Brian Sager: Candidate profile, Illinois House 63rd District

  • Brian Sager

    Brian Sager

 
Updated 9/22/2020 12:49 PM

Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Steven Reick of Woodstock in the race for Illinois' 63rd House District, which includes Woodstock, Harvard, Marengo, McHenry, Wonder Lake and a portion of Huntley. The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are their replies.

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. I will not denigrate the many accomplishments and advances the state of Illinois has made under the long tenured leadership of the Speaker. We must acknowledge there is a natural cycle to public service, however. I chose not to run for a fifth term as mayor of Woodstock, not because I do not love our community and truly enjoy public service, but because I believe change is an essential human and social dynamic. The community deserves to draw leadership from others in the community who wish to serve and share their gifts and talents to address current needs and help to shape the future.

I believe it is the same for Speaker Madigan. He has accomplished much. It is, however, time for a change, especially given the shadows that have been cast. I would respectfully encourage him to gracefully step down from his leadership role and support the essential growth dynamic of change. If he does not choose to do so, my vote would depend on who other qualified candidates for this most important role might be.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it in the legislature?

A. District residents and businesses are concerned about rising property taxes and their ability to continue to live and work in Illinois. They want lawmakers to take specific, permanent steps to reduce the burdensome reliance on property taxes to cover costs of education. Significant progress was made with recent legislation surrounding 'evidence-based funding'. The new approach to the distribution of available state funds will not solve all of the needs and issues but will help provide greater equitability and ensure quality educational programming across the state. Additionally, the state has pledged to direct an additional $350 million to $375 million per year to its funding of education as we move forward. The biggest challenge remains, however; that is, the incredibly heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education in Illinois because the State has not met its statutory funding obligation and local school districts have no choice but to increase local property taxes to do so. The state must increase its commitment to education and the Graduated Tax would provide that opportunity.

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?

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A. I support the graduated income tax. It taxes lower income earners at appropriately lower rates and higher income earners at appropriately higher rates. Further, it does so on a marginal basis. There are three ways to improve financial positions ... increase revenues, reduce expenses or a combination. A planned, manageable combination is the only sound approach. I do believe 97 percent of taxpayers will see reduced income taxes in the first year.

Protecting taxpayers from routine tax hikes is a concern, however. Springfield is notorious for breaking promises to taxpayers with the excuse of too many demanded services. Opportunities to comfort taxpayers might be limitations added to enabling legislation. These might include restricting tax increases to the CPI, much as the state imposed limitations on property tax increases in Chicago collar counties through the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL). Another might be to mandate reductions in general revenue expenditures equal to defined portions of any percentage tax increase, forcing the General Assembly to make difficult choices to reduce expenditures if considering an increase.

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. I believe a special, independent review board under the Office of the Attorney General should be appointed to review any and all legislation relative to Com Ed prior to such legislation being considered by the General Assembly. The review should acknowledge past ethical violations with specific requirements prohibiting such in the future, additional reporting requirements to the General Assembly and public, and the proposal of additional fees for reparations to support grid infrastructure development without consumer fee impact.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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 am a strong fiscal conservative who believes in the absolute requirement for government, like individuals, families and businesses, to live within its means. That requires us to have a balanced budget in which operating expenditures are offset by corresponding revenues. As stated previously, there are three and only three ways to improve a financial position ... increase revenues, reduce expenses or a combination of the two. In the end, a planned, manageable combination is the only sound approach. We must increase revenues while simultaneously controlling spending. I will always support a strong fiscally responsible approach, as I have in the City of Woodstock. Additionally and as a municipal leader, I oppose unfunded mandates by the state that place undue and overly burdensome financial requirements upon local units of government.

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. I would assign a grade of 'B' to the governor regarding his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. While a slower, more cautious approach through utilization of stay-at-home orders, social distancing, the wearing of masks, and approaching reopening in a controlled, metric driven schedule, was not a particularly popular approach, it has proven to be a wise approach given the setbacks experienced by other states. The challenges were a slow start to direct communications with local elected officials during early stages. There was a consistent, collaborative outreach with Chicago and Cook County (understandably so), but other suburban and rural areas did not perceive direct, relevant interaction. Additionally, the changing dynamic of information provision and flow from one state agency to another proved difficult to sort and understand. Finally, there seemed to be inconsistencies in 'essential' status with preference given to large corporate businesses versus smaller family-run businesses.

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. Candidate did not respond.

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

A. No, I do not support a tax on retirement benefits.

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. Yes. We should enact a strong revolving door policy prohibiting retiring Legislators from becoming lobbyists immediately upon leaving office and through an extended term of at least ten years.

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. We must a) enact a revolving door policy that would prohibit retiring legislators from becoming lobbyists immediately upon leaving office and through an extended term of at least 10 years; b) place the General Assembly, its officers and agencies under the Office of the Attorney General for ethics oversight and review, rather than under a self-policing Legislative Ethics Commission; and c) have mandatory face-to-face training and follow-up sessions for all Legislators and staff conducted by the Office of the Executive Inspector General. I would be willing to sponsor, co-sponsor and support such legislation.

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

A. First, the General Assembly should take a united stand to support passage of the statewide referendum for a fair or graduated income tax. It would tax those earning lower incomes at appropriately lower rates and those earning higher incomes at appropriately higher rates and increase state tax revenues. Further, it would do so on a marginal basis. The income tax is a stable, foundational, primary source of state revenue and, fairly applied, will allow us to address the priority needs of educational funding and pension obligations and reduce the current, extremely high reliance on property taxes.

Second, the General Assembly should continue to work for consolidation of Illinois pension systems such as recent efforts to consolidate police and fire pensions to improve efficiencies and enhance investment returns. Third, the General Assembly, within the framework of the State Constitution and decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court, should reform the pension system by enacting revisions to actuarial interpretations and required funding levels, employee participation levels, and tier structuring.

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

A. There is no doubt climate change is impacted by human activity. The state should actively and aggressively address climate change. I support the Clean Energy Jobs Act and believe it is important for Illinois to invest in renewable energy for multiple reasons, not the least of which is job creation. Ensuring Illinois reaches 100% renewable energy by 2050 is not only laudable, but essential for our future environment and economy.

One of the best ways to reinvigorate an economy is to invest in industries with the potential for creating new jobs. Renewable energy in the form of solar, wind and the little talked about geothermal industry offers the opportunity for reduced carbon environmental impact and those necessary new jobs. Illinois can and should be a leader in renewable energy dedication and investing to meet identified targets solidifies a commitment on behalf of the state and its business partners. Further, it would place Illinois in a leadership position, thereby increasing private investment. Illinois must focus on legislative support for dramatic expansion of solar and geothermal opportunities to supplement wind power programming.

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. Systematic racism unquestionably plays a role in limiting equal opportunity in multiple aspects of our culture and society, including education, hiring, promotion, financing, policy and enforcement. We will not be able to determine how to move forward to bring true equality to our society, however, until we are willing to have the broad, engaging, difficult, heartbreaking conversations about our current diverse reality. Defunding Police Departments and Police Reform has become a mantra I believe to be inappropriate. We know police departments must be funded as we will always need service and protection, a primary provision of government. Do we constantly and consistently need to review and evaluate our police policies and procedures in a changing sociocultural dynamic? Of course.

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