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Jason Plummer

Republican candidate for Illinois Senate (54th district)

Jason Plummer

Jason Plummer

Republican candidate for Illinois Senate (54th district)

Degree in Finance, University of Illinois
Vice President, R.P. Lumber
Past Political/Civic Experience
Chairman, Madison County Republican Party

Responses to our questions

Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?

I love animals and my wife and I are quietly huge supporters of animal causes, including support for no-kill shelters and stronger penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals. I am a strong advocate for the defenseless and vulnerable.

Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?

The political climate in Springfield does not lend itself to passing a truly balanced budget. The presence of heavily gerrymandered districts has locked in a certain level of political polarization, which is directly linked to the budgetary dysfunction in recent years. No one has to campaign for swing voters. For members of both caucuses, the solutions that would begin to address the crisis are unpalatable to some of the interest groups and constituencies that carry influence. For Democrats, cuts to state programs, regardless of how incidental they may be (an example being the governor's $4.5 million in proposed cuts to DPH grant programs in 2015) are met with ferocious opposition and counterintuitive claims that the budget cuts will actually cost the state more money in the long run. Similarly, many Republicans fear political fallout from cuts and are willing to acquiesce to raising taxes, even without passing substantive reforms to prevent future calamities.

What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.

Yes, but it requires a growing economy, a growing tax base, and judicious reductions in state spending. Tax increases are, and always have been, a short-sighted, short term Band-Aid to our budget problem. In fact, the most recent tax increase didn't even truly balance the budget for the year in which it was enacted given that the revenue projections that underpinned the budget were nearly one billion dollars short of where they needed to be. The state must adopt a posture that is open to enacting substantial reforms, and cuts, that will reduce the cost of government and avoid reactionary, panic-driven tax increases that cause further damage to the state's economic climate. The size and scope of government in Illinois is what must be addressed. The only way to fix Illinois is to create an environment where people are working here, living here, and paying their taxes and lawmakers finally govern in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner.

Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.

As a stand-alone issue, I do not support any new sources of revenue.

Please list five areas where you would cut spending.

I oppose implementing a graduated income tax. First, graduated income taxes penalize success and arbitrarily treat some taxpayers differently from others. Historically graduated income taxes have proven to take more money out of the pockets of middle class families and implementing one in Illinois would further encourage those with the means to live elsewhere to leave our state. Second, the administrative burden that would be created by implementing such a system would be costly and cumbersome for the Department of Revenue. Those advocating for the graduated income tax argue that it will increase revenue and fairness, however this conclusion would seem to distort the definition of what fairness actually means. The so-called "millionaires tax" is similarly short-sighted. Every Illinois resident should be treated equally under the law and those with the highest levels of income rightly pay the most in taxes under the current system. In addition to the problems that such a system would create, I have yet to see any evidence that the change would generate enough revenue to solve our budget deficit.

Since the Illinois Supreme Court's 2015 decision tossing bipartisan pension reform, what can and should the legislature do to control pension costs, if anything?

  1. End legislative pensions. Illinois government was constituted with a part-time legislature, however this designation means little given that legislators earn more than the Illinois median household income and continue earning during their retirement. The pension system is in dire need of reform and legislators can show leadership on the necessity of shared sacrifice by rejecting benefits that by any measure should not be accrued through part-time work. 2. Finalize negotiations between state workers and government that bring the contract in line with existing budget realities, and also with contracts in the private sector. The past years have seen the Governor mired in seemingly intractable negotiations with AFSCME. Each side has accused the other of negotiating in bad faith, however it is imperative that these differences be resolved. State workers, through AFSCME, must be partners in restoring fiscal sanity to the state. 3. Reduce administrative cost. This issue is multi-fold. First, Illinois suffers from an unwieldy procurement system that delays implementation IT upgrades and forestalls projects, raising administrative costs. This system needs reform. Additionally, many administrative functions of the state (particularly those handled in-house by DOIT) could potentially be outsourced off of state time at lower cost and greater efficiency. The state is plagued by deferred maintenance costs on its capital investments (the state fairgrounds, for example, is crumbling) leading to huge, and avoidable, losses to taxpayers. The GA should also give stricter guidance in regard to how agencies craft their budgets. The introduction of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) on a semi-annual basis into state agency budget requests would more aggressively confront waste and inefficiency stemming from past appropriations. Agency budgets continue to be predicated upon maintaining, or expanding, the total appropriation that they receive from year to year. A more aggressive accounting policy would facilitate a comprehensive overview, dollar-for-dollar, of what each government agency spends. 4. Local government consolidation and reform. Consolidate school districts to serve more students and cut administrative costs. Other states, such as Indiana, largely have countywide school districts. Remove requirements that require local governments to adhere to prevailing wage and allow local markets to set wages. Municipalities must spend more than necessary to complete projects and therefore rely more heavily on state funding. Illinois has the most units of local government of any state and the duplicative layers of government increase costs. As numerous investigations have revealed, this status quo also facilitates the spread of graft and lack of accountability. Most voters don't know who many of their elected officials even are, through no fault of their own, and that is no way to run a democracy. The GA has a strong role to play in guiding these changes and should seize the opportunity to lead.

Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?

Going forward, all new employees must be offered only defined contribution, or 401K-style retirement plan. The "Tier III" plan passed in the FY18 BIMP bill is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. The state will, in the short-term, have to incrementally reduce the overall costs where possible. Unfortunately, given the court's ruling on SB1, it is unlikely that any comprehensive reform plan that alters benefits for existing workers, especially that introduced by Senate President Cullerton, will be held as constitutional.

What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?

From Previous Question: 5. Reverse the Obama Medicaid expansion, which has cost the state billions more than originally projected. The Medicaid program exists to benefit the most vulnerable people in our state, chiefly persons who are disabled, single mothers and children, and low-income seniors. Under the expansion, this program now covers able-bodied persons of working age. The expansion has created a significant administrative burden on DHS, which has to process and prioritize thousands more Medicaid applications, takes the focus of Medicaid away from the people it was created to serve, and incurs a massive financial liability for the state. Additional Medicaid savings may be possible by reducing the time it takes to process a Medicaid application, which is currently highly labor intensive. Current Question: Yes, all new workers must move into a defined contribution retirement system.

Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016 and the trend appears to be holding for 2017. What is the No. 1 reason, in your opinion, for the exodus?

The contract with state workers must be brought in line with the retirement systems, work hours, and benefits that are standard practice outside of government. It is vital for the solvency of the state, with pension costs accounting for approximately 25% of the state's total spending obligations, that defined benefit plans be phased out and replaced with those modeled on a 401K. My view is that government should largely stay out of the retirement business and that Illinois taxpayers should not be spending billions to support a system from which they derive little benefit. As a result of the impasse over AFSCME contract negotiations, the Governor has attempted to move forward with implementing a new contract based upon his last, best offer. However, as we know, this process has been tied up in the courts.

What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?

A lack of opportunity in communities across the state is the number one reason. People without the prospect of a long-term, quality job opt to move. Retirees on fixed income and others are slowly being priced out of their homes by rising property taxes. Our state ranks near the bottom of lists that measure a state's friendliness to business (CNBC, NFIB, etc.) and rather that offering businesses an environment where they can thrive, Illinois has created a suffocating atmosphere of high taxes, high worker's compensation costs, pervasive lawsuits, unnecessary regulations on certain industries, and instability regarding what future policies from Springfield might be. Taken together, many industries have opted to leave the state altogether (trucking, for example), while others have few reasons to locate here, when given the choice between Illinois and communities in neighboring states.

What should Illinois do to promote job creation?

Capping and lowering property taxes would be an important first step. Illinois residents need relief from taxes that are three times what Indiana residents pay for a home of the same value. This is the single most important step in stemming the tide of Illinoisans who are deciding to move as our residents are simply being priced out of their homes. Repealing the recent income tax increase would also help alleviate the huge burden on families. Aside from this, Illinois must also adopt reforms that give employers a reason to stay or develop in Illinois. The state government's open hostility to business and job-killing policies have hurt Illinois families and deprived them of their right to find employment and support their families. Illinois is also politically unstable compared to our neighbors, failing repeatedly to adopt reforms or pass balanced budgets. This reality, which is evident to anyone, drives residents and employers away fearing that the instability is intractable and will ultimately hurt their bottom line (which it will). The state cannot fail to pass a budget for any protracted period of time and must seriously pursue policies that improve the economic prospectus of the state and allay the deeply felt concerns of our creditors.

Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?

Make Illinois competitive. Enact legislation that lowers the cost of doing business here. Pass real reforms at the state level to prevent lawsuit abuse. If we can bring down worker's compensation costs, it will benefit not only the businesses that have to pay then, but also the workers that are seeking jobs. If we drive down costs, existing businesses are free to hire more workers and put more money out into the local communities where workers live. Retailers need consumers with money to spend, as do restaurants and recreational facilities. In 2010, Indiana put property tax caps to the voters and set fixed property tax rates homes, farmland, and businesses in their state constitution. It saved taxpayers almost half a billion dollars and brought stability and predictability into their system. Illinois needs these kinds of reforms to create jobs, keep people living here, and raise the standard of living. Our state possesses tremendous assets and resources, which includes a strong workforce. We are struggling to attract jobs not because Illinois in inherently unable to compete, but because of poor public policy that prevents us from doing so effectively.

What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?

Not in its entirety, no. I support the general concept of reforming how our schools are funded, but am unconvinced that the evidence-based model created in the bill will control costs. I also support the $75 million dollar private school scholarship fund that the bill created; however the version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Manar had significant flaws. First, it should have calculated funding on a per pupil basis. Calculating per school directed more money to shrinking schools in and around Chicago to the detriment of those downstate. Not only that, but the bill also contained $221 million bailout to cover the cost of Chicago teacher pensions.

Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?

The GA should handle the Chicago public school pension system in the same way it handles all other school pension systems. Local voters need to hold Chicago elected officials accountable.

Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?

Yes, I support the opportunity scholarship program.

What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.

I do not support campaign contribution limits. Time and time again, complex restrictions and layers of control have been shown to hamper outsiders and advantage incumbents who not only enacted the rules, but know how to effectively skirt them.

If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.

My candidacy has been supported by a number of current and former local elected officials. The Senate GOP does not historically participate in primary elections and that is the case in this race.

If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.


Do you support term limits? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?

Yes. State legislators should not treat their positions as life-long opportunities. With term limits, incumbents are freed from the obligation to campaign for reelection during their final term and can more effectively govern. I would sponsor legislation to amend the state constitution restricting the number of terms that a legislator can serve. My preference would be that any amendment take into account total government service in order to curtail the movement of legislators between legislative chambers. I would happily and aggressively lobby my colleagues for this constitutional change.

Do you support changes to the redistricting process? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?

Yes. Current Illinois legislative districts are harmful to our political system. Their lines violate existing community boundaries with impunity and are only rational if the intent is to stifle competition at the ballot box and segregate voters based upon their political views. Recent ballot initiatives to create a "fair" map system have seen overwhelming popular support and were only prevented as a result of legal challenges mounted by Mike Madigan, who argued that such an initiative fell outside the bounds of what was constitutionally permissible. By taking the map making process out of the purview of political manipulation, the democratic process would be better promoted and citizens would be better served. I was a strong advocate of the Fair Map movement in the past and will continue to be as an elected official.

Tell us a little about your family.

I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and married my wide, Shannon, in 2014. My parents, Robert and Donna Plummer, started R.P. Lumber Company in 1977 in Staunton, Illinois. Since then, the company has grown from one store to 68 in both Illinois and Missouri. I have two sisters, six nieces and nephews, and a dog named Rambo.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us.

I love animals and my wife and I are quietly huge supporters of animal causes, including support for no-kill shelters and stronger penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals. I am a strong advocate for the defenseless and vulnerable.

Candidates for Illinois Senate (54th district)