimmicks, increased borrowing, and massive tax hikes. I support providing a level playing field with uniform incentives for all businesses beginning with the repeal of the individual and corporate tax increase passed last year. While I do not support a general policy of lurching from one temporary fix to another, I would evaluate each company?s request for additional tax breaks based on the merits of their proposal, including its impact on the state budget and the economic vitality of our community.

Do you favor limiting how much money party leaders can give candidates during an election? If elected, do you plan to vote for the current leader of your caucus? Why or why not? Do you support or oppose campaign contribution limits? Please explain.

I favor limiting party leaders to the same limits allowed for all other political action committees. The concentration of money and power in the hands of legislative leaders has been a contributing factor to the fiscal crisis Illinois now faces. I believe the current Senate Minority Leader, Christine Radogno, is an outstanding individual, and is extremely knowledgeable and conscientious in her role as a legislator and a leader. However, while Senator Radogno?s tenure as minority leader has not given me any reason not to support her, I cannot say at this time how I would vote for leadership without knowing who all the candidates might be. I do support campaign contribution limits. I do not wish to see a return to pay-to-play politics. Regarding unlimited Super Pac contributions, I am in favor of complete transparency of donors.

Should gay marriage be legalized in Illinois? Should it be voted on in a lame-duck session as civil unions were? Should Illinois define life as beginning at conception? How would you vote on a concealed carry plan? Should the death penalty return?

While there are a number of issues with moral implications that are the main focus of select voters, I believe our immediate focus must be on the critical task of stabilizing our state?s fiscal affairs. Illinois is the only state in the nation without a concealed carry firearm plan. We should only consider a plan that includes safeguards and fully addresses the concerns of law enforcement officials. Consistent with my belief that life is sacred, I do not support a return to the death penalty.