Democratic 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?
Instability and mismanagement of the state are tied as the top reason people are leaving Illinois. People have uprooted themselves and their families in search of good paying jobs, a stable educational environment, a fairer tax system, and a state with a plan for economic development and opportunity.
Unfortunately, Bruce Rauner's fiscal mismanagement and manufactured 736-day budget crisis blocked critical investments in higher education, human services, and economic development in some of our most economically challenged communities. Rauner's divisive rhetoric and vilification of the Chicagoland region has pitted rural, suburban and urban communities against each other.
If we don't create jobs, we will certainly continue to lose population. Bruce Rauner's failed leadership and poor management has created instability across the state and exacerbated Illinois' already tenuous economic condition. During Bruce Rauner's tenure, job growth has slowed to a crawl.
It's no wonder that under Rauner's failed leadership, residents from Chicago to Cairo are choosing to flee. The same uncertainty that Rauner brought to the jobs front has caused a loss of faith in our institutions of higher learning. There have been double digit declines in enrollment at several Illinois universities and layoffs of faculty and staff. Students, families and school administrators have reported that the budget crisis and Rauner's disinvestment in public universities have shaken people's confidence in our state's commitment to higher education.
As a result, tens of thousands of students have left the state, and many will never return. We can reverse this outmigration trend if we provide workers, children and families with the tools they need for success — like quality, equitable public education, stable and affordable higher education, wage growth and job opportunities. That's why, as governor, I'll remain committed to creating jobs and economic opportunity, expanding healthcare, and investing in quality education, including universal preschool and quality childcare. I have worked in each of these areas over decades, and during this campaign, I have proposed real plans as outlined below.
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?
As the only gubernatorial candidate who has created thousands of private sector jobs, I have put forward real plans for improving Illinois' economic climate, including a five-point plan to create jobs throughout the state, a plan to lower healthcare costs for small businesses, and changes to our tax system that will make it fairer for working families.
My job creation plan includes a focus on attracting and building up small businesses, building infrastructure, such as statewide high-speed broadband internet connectivity, investing in higher education, nurturing greater international trade for our agriculture economy, and jumpstarting manufacturing. It's especially important that we help communities that have suffered years of disinvestment, across Chicago and downstate, by giving small business owners and new entrepreneurs the attention and resources they need to thrive, like access to capital, training, and mentorship. Having engaged in building a fast-growing startup environment in Chicago, I believe strongly in Illinoisans' creativity and entrepreneurial drive as the best creator of new jobs for Illinois. We must also attract large businesses, their headquarters and facilities, wherever possible, and I have participated in those efforts in Chicago as Chairman of the city's technology and entrepreneurship committee, ChicagoNEXT.
I have publicly advocated for the Amazon HQ2 opportunity, which could create new jobs for generations to come. No one likes the competitive environment in which states and cities are pledging future tax dollars to bring current jobs, but Illinois cannot sit idle and let these opportunities pass us by. No doubt, any tax incentives offered to attract businesses to locate in Illinois must yield tangible, measurable benefits to our state, and we should continually ensure that those benefits come to neighborhoods and counties that are often left out and left behind.
Bruce Rauner has continually bad-mouthed the state and gone out of his way to invite governors from surrounding states to help him criticize Illinois. Even in his recent trade mission to Asia, Rauner continued to bad-mouth Illinois. In essence, Rauner has run a massive negative branding campaign against the state of Illinois through paid and earned media. Even with our state's many challenges, we have extraordinarily attractive features that are worth extolling the virtues of.
The best long-term incentive Illinois can offer to bring businesses to our state is making sure we double down on the most attractive feature of Illinois: our dedicated and talented workforce. Talent is what attracts companies like Amazon. But there's nothing that drives businesses away from Illinois more than the instability caused by Bruce Rauner's failure to propose a balanced budget, and the 736-day crushing blow to human services meant to strengthen Illinois families. If we want to create jobs, we must work together to rebuild from the damage done by Rauner.
To attract businesses from other states and encourage existing Illinois businesses to grow, we must stabilize our economy and invest in our people. We must commit to investing in quality public education that ensures employers in Illinois have access to a large, skilled workforce and that sets our children on a path to success from cradle to career. We must also prioritize infrastructure modernization and improvements, from roads, bridges and waterways to broadband and energy systems across our state.
Where do you stand on a graduated income tax?
Illinois needs to replace its regressive flat income tax with a progressive income tax to ensure we are able to improve funding for schools that have been left behind, lower our regressive property tax rates, and protect the middle class and those striving to get there. I also support legalizing and taxing recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to help generate as much as $700 million a year for the state.
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.
First, it's the constitutional obligation of the governor to propose a balanced budget to the legislature. Bruce Rauner hasn't met that obligation even once. I will work with the legislature and stakeholders to craft a forward-thinking budget that prioritizes job creation, healthcare, and education. Investment in these critical areas yields savings down the road and ensures that we are setting every Illinoisan up for success.
The best way to increase state revenue is to grow jobs and economic activity, which is an important focus of my campaign and something I have done in my own business and in my active effort to build up the technology startup ecosystem in Illinois.
As we seek to balance revenue and expenditures of the state's budget, growth is an important component that seems too often overlooked. Investing in areas that will improve people's lives will reduce the costs associated with education, health care, and the criminal justice system. Having worked for more than 20 years in early education, I have seen firsthand the benefits of preparing kids for K-12 education before they arrive. Decades of studies show the significant savings to taxpayers.
Similarly, our healthcare system is too dependent on treating symptoms after medical problems arise rather than focusing on preventative care. If I receive an unbalanced budget from the legislature as governor, I will bring legislators to the table so we can make sure we're prioritizing jobs, education, and healthcare. Unlike Bruce Rauner, I won't give up before it's done and claim "I'm not in charge."
Balancing a budget requires three critical components: expenditures, revenues, and economic growth, which drives revenue growth. Expenditures and revenues will be on the table for discussion, but all in the context of how best to create jobs and prosperity for working families across Illinois. To pay for critically important priorities, I will focus on reforming our tax system by making it less regressive.
Can Illinois balance its budget without RAISING taxes?
Illinois should stop the unfair practice of balancing the budget on the backs of working families who can least afford it. A progressive income tax will modernize and reform our tax code to make sure people who make more pay a higher rate, and people who make less pay a lower rate.
What do you propose as a solution to the state's $130 billion unfunded pension liability?
There are several plans that have been proposed to address our ongoing pension challenges. The most sensible would bump up our current payments while leveling out the amortization schedule, allowing future state budgeting to be more manageable. We shouldn't focus on assigning blame — there's a lot to go around to both political parties and their leaders for decades. But failing to act is not an option. We have to step up and do what's right for the future of our state budget and our retirees.
What if anything should state government do to address rising property taxes?
Property taxes are too high, especially in the poorest neighborhoods. It's because we rely too heavily on them to pay for our public schools. Instead, we should implement a progressive income tax, allowing us to lower the burden on property taxes for school funding and to protect the middle class. We should then use that revenue to move the state closer to the constitutional goal of the majority of education funding coming from the state. Currently, we're providing a dismal 26%, ranking us near the bottom of the U.S. in state funding for education. Fixing our broken property tax system and our over-reliance upon it for school funding will be a priority for me as governor.
Do you support or oppose banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers?
Banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers is an idea we should consider, but we need to consider it in the context of all the potential conflicts of interest that elected officials have when voting on matters affecting their outside careers.
What changes, if any, should be applied to Cook County's property tax system?
The problems we have with our current property tax system are larger than just those conflicts. It's a foundational problem where we rely too heavily on property taxes to fund our schools and where the data used to make valuation determinations is often not transparent and publicly available. The result is a regressive system in which the poorest areas of the state pay the highest property tax rates. Each of these must be addressed to reduce property taxes and apply them more fairly.
Have you ever appealed property taxes on any property you own? If so, what was the outcome?
Yes, and the reassessments were approved.
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'm relieved that schools are getting their funding and remain open thanks to the leadership of people like State Senator Andy Manar, but I oppose private school vouchers. SB 1 created a fair and equitable school funding formula, but now we know why Bruce Rauner vetoed it and created that crisis — he wanted to leverage it to get a voucher-like program in Illinois. As governor, I'll oppose taking money from public schools for private school tax credits.
What is your position on charter schools?
I support a moratorium on charter school expansion. There is enough work to do to bring the existing charters up to acceptable educational standards.
Do you support an elected school board in Chicago? Please explain your answer.
I support an elected school board in Chicago. Just like suburban and rural school districts throughout Illinois, Chicago should have an inclusive and representative school board that includes multiple stakeholders and neighborhood representatives. An elected school board is an important way to get to that.
Tell us about your family.
In 1881, my great-grandfather arrived here at age 10 as a refugee from Russian pogroms in Ukraine. He was educated in a downtown Chicago public school on Harrison Street where he learned English. A social service agency gave him a place to live and after getting jobs, he and his father were able to bring the rest of the family to the safety and opportunity of America. I'm reasonably certain my family would not exist today but for the government of the United States and could not have pursued its success without the goodwill and decency of this state and the generous people of Illinois. The entrepreneurial spirit of my family continued in my father and mother who built Hyatt Hotels into the fastest growing hotel chain in America. Though they both passed at an early age, they set terrific examples as advocates for economic and social justice, teaching us the importance of doing public service to lift up those who have been left out and left behind.
I've been married to my wife MK for nearly 25 years. She grew up in Vermillion, South Dakota where her father was a professor and administrator at the University of South Dakota. He previously had been chief of staff for popular South Dakota Governor, Dick Kneip. MK's mother served in the South Dakota State Senate. MK worked for Governor Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and for U.S. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota before we met on Capitol Hill when I was working for U.S. Senator Alan Dixon. MK is my partner in this campaign and in everything in life. We have two wonderful kids, Teddi (15) and Donny (13). Teddi is an athlete and an avid student of social justice, and Donny is a football fanatic and a math whiz.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I managed an undiscovered rock band in college. I arranged and negotiated gigs for the four-person group, which included a lead guitarist and singer who is now a very successful Grammy-nominated producer for performers like Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer.
Give us an example of a time you worked across the aisle or against your party on an issue.
I have worked across the aisle throughout my adult life, beginning thirty years ago as a U.S. Senate staffer on transit and election reform, then as Chairman of the bipartisan Illinois Human Rights Commission, and for the last twenty years on early childhood education at the federal, state, and local level.
As Chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to turn this state agency around. Several of the Commission's GOP members are supporting my campaign for governor. I've met with and worked with Senators Orrin Hatch, former Senator Judd Gregg, Senator Lamar Alexander and other Republicans or their staffs to advance legislation such as the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. This program supports families with millions of home visits and strengthens communities across the United States.
I've also advocated for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge designed to close the achievement gap for children with high needs, and the reauthorization of the Childcare and Development Block Grant, which helps low income parents find childcare. Similarly, I have worked with Republicans in Illinois to advance the cause of kindergarten readiness, childcare, and preschool. We need a governor willing and ready to work across the aisle and get our state back on track from the damage Bruce Rauner has done.
Where have you shown independence from your party?
I've been an independent leader my entire life and that won't change as governor. There are areas where I agree with my party, like creating jobs and economic opportunity in all of our communities, expanding healthcare, and investing in quality education. There are also areas where I disagree with members of my party. I'm in favor of independently drawn legislative maps and legislative leadership term limits. As I have done for decades, when I go to Springfield, I will work with both parties to do what's best for Illinois families.