Republican candidate for Governor
Responses to our questions
Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016, according to U.S. Census data, and the trend appears to be continuing for 2017. What do you believe is the No. 1 reason for the exodus? What do you believe a governor can do to reverse the pattern?
Illinois is losing residents because decades of high taxes, burdensome regulations, budget deficits, and pension problems have made it difficult to raise a family and start a business. When neighboring states have lower property taxes, balanced budgets, and a friendly business environment, it's tough for us to compete. But we're not doomed to this future.
We can turn our state around by fixing our broken tax and regulatory systems and by having our government stop spending money we don't have. We also need a highly-educated and well-trained workforce that can compete in a modern economy. And we need to transform our vocational, technical, and apprenticeship programs so that those who choose not to attend a four-year college can still have an outstanding career with good pay.
If elected, what specific policy changes would you enact to improve the economic climate of Illinois? Please outline your position on the use of tax incentives and give-backs to attract businesses to Illinois? Do you support the expansion of existing taxes (sales, income, gasoline) or the enactment of new taxes to increase state revenue?
Illinois has had enough tax hikes. That's a big part of the reason we face the challenges that we do. We need to lower the tax burden facing middle class families and businesses. To do that, we must fix our broken property tax system so it doesn't benefit wealthy real estate owners at the expense of middle class families. We also need to give local communities more control over their property taxes so they can meet their own specific needs and attract new businesses.
As governor, I have slowed the growth of government and used administrative actions to reduce regulations. Illinois has twice as many regulations as the states around us due to redundancy and overlap. I've already cut 15% of our regulations through executive order and the goal is to cut 25% by the end of 2018.
Where do you stand on a graduated income tax?
I do not support a graduated income tax. It will not fix our budget deficit, but it will make job creation more difficult, which in turn pushes tax revenues even lower.
The next governor will face significant challenges balancing the state budget. If the legislature sends an unbalanced budget, what will you do? If the budget requires cutting, where would you cut? Please be specific.
We can save money by improving our Medicaid system. As governor, I've saved about $450 million by eliminating waste and abuse and we're going to save $1 billion over the next few years by moving to a new managed care system that will also eliminate administration and bureaucracy that stands between doctors and patients. I've helped our state save millions of dollars by digitizing our government systems because too many departments and agencies are still relying on pen and paper. I've also helped reform government contracts with unions so that we are moving away from seniority-based pay to merit-based pay.
Can Illinois balance its budget without RAISING taxes?
We absolutely can balance the budget without raising taxes. Raising taxes without structural reforms like the legislature did last year will actually make it more difficult to balance the budget. Rather than enacting reforms to improve government efficiency and encourage job creation and economic growth, the legislature doubled down on the same failed economic and fiscal policies that have caused Illinois to bleed jobs and population in recent decades. We can — and must — balance the budget by transforming the way government operates, reforming the pension system, and growing the economy, which will bring in more tax revenue.
What do you propose as a solution to the state's $130 billion unfunded pension liability?
Our pension problems are hurting our economy and our budget. I've been able to implement reforms through executive actions like bringing in more sophisticated asset managers and reduced fees and costs. Altogether we've saved $60 million while increasing investment returns by a full percentage point. I've also been the first executive in recent memory to actually represent taxpayers at the bargaining table with state employees. Too many governors in the past gave away unaffordable benefits in exchange for campaign support. It's a corrupt, closed-loop system that we need to end once and for all. But long-term pension reform also requires the cooperation of the general assembly. Unfortunately, leaders like House Speaker Mike Madigan have been more interested in currying political favor with the special interests than passing real reforms. That's one reason why we need to change the makeup of the general assembly in this year's elections — and that's something I'm committed to achieving.
What if anything should state government do to address rising property taxes?
We should allow local communities to have more control over their own property taxes so they can fund the important priorities in their communities and lower them if they see fit to attract more residents and businesses. Local control means both empowering taxpayers to control property tax rates at the ballot box and giving elected officials the tools they need to contain costs and innovate inside government.
Do you support or oppose banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers?
Elected officials should not serve as property tax lawyers. Just look at House Speaker Mike Madigan. He's been the Speaker for more than 30 years while at the same time he has made millions of dollars from his work as a property tax lawyer. It's an inherent conflict of interest that has allowed him to become rich off the system while the middle-class struggles with growing property tax bills.
What changes, if any, should be applied to Cook County's property tax system?
Changes absolutely should be made to Cook County's property tax system because of the property tax racket that's been going on. Middle-class families and small businesses shouldn't be paying artificially high property taxes just because wealthy real estate owners and larger businesses are able to abuse the system to lower their own property tax assessments. We also don't need people like Joe Berrios serving as the Cook County Assessor. Mike Madigan gets people like Joe Berrios elected to office and utilizes their position to his advantage. In Madigan's case, profiting from clients using his tax assessment law firm when applying for an adjustment from none other than Joe Berrios.
Have you ever appealed property taxes on any property you own? If so, what was the outcome?
The home owner's association of our condo appealed property tax assessments for all the building's residents. The residents take no part in that process.
Lawmakers passed, and Gov. Bruce Rauner signed, a school funding bill in 2017 that included a scholarship tax credit program, which offers a tax credit in exchange for scholarship donations to private schools. Do you support this program? If yes, how will you support its growth? If no, will you dismantle the program?
I was proud to sign this bill and believe it will make our educational system in Illinois stronger. I'll work to make sure this program is implemented properly and that it's producing the best results. This program provides Illinois schools with a new and more equitable funding formula, an accomplishment no governor in decades — Republican or Democrat — has been able to achieve. It also creates Illinois' first ever scholarship tax credit program, providing low-income children throughout the state with an opportunity to choose where they will go to school. On its first full day, the program received more than $36 million in donations, and will only continue to grow.
What is your position on charter schools?
I strongly support charter schools. Students don't deserve to be trapped in a failing school. They have the right to a great education just like students in communities with strong public schools. As governor, we made a historic reform of achieving parity for charter school funding with public schools for the first time ever.
Do you support an elected school board in Chicago? Please explain your answer.
I personally don't think an elected school board is in the best interest of Chicago school children. I support having the mayor in control and allowing voters to hold him accountable for CPS's performance. That said, I have expressed a willingness to compromise on this issue.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Diana and I have six children — two boys and four girls.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My favorite beer is Stag and I like to go rollerblading.
Give us an example of a time you worked across the aisle or against your party on an issue.
Among many issues, I was proud to have reached across the aisle to deliver historic education funding reform, to strengthen law enforcement, and to enact bipartisan criminal justice reforms.
Where have you shown independence from your party?
During my first term in office, I've proven that I'm nobody that nobody sent. That's why we've been able to shake a corrupt system to its core — because our problems have been bipartisan in the making. Now, we have to finish the job by electing reform-minded legislators in the next election.