Republican candidate for Illinois House (59th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
Springfield's inability to pass a balanced budget has caused irreparable harm to Illinois' vital social service providers and has diminished the public's confidence in our elected officials. Any person running to become a member of Illinois' general assembly must prioritize balancing the state's budget because of its far-reaching implications on every component on public policy.
There are many reasons why Springfield has been unable to complete its most basic function. The hyper-polarization of our politics, a reality that is compounded by the lack of competitive districts across the State, is one of them. Our electoral process discourages members of either party to work across the aisle. We won't be able to achieve a compromise on a balanced budget when members of the general assembly are too busy running to the ideological extremes. We can build consensus solutions, but it is going to require electing bipartisan problem solvers who are unafraid of challenging the status quo.
Another reason for the impasse is that Springfield is run by a handful of partisan power brokers who purchase votes and contributions by making promises that can only be paid with ever increasing tax rates on a state bleeding population. We do not have a balanced budget because we haven't elected enough reform minded leaders willing to stand up to Springfield as usual.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
As I've spoken with hundreds of families across the 59th district, it is clear that they are looking for their state representative to be a tireless advocate for the taxpayer. They are also desperate for leaders who can build consensus across the aisle to solve our toughest challenges. It is possible to pass a balance budget without endlessly raising taxes on the hardworking taxpayers in our communities.
The McCarter- McConchie budget proposal wasn't perfect, but it was refreshingly honest about the gravity of our problem. The problem in Illinois is not a lack of revenue (state government collected over thirty-three billion dollars in tax revenues last year), but rather a failure of our elected officials to make responsible spending promises. The solution will require enacting pro-growth economic and regulatory reforms. Lawmakers must recognize that policies that drive businesses and families to other states will make it impossible for the State to fund its social welfare and pension obligations. Springfield should encourage businesses to stay in Illinois, to build in Illinois, and to move here. By growing our economy, we can effectively grow the tax base without sweeping proposals for new revenue.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
I do not support introducing any new sources of revenue because Illinois' tax environment is the primary reason for Illinois' dramatic population loss. Speaker Mike Madigan was wrong to force through a massive income-tax increase in 2017 without any reforms. Now is not the time to hit Illinois families and small businesses with another tax hike. Instead, Illinois should look for ways to grow the economy and expand our tax base. This exodus has seen over $3.9 billion in taxable income leave Illinois. Unless we are considering deregulating certain kinds of commerce, my support for any new sources of revenue is contingent on dramatic, structural reforms to Illinois' government. This is especially true of any budget proposal under consideration.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
No, I do not. A graduated income tax will contribute to the state's net out migration and hurt Illinois' small businesses.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
- The Illinois general assembly should roll new state employees into defined-contribution plans and support a constitutional amendment that will allow the State to renegotiate some of its contracts with pensioners. These reforms will put our pension system on a path toward solvency and save Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars.
- When looking for solutions, it is important to prioritize potential waste, fraud, and abuse in the system. To begin, I support an audit of state spending across the board, in order to assure state spending is actually going towards helping the people they are designed to help. This includes utilizing the Medicaid audit, which has been effective at finding abuse in the system, to assure that money going towards Medicaid actually goes toward helping those in need. Additionally, by auditing welfare programs and requiring photo identification for LINK cards, abuse can be combatted.
- An across the board, 10% cut to the budget of each statewide agency unless the agency provides a compelling reason to maintain current levels of funding. It's the general assembly's responsibility to weigh the strength of these arguments in light of Illinois' budget shortfalls.
- Combine the comptroller's office into the treasurer's office and look to streamline the administrative bureaucracy in every office and department in the State.
- Eliminate pensions for all elected officials in Illinois. While Springfield politicians continue to ask Illinois' taxpayers to make sacrifices, they remain noticeably silent on what they can be doing to help the state get through this crisis. Elected office should be about service, not about building a career. That's why If I am given the opportunity to represent Illinois' 59th district in the general assembly, I will look to lead on this issue and not take a legislative pension.
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?
There are numerous potential solutions to help solve our current pension dilemma. I support 401(k) style savings plans for all newly hired state employees. Additionally, we must move all elected officials' pension plans to defined contribution, which would set the tone for other public pensions to evaluate their own systems. I also believe that the State should heavily tax pension earnings over $100,000 per year, particularly when the recipient is double or triple dipping from various pension systems. While most public-sector employees worked hard to have a secure retirement, we simply cannot continue to ask hard working middle-class taxpayers to fund six-figure retirements for the wealthy.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
Springfield is not producing for Illinois taxpayers or government workers counting on promised pension benefits the State cannot afford. The Governor, the unions and legislators need to accept reality and negotiate in good faith for a compromise. Most people can agree that the State must have the resources to pay the pension promises of workers late in their careers, that no one should receive a pension more than $100,000/year and that our state does not have enough money to continue on the status quo. The governor's role in these talks should be negotiate in good faith, uphold our promises, articulate the need for reform, and always be looking to build consensus.
I would look to the example set in our neighboring states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. These are states that have implemented serious reforms to turn their pension systems around. Short of a constitutional amendment that would give the state an opportunity to renegotiate contracts with state workers under the age of 55, I would support a proposal that made retirement income over $100,000 taxable income. Such a proposal would help ensure that all pensioners can receive the benefits they were promised without leaving our state's lower and middle-income workers behind.
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?
I am running for state representative because I have heard from and seen too many of my peers make the decision to leave Illinois. They are not leaving because of the weather, they are leaving because our state's high cost of living and a tax burden that is making it impossible to maintain a future here. Without the means to change the elected officials we send to Springfield, Illinoisans are voting with their feet and moving to our neighboring states. States like Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana that have their fiscal house in order and are growing at a breakneck pace.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
Government should be making it easier for families to live in Illinois, not harder. We need to work to lower the cost of living for working families, create jobs, and grow the economy to keep our families here at home. A temporary property tax freeze, a permanent 1.0% cap on property taxes, and streamlining the process to consolidate local units of government are just a few of the many possible solutions to make Illinois a more attractive place to live and raise a family. Additionally, young professionals and families need a voice in Illinois government, and that is what I hope to provide should I be elected.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Businesses considering coming to Illinois are drawn by its vibrant communities, world class research institutions, access to top quality talent, and robust infrastructure system. With this said, Illinois is still missing one key ingredient that is immediately taking our state off any shortlist for new manufacturing plants and business projects. This of course is the lack of a business-friendly, tax and regulatory environment that is conducive to economic growth.
The good news is we don't need to reinvent the wheel to turn things around. We can send the message that Illinois is open for business by looking to the reforms that some of our neighboring states have implemented successfully. Illinois should enact meaningful workers' compensation reform and pass a statewide right to work provision. We should also reduce barriers of entry into the labor force for licensed professions and identify places where our current licensing framework can be amended to make it easier for veterans and their spouses, first and second-generation Americans, and displaced persons to practice their trade. Most importantly, by passing a truly balanced budget and enacting serious political reforms, we can signal that Illinois' is serious about these reforms and is interested in providing businesses with long term political and economic stability.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
It is no secret the K-12 funding system in Illinois is among the worst in the nation. There are undoubtedly aspects of the passed legislation, for example changes to the school funding formula which reflect a positive change in the way in which money is distributed across the state. At the same time, portions of the bill are far from perfect. I supported many of the concepts of the legislation and did support the final version of the bill, but would have liked to see a more perfect version.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
We need to enact serious reforms to the way TIF districts are created and direct more of the funds they collect to the CPS system. The over 100 TIF districts in the City of Chicago are siphoning away millions of dollars from CPS. The guidelines establishing the duration and scope of TIF districts needs to be more stringent, and I would be opening to supporting legislation in Springfield that offered some iteration of these reforms.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I support increasing educational options for low income families across the state of Illinois. A zip code should not determine a child's future.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
Certain efforts can be made to bring more transparency to the way campaigns are financed in Illinois. Sunshine laws and increased disclosure requirements would be a good first step in helping voters know about the interests behind the messages they are exposed to. The rise of political action committees and independent expenditures also warrants the special attention of any committee considering campaign finance reform.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
As the late Abner Mikva once said, "I am nobody, nobody sent." I'm not running to be anyone's anointed candidate, and I'm certainly not looking to receive the endorsement of a group of Springfield insiders. That is why I am proud to say that the party support I have received has come from local Republican Township organizations, precinct committeemen, and volunteers from every corner of the 59th district. This support is a testament to the time our campaign has committed to relationship building and to attending meetings all across the district.
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
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?
Absolutely. Term limits are essential, for both leadership as well as members of the General Assembly. The opportunity to represent your district in Springfield is an honor, and to treat it as anything but is to do a total disservice to your district. We need more citizen legislators in Springfield, not more career politicians. The political support is there to get these measures put into the Illinois Constitution, but we need independent leaders going down to Springfield who will have the audacity to take on this challenge. I will be a leading proponent to sponsor this type of legislation and lobby my colleagues to get this done. A good way to do this I think is to lead by example, and that is why I am making a commitment to serve no more than two terms if given the opportunity to serve in the Illinois general assembly.
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. Illinois' current redistricting process is broken and its why Illinois has effectively become a one party state. Incumbents should be accountable to their constituents for their behavior and for the votes that they take. Competitive districts will compel state legislators to put more hours into meeting with their constituents and with groups from across the political spectrum. The benefits of this are twofold: 1) legislators will be more likely to work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle and 2) we can restore the public's confidence in our electoral process, a process that so many Illinoisans feel has left them with no say in our state's internal affairs.
As Congressman Dold's political director, I was empowered to become an advocate for independent maps on both the state and federal level. For me, this isn't about scoring political points. This is about ensuring everyone right has to have their voice heard and improving the overall quality of our representation.
Tell us a little about your family.
My mother and all of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Yugoslavia in the early 1970's and settled in Chicago's East Side neighborhood. My grandparents risked everything they had to find opportunity in America. They worked hard, played by the rules and made sure that my parents received a quality education. In turn, my parents excelled in their professional life and passed on the valuable lessons in hard work, discipline, and respect that they learned from their fathers and mothers.
Whenever I think about my family, I am reminded of the many sacrifices that they made in order to give their children and their children's children the opportunity to live a life better than their own. Their story is the quintessential American Dream, and I am humbled and motivated by the fact that I can play some part in keeping that Dream alive for all Illinoisans. In addition to my parents and grandparents, I have three younger siblings all going through the Lincolnshire local school systems and all are heavily involved in sports.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Growing up, I played competitive ice hockey at a high level. Today, I enjoy finding time in these winter months to join a few of my old teammates and play outdoors.