Steven Reick: Candidate profile, Illinois House 63rd District
Incumbent Republican Steven Reick of Woodstock faces a challenge by Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager, a Democrat, 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. He should resign every one of them, but that's for him to work out between himself and his conscience. I haven't supported him to this point, and I'm not going to start now.
Q. What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it in the legislature?
A. That's easy. Get our fiscal house in order and relieve people of the crushing burden of taxes. I'm going to continue working for fiscal and tax reform, but with the bloated supermajorities held by the Democrats in the House and Senate and their well-documented reluctance to engage in any type of reform, it's not an easy fight.
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. After the 2008 crash, the number of tax returns filed in Illinois with AGI over $250,000 fell by over a third. It's going to be far worse this time around. Do we need tax reform? Absolutely. But this isn't the way to do it. We need a global review of our entire tax structure to create a tax system that moves in the direction of our economy, requiring us to look at all sources of revenue: sales taxes, motor fuel taxes, user fees and property taxes. That doesn't mean raising rates across the board, but changing the mix, broadening bases and thus encouraging economic development, which is the real solution to our problem. Otherwise, the rates that were passed in the last session will have to be raised, by a large amount and soon. There's an element of moral hazard at play here, and that's the real risk that people will think that by going to a progressive income tax, we'll have solved our fiscal problems. We know that's not the case. And when it doesn't, we're going to find ourselves back here with the same problems and fewer options to fix them.
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 think this is a question best answered by those on the other side of the aisle, since although the issue of ethics reform is constantly being brought forward as a result of things like this, the "solutions" that come out of it are always written by the party that's most responsible for the bad behavior in the first place. The most important and ultimately effective reform would be for citizens to keep themselves informed. Otherwise they shouldn't be surprised when they learn that the fox is guarding the henhouse.
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 don't work for a party, federal, state or local; I work for the people of the 63rd District. In my two terms in the Illinois House, I've never been told what position to take on any piece of legislation or how to vote on any bill. The only direction I've received from leadership is that I vote for what's in the best interests of my district, which I have consistently done and will continue to do.
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'm going to give him a "B-" on the public health part. I'm not going to fault him for his initial reaction, although I opposed his plan of putting McHenry County into the same region as Chicago. Also, he sent mixed signals by giving the protests a pass on his public health orders and holding public events at churches and day care centers immediately after attending rallies instead of self-quarantining until he found out he'd tested negative, which took almost a week. On the economic side, I'm giving him a "D." There was no reason why big box stores were allowed to stay open while Main Street establishments were forced to close. I hope he's learned that small businesses can work within safe guidelines just as the big boxes did. His attempt to assess criminal penalties against business owners in May was a fiasco both from a policy and a political perspective. As a member of JCAR, I was taken totally by surprise by those rules, and we had little choice but to file a motion to suspend. I didn't support the new rules just issued because statutory law should be interpreted by rule, not limited by rule. This issue needs to be addressed by the legislature in special session.
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' economic outlook was grim before the pandemic, and it's obvious that it's going to take years for our economy to recover afterward. I would like to have seen more of an effort to cut costs before borrowing money. Businesses and households throughout the state were tightening their belts, but state government didn't do its part. Other states didn't hesitate to trim payroll, why couldn't we? At least the level of borrowing would've been lower. Going forward, Illinois is going to have to trim a lot out of future budgets to come up with the money to repay this obligation. I'm ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make those hard choices. Raising taxes in an economic downturn is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. Simply adding another level of taxpayers onto a broken tax system is no different than adding a second story onto a house with a crumbling foundation. It's going to collapse even sooner. Hoping to increase revenue by keeping the current tax system and then taxing more sources of income within that system is a recipe for disaster. Taxpayers are already overburdened by high property taxes and fees, and to tax retirement income would encourage more citizens to vote with their feet.
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 have no problem prohibiting lawmakers from lobbying for a certain length of time after leaving office.
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. See my answer to the Com Ed question above.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. I think we should begin the process of preparing for a structured bankruptcy solution to our pension situation. Herb Stein's Law says that that which cannot last forever, won't, and our pension mess is a classic example of that. We saw just a week or so ago that there's no real appetite for reform by those in charge when head of the Teachers' Retirement System was fired because he dared to say what everyone knows: that the teachers' pension fund is in danger of becoming insolvent. There's an argument of whether or not states can file for bankruptcy, and general consensus is that to do so would run afoul of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, states cannot waive their sovereignty, and eventually the police power bound up in that sovereignty will take precedence. The Heaton decision dismissed the State's invocation of that power, but did so not by saying the police power was an illegitimate argument, but by saying that Illinois was not to that point yet because it could raise taxes. There's going to come a time when that won't be an option.
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 plays a part, as do sun spots and many other factors. I think it's the height of hubris for us to think that government can find a solution to fixing the planet when it can't fix the things that happen in its own backyard.
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. The first responsibility of government is to keep people safe. We need to avoid knee-jerk reactions and take a hard look at what police reform would look like. Too often we take action before looking at the downstream, unintended consequences of that action. I'm sure if you asked the police, they'd be the first to say that they're often expected to do things that don't fall under the strict definition of law enforcement. It's a conversation that needs to be had, but where it goes I can't say.