Scott Kegarise: Candidate profile, Illinois House 56th District

Schaumburg Township Highway Commissioner Scott Kegarise, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democrat Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg in the race for Illinois House from the 56th District.

Q. Should Speaker Madigan resign from his leadership positions? If he does not resign, will you support him for a new term as House speaker?

A. Speaker Madigan should resign immediately from his leadership positions. He has lost the trust of Illinois citizens who are fed up with the culture of corruption destroying our state. As such, I fully support term limits for leadership.

Speaker Madigan has proved no single individual should hold powerful leadership positions for as long as he has. I am the only candidate in the race to publicly call for the Speaker to step down from his leadership roles. If elected, I will vote against another two-year term for Speaker Madigan.

Q. Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness and capacity to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.

A. I was proud to be the first and only independent elected to Schaumburg Township government in its history. As trustee my focus was not one of party, but that of cooperation and progress. For example, when faced with a tight budget as trustee I worked in collaboration with others to find ways to save taxpayers money while improving important community services. The consolidation resulted in a reduction in the budget of approximately $700,000.

In my current role as township highway commissioner, I work independently while collaborating with the public, local governments and state agencies to find common-sense solutions to problems. For example, I spearheaded an effort to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the adjacent Palatine Township Highway Department for them to plow the farthest northern streets. A simple and effective solution allows Schaumburg Township to clear other residential streets resulting in quicker egress for the motoring public.

Q. How would you rate the governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Does the legislature need to have more input and influence in establishing rules and policies related to stemming the spread of the disease? What you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.

A. The COVID-19 pandemic is something none of us have experienced before, and without that experience to fall back on it is no surprise there have been problems. While I believe the governor was initially sincere in his actions to protect our state, he has been unwilling or unable to adapt to the ever-changing situation.

The impact of the shutdown has crippled our state's already unstable economy. Jobs have been lost, businesses have been shuttered or closed, and there has been little to no help from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The governor should work with the legislature, with business and community leaders, and find solutions independent of partisanship. We need to be focused on the things we can do to help keep our family, friends, and neighbors safe and prosperous.

Q. Regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance, what is the impact of the pandemic on the state's economic outlook and what immediate and long-term actions should be taken to address it? Would you support increasing taxes to pay for COVID-19 response or to make up for lost revenue related to COVID-19?

A. Illinois fiscal outlook is grim. We have the highest property taxes in the nation and according to a report from US News our state is 49th in education and 50th in fiscal stability. Increasing taxes on an already overburdened state would sink our economy deeper in a hole. Small businesses and the workers they hired must be incentivized to stay in Illinois or they will leave for greener pastures.

Over the last decade, Illinois saw the nation's worst population decrease. The loss is estimated to have cost the state $3.45 billion, ironically the same amount Gov. Pritzker generously estimates for his progressive state income tax plan. We must have an environment that supports and incentivizes workers, contractors, small business owners and outside investment to build our economy stronger. I would propose an immediate freeze or reduction in taxes with a 10-year moratorium on any increase. Also, an appropriate decrease in the sales tax would help new businesses to become established and surviving firms to return to profitable levels.

Q. The graduated income tax is designed with the intent to reduce taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans. Do you believe that will happen? Why or why not? What assurances can be given to voters?

A. I don't trust Springfield politicians, and most Illinoisans don't trust them either. Why should we? We have been let down time and time again. While they promise to only raise taxes on the top 3% now, the constitutional amendment would allow politicians to raise taxes on any tax bracket without approval in the future.

People often like to say, "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." That is true, however I would argue we have a greater character problem. Our state leaders are short on credibility and long on distrust. We have the largest pension debt burden, a bond rating that is very close to junk bond status, one of the worst budgets in the country, the worst outward migration, the highest property taxes, ramped corruption in government, and increasing taxes would only make those problems worse. Leadership, cooperation, and sincerity, not tax hikes, are the solutions.

Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?

A. I do not support increasing taxes on retired Illinoisans. Most senior citizens live on modest fixed incomes and any tax increases will adversely impact their ability to adapt to such a loss. According to a 2019 poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, three in four Illinoisans oppose taxing retirement income.

Q. Should Illinois prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government? Should lawmakers be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after their term in office? For how long?

A. I support House Bill 4042, which would ban lawmakers from working as lobbyists while in office. The fact that Springfield politicians have been able to double dip, making money from both ends of government, is a travesty. Additionally, I support a lobbying ban on lawmakers' immediate family, including spouses or others living with them. Retiring elected officials should be prohibited from paid lobby efforts for a period of two years after leaving office. With that being said, an open exchange of ideas often leads to more successful results and I support anyone working to make our state better.

Q. What are the most important components that should be included in legislative ethics reform? What will you do to help them come to pass?

A. I believe term limits for leadership is essential to any ethics reform. We bear witness to the consequences of 35 years of Speaker Madigan's monopoly. We need to create a system that works for, not against, the people of Illinois. This includes a lawmaker lobbying ban, a two-year cooling-off period for lawmakers before they become lobbyists, as well as leadership term limits.

Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?

A. Illinois unfunded pensions for state and local government employees' is growing every year. Our state spends nearly double the average on its pension programs, ballooning our pension debt to $140 billion. This yearly burden accounts for $31 of every $100 tax dollars sent to Springfield. Moving forward, it is important to preserve retirement benefits already earned while making critical changes to future enrollment. For those currently in the pension system, the state should honor their commitment. But for those coming into the system, it should be a shared pension system, much like a 401(k).

Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?

A. I believe climate change is real and human activity has contributed to it. Other factors around the world increase levels of methane including the destruction of our planet's forests, however here at home it is incumbent for the state of Illinois to do their part to reduce our footprint. I support common-sense solutions to reduce carbon emissions, working toward becoming carbon neutral where and whenever possible. Balancing this priority with others may be tough, but we need to ensure that any action doesn't hurt Illinois workers or small businesses.

Q. Protesters have massed in the streets in Chicago and other cities across Illinois for greater social justice and changes in the funding and responsibilities for police. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in Illinois? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? What, if any, changes should be made in funding and duties of police?

A. We need to invest more into our police departments and into our policemen and policewomen. We must equip these first responders with the tools to handle situations without bias while providing the public increased accountability. It is important to think of public safety not just as policing, but an investment in community service. Continued police training and education, a refocus on community involvement, and the use of body cameras will help increase trust and accountability between officers and the community.

Systemic racism has been and continues to be a roadblock for our county. When I returned from the Air Force in 1975 our nation was only a few years removed from the civil rights movement. Since that day, I have worked in my community toward a better day, one with limits removed from opportunity for all. We have made a lot of progress, but it is up to all of us to find ways to grow and live up to the declarations of our founders.

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