Michael "Mickey" Straub
Republican candidate for Illinois House (82nd district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
It has been difficult to get a balanced budget passed because too many members of Illinois' entrenched political class---Democrats and Republicans alike---are more interested in extending their political career, and deriving the financial and other benefits that flow from it, than they are improving the lives of Illinois' citizens. As a result, special interests with campaign cash---most notably powerful public-sector unions---control the budgeting process. Those interests, and the politicians they support, are thus content to "kick the can down the road" by spending more money than we have and taxing or borrowing as much as they can to make up the difference. We need a new class of citizen legislators who are principled fiscal conservatives not tied to or reliant on special interests to pass truly balanced budgets by prioritizing spending. If I were to choose two words to summarize the root causes, they would be "greed and selfishness."
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
Yes. We don't have a revenue problem...we have a spending and selfishness problem. We can solve this problem by reforming how we spend the money we have in every area of government. Most notably, approximately 25% of our budget goes to pay pension costs for public sector union employees. This is unsustainable and must be reformed---both for the benefit of the private sector taxpayer and for the public-sector employee who has been promised a future that is likely not mathematically possible or fair to sustain. It's not a matter of funding, it is a matter of fairness. We must move to a constitutionally sound defined-contribution system for state employees.
We must also reform our Medicaid spending, another major driver of our budgetary costs. Among other things, we need to ensure that Medicaid is available only to those whom the program was intended to protect, lower costs by leveraging our buying power, and finally address the rampant fraud and abuse in the system, per many within medicine who see it firsthand.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
I do not and will not support any tax increases. Illinois' citizens are already among the highest taxed in the nation and it has helped cause our state's population shrinkage; we are becoming known as an "evacuation state." We should also roll back last summer's income tax increase and cap property taxes at 1% of property value.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
No. A graduated income tax will only serve to exacerbate the decline Illinois is already experiencing for two reasons. First, the businesses and individuals who would be taxed at the highest rate are the most mobile and therefore most able and inclined to leave the state, taking personal and business investment with them. Illinois' high tax and overreaching regulatory environment already has led to the highest net population loss in the country. Second, Illinois' political class has never been inclined to show spending discipline with the tax revenue they already have. As higher income earners and investors leave Illinois' economy because of the graduated tax, the door be will open to increasing rates on middle class families. The fact that Illinois' income tax is flat---albeit too high---is the only positive attribute of Illinois' tax and regulatory scheme.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
Spending in Illinois needs to be structurally limited so politicians are not at liberty to spend more. That is why I would support legislation that would cap spending growth to the rate of inflation plus population growth. We continue to spend more and more despite significant population loss.
Second, we need to reform our state pension system. We need to move from the defined benefit system we have now to a defined contribution system. New state workers should be offered a 401(k) type retirement vehicle, current workers should be the given the option of switching to a 401 (k) model, which many would do if they were told the truth about the long term sustainability of their benefits, and we must reform the automatic and unsustainable cost of living increases currently received by state workers. We must implement in Illinois what was done in the federal government in the 1980's only better; now that we have thirty years of history to assess.
Third, Medicaid reform as discussed above, including means testing for eligibility so only those who truly need the program are allowed to benefit, leveraging purchasing power and economies of scale for lower drug and equipment costs, and seriously (for once) addressing the fraud and abuse in the system. As the "Broken Windows Theory" proved, "Bad behavior, if left unchecked will spread." We need to fix the fraud and abuse now!
Fourth, we need to decrease the number of governmental units, each which has its own cost drivers including bureaucracy and salary structure. As mayor of a village, I understand well how---without leadership and oversight---small units of government (not unlike large ones) can be abused by those who are reliant of those units of government for pay and other consequential benefits. It's too easy for large organizations to run inefficiently. I happen to be in the efficiency business for sales and recruiting organizations and have not only seen that firsthand, I can use my expertise to help state government measure and monitor results.
Fifth, although I value so much of the work done by public employees, including and especially those who work in Burr Ridge, we need to reign in salaries at the state level like our village has done over the last decade. Also, we need to use "fairness and prudence" as our mantra as we get public sector employees' income and pensions more in line with those in the private sector.
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?
The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that pension benefits already earned cannot be "diminished or impaired". Though it's a nice thought, this is a formula for fiscal disaster and I fundamentally disagree with the ruling. The Illinois Constitution is not a suicide pact and the pension system being protected by this ruling and ruling class is unsustainable. Regardless, we need a system that rewards good work for deserving state workers, but treats taxpayers with fairness. For future workers, we need to move to a defined contribution plan. For current workers, we need to offer a defined contribution plan and be honest with them about the future of what they have been misled to believe are guaranteed benefits. We also need to reform automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases and put forth retirement ages that are fair to state workers, but in line with those of the taxpayers whose money supports them.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
Yes---to control costs, but also to (1) give state workers more control and portability over their retirement, (2) put state workers in line with their private sector counterparts, and (3) get politicians out of the retirement planning business, something for which they are demonstrably unqualified. Once again, it is not a matter of funding, it is a matter of fairness.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
First, the Governor should lead with positive intent and try to build some trust and decrease the animosity between the two sides. The Governor then needs to systematically demonstrate the unsustainability of the structure, how the business climate and mass exodus from Illinois does not support raising taxes to pay the current benefits and how we must reform the system or every stakeholder---state employees and taxpayers---will lose. Then he must continue to argue for the measures outlined above. What would you do? Same as above.
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 tax and regulatory environment is bad for business and our neighboring states are attracting businesses and the jobs and residents that follow. Just look at the manufacturing sector. The combination of corporate income taxes, high property taxes, outsized workers' compensation costs and unemployment insurance have made it more attractive for manufacturers to locate their operations elsewhere. I have constituents in Burr Ridge who moved their steel and trucking companies across the border to Indiana for these very reasons.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
In addition to what has been set forth above, we need to roll back the income tax passed last summer as an initial income tax reform, reduce regulations and financial barriers to entry on new businesses, and enact a 1% flat property tax so that home equity is no longer being used as collateral for government operations.
This suggestion may be a little idealistic, but I think it is practical: We need to increase Illinois pride. This can start in Springfield with legislators being more honest, fair and more focused on our citizens by implementing the above suggestions, but I would also like to use a current department in the state to develop a pro-Illinois marketing campaign to promote Illinois' merits. We have a lot to be proud of in Illinois and we need to be more vocal in claiming it and reinforcing it much like Texas does their state pride. It may even include a semester of Illinois history in the schools and/or even the shape of Illinois or Abraham Lincoln to be on any new highway or bridge projects like is done in the Lone Star State.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Illinois is losing jobs because it is an unfriendly place to do business. We need to signal to business owners and investors that we value them. We should do this by enacting all of the reforms discussed above. In Burr Ridge, we value business owners who provide jobs and services for members of our community. Since I became mayor we have increased the number of thriving businesses by approximately 10%. One of the ways that we have done is by creating a more pro-business environment that is more welcoming than in the past, knowing that is what would help us preserve our quality of life in our "very special place."
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
I enthusiastically support the tax credit scholarship program for low income students contained in the legislation. Children should not be relegated to failing schools and decreased opportunities because of their zip code, and because in some cases adults in parts of the school system are only concerned about their own prosperity. I am adamantly opposed to the bailout of Chicago schools and I believe the scholarship program could have been achieved without bailing out Chicago.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
My experience as a parent and my faith leads me to want every child in our state to get a great education so they have a chance to benefit from the wonderful opportunities available in our country. The Chicago Public Schools have failed so many. They continue to spend more and more money and get diminished returns. As history has demonstrated, sending more money to Chicago will only ensure the failed system will persist; it only treats the symptom, not the cause. Local officials in Chicago, from the Mayor on down have destroyed the City's property tax base as a whole to benefit the few through TIF district and other policies. They need to be forced to rethink those policies to improve their ability to fund cities locally.
I am sure that there are a lot more things that could be done of which I am currently unaware. Given a choice, I would assemble the best people in the state who are more familiar with this complicated issue and have them propose a long term strategy and suggestions. Success leaves clues, but so does failure. We need to identify the most successful programs in the country and follow their lead.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
Yes, but it's just a start. Children should not be forced to attend failing schools and parents should be able to choose a better school. This is especially true of lower income students who can't afford private school and who don't have the mobility to transfer into a different district. Also, if education funding followed the student, the school administrators and teachers in failing schools would be forced to improve to compete for students or risk school closure and loss of jobs.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
The politicians have set up a system in which political leaders---including my opponent---are at a fundraising advantage over everyone else. Everyone should be able to participate in the political process equally so there is more competition for elected office. I favor less campaign finance regulation and an even playing field, but those currently in power in Springfield don't want the competition.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
Not only am I not receiving any help from the Republican Party, they are helping spread the lies from my opponent's campaign team about me and our village. The Illinois Republican Party is supporting my opponent, a ten term legislator who has to accept some responsibility for Illinois' decline over the last 20 years that he's been in office. My support comes from the community within the district, including those who elected me twice as Mayor, and grass roots organizations dedicated to conservative principles, economic growth and/or Republican platform values.
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?
Yes. It is important for new people and new ideas to be infused into the political process and term limits can help ensure that happens. There is a reason why many organizations, both for profit and non-profit, often have age or term limits so that stagnation does not set in. Nowhere is this needed more than in Illinois where Speaker Madigan has reigned for 40 years. Term limits would help promote more citizen legislators who aren't trying to make public service into a lucrative career, and shorten and thus lessen relationships between legislators and public officials. Ironically, my opponent claims to be for term limits, yet he will have been in Springfield for 20 years at the end of his term. The lack of term limits is not working and has only enabled our elite political ruling class to continue ruling and ruining one of the finest states in the country.
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. Redistricting should be overhauled to take the politicization and partisanship out of the process. Currently the process is designed for the continuation of political power by the party in charge. It has been a major part of why the people of Illinois are in the economic circumstance we are in. We should have a process that is done in a way that is transparent and fair. We should take out redistricting based on demographic criteria like race and political affiliation. Those considerations divide us ideologically and otherwise. The district map should have logical boundaries and shapes that are recognizable to a fifth grader. A computer-generated map could be a solution.
Tell us a little about your family.
I was raised by loving parents and have five brothers and sisters with whom I remain very close. I am also blessed to have a loving and supportive wife of 32 years who often knows what I need before I do and an incredible 22 year old daughter of whom I am very proud and love dearly. And if it wasn't for their support and encouragement, I would not be serving as Mayor or have chosen to run for State Representative in the 82nd District. Though prayer has also helped with the latter; I pray the Rosary every day.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
In April of this year, Congressman Peter Roskam surprised me at a board meeting with a Congressional Record for honoring the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. I traveled to all 50 state Capitols in 50 Days and recited the Gettysburg Address at each one to remind people about the core values set forth in this timeless speech and advance hope for what we can do together if we are guided by the principles that Lincoln embodied and expressed.
Candidates for Illinois House (82nd district)
- Jim Durkin (No survey)
- Michael "Mickey" Straub