Martin McLaughlin: Candidate profile
Republican Martin McLaughlin, Barrington Hills village president, is running against Democrat Marci Suelzer of Island Lake in the race for Illinois House from the 52nd District, a seat now held by Republican David McSweeney of Barrington Hills. Also on the ballot is Green Party candidate Alia Sarfraz of South Barrington.
The district takes in parts of Algonquin, Barrington, Barrington Hills, Carpentersville, Cary, East Dundee, Fox River Grove, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Island Lake, Lake Barrington, Lake in the Hills, North Barrington, Oakwood Hills, Port Barrington, Prairie Grove, South Barrington, Tower Lakes, Trout Valley, Wauconda.
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 has served in the General Assembly for 49 years, and as Speaker for 35 years. That is far too long to allow that much power to be put in the hands of one person, especially considering the ComEd scandal. I would never support him as Speaker, and he should resign.
Q. What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it in the legislature?
A. The number one issue is recovery from the COVID lockdown. We must ease taxes and regulations on small businesses in order to allow owners to bounce back before they suffer irreparable harm.
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. The Governor's tax increase plan will substantially hurt small businesses and drive even more residents out of Illinois. You cannot tax a state into prosperity. With the government shutdown of many Illinois businesses, tax receipts will be hurt significantly. The state legislature has no plan for this. States like Indiana have decided to reduce state spending in anticipation of lower revenue. Illinois has not even considered this. The promoters of the graduated tax promise lower taxes for 97% of Illinois taxpayers, but the tax rate decrease would only be .05%. The actual referendum question does not include any specific restrictions on the tax rate or how any group will be taxed. The legislature can decide at any time to increase taxes on any group of taxpayers without limitations, and there is no provision that the new revenue derived must go to pay for essential services only. Illinois taxpayers already pay the highest effective tax rate in the country, when factoring in income, property and sales taxes. Passing this amendment would basically be allowing the legislature to write a blank check without being accountable for reining in out-of-control spending.
Q. ComEd officials have acknowledged in an agreement with the federal government that it funneled money through contractors to friends and colleagues of Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan. What do you think should happen as a result of this. Specifically, how should potential legislation impacting ComEd be handled next session?
A. The top executives at ComEd who initiated and authorized these payments in exchange for what appears to be preferential treatment by the state's utility boards should be held accountable. Any pay increases or bonuses that these executives received should be returned to Illinois taxpayers as part of their punishment. The best way to restore ethics in Illinois is to institute term limits so that people cannot create environments where the influence of a handful of legislative leaders exceeds that of the members of the General Assembly.
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. D+ He should have followed the same rules and regulations that he imposed upon the people of Illinois through his decrees. His changing criteria for COVID evaluation has been a problem all along. He has moved the goal posts several times for what constitutes and justifies his emergency decrees. Initially, hospitalizations, ICU beds, ventilators and mortality rates were significant criteria; now it has turned into infection positivity statistics only.
When he lumped all of the 52nd District in with Cook County, he essentially shut down many businesses that could have operated safely. The Governor should have trusted families, businesses, churches and local communities to make their own best decisions. With the country's investors and bond rating agencies forcing Illinois debt issuance to be 4% higher than the top credit rated issuance in the market, it goes a long way to saying that investors considered Illinois debt already at "junk status" whether or not the governor's office recognizes it as such.
The legislature should have been involved in the decision making process, but the Governor chose to ignore their input, and instead rely on a behind-the-scenes decision making process.
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. In May and June, I was advocating for the legislature to have a voice in the decrees that were being brought forward from the governor's office. These decisions that were being made had significant impacts on families, businesses and churches throughout Illinois. Most of these decisions were made without the input of state representatives whose job is to construct legislation for consideration.
Additionally, I was an advocate for moving forward with phased reopening at a pace which was commensurate with local IDPH local statistics. The 52nd district was lumped into the city of Chicago, and because of that, many of our businesses were not allowed to operate, although many of our small rural communities were performing exceptionally well with low hospitalizations and very low mortality.
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. I cannot support increasing taxes on anyone in Illinois at this time. Expecting federal money to bail out the state is irrational -- after all, the federal money still comes from taxpayers. The only solution to remedy the lost revenue due to the COVID lockdown is to allow businesses to return to normal operations, sooner rather than later. We can't expect the residents of this state to live in constant fear for years while a potential vaccine is created. We understand the science of the virus. If we employ basic precautions, businesses will recover, and tax revenue will return to pre-pandemic levels.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. No. That would be a short term solution for some who want to continue to drive a wedge between Illinois families based upon age or economic status. A pension tax does not handle the structural problem of pensions. Most of the state's pensions have too high of a return assumption, too low of a required contribution. Sweeteners, COLA's and other benefits should be declared void, as they were never attainable when issued by politicians for political reasons. Too many Illinois seniors are struggling to make ends meet. As it is, the escalating property taxes in the state act almost as an additional mortgage payment which retirees are facing more difficulties paying. And with the current real estate climate in Illinois, seniors are unable to sell their homes for a fair price. They are stuck.
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 don't think the problem lies with the lobbyists as much as with the legislators. Institute term limits, and their power diminishes.
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. The best way to restore ethics in Illinois is to institute term limits so that people cannot create environments where the influence of a handful of legislative leaders exceeds that of the members of the General Assembly. Speaker Madigan has essentially controlled the state legislature for more than three decades. With term limits, no one would wield power for that long. These part-time positions in the state legislature were never intended to be full-time occupations.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. The state cannot continue to offer new retirees the same pensions as have already been committed to for current retirees. Although there are tiered systems in many pension programs, the core problems still remain. The benefits across the board are not sustainable. The contribution rates are too low, the projected return targets are too high and the mortality tables used for so many years were in accurate.
Today, pension contributions make up over 25% of the state's general funds budget. This is not sustainable and we can't expect the federal government to bail us out. The state needs to institute an austerity program and analyze where every dollar is spent.
Illinois needs to provide new financially sustainable benefits to new employees. These benefits should be fixed and defined at the time of accrual, and the accrual should not be backloaded. We need to make all COLAs connected to the CPI, with a max out at 3%. And we need to deal with the past debt before the rating agencies come out publicly and declare Illinois debt at junk status. Currently, Illinois is paying almost 4% higher interest costs than most stable rated government borrowers.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A. I have no doubt that human activity is in part responsible for some portion of the climate change that we are seeing globally, but, given that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, it is difficult to truly understand how much. The data that has been brought forward has been so politicized to the point that it almost has become irrelevant. I would prefer the issue be addressed on the federal level, rather than the state, keeping in mind that the worst contributors to greenhouse gases and pollution are China and India, not the US. Interestingly, after the current administration pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord. CO2 emissions have decreased significantly in the United States, as industry is attempting to self regulate by understanding that the market is accepting more and more energy alternatives.
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. I reject the notion of systemic racism. If this were true, we would not have witnessed the diversity in our city, state, and federal elections recently. There are good people and bad people of all races. It has taken this country 150 years to move forward and provide opportunity and assistance. The U.S. Constitution and amendments have been fought for and constructed to provide equal opportunity for all, not equal outcome.
If there are racist or bigoted people employed by state or local governments, they need to be disciplined, fired or face legal punishment. But we cannot allow anarchy, chaos, looting and lawlessness to take over our communities. I am not an advocate of defunding police departments.
I have consistently been an advocate for evaluating police departments so that they are as efficient, effective, reliable and equitable as possible. The oversight of police departments by police commissions and political leaders should constantly review policies and procedures to make sure that our police departments are performing at a high level which will continue to gain the public's confidence and trust. Public safety is one of the primary responsibilities of government.