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EDITORIAL BOARD QUESTIONNAIRES

Tonia Jane Khouri

Republican candidate for Illinois House (49th district)

Tonia Jane Khouri

Tonia Jane Khouri

Republican candidate for Illinois House (49th district)

Education
Harvard Kennedy School 2013 Senior Executives in State and Local Government Southern Illinois University 1991 Bachelor of Science: Public Relations
Occupation
Owner, Green T Services and DuPage County Board Member, Chairman of Economic Development
Home
Aurora
Past Political/Civic Experience
DuPage County Board Member

Responses to our questions

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

Too much about Springfield is about politics not policy. I believe if everyone was negotiating in good faith, a balanced budget could have been achieved. Rank & file Republicans and Democrats had the will to work together across the aisle, but leadership was not as willing.

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

Absolutely. We were recently burdened with a 32% income tax hike without any reforms. Instead of hitting the taxpayers' pockets once again, legislators must be responsible and accountable and look for ways to reform structural governmental spending. Taxpayers are fleeing the state in record numbers and those that are still here can't handle any more tax increases.

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

The best new form of revenue is economic growth. We haven't tried that in a long time in Illinois. Also, we need to turn around the mass exodus. We are losing too many taxpayers. With millennials being the biggest age group leaving the state we are also losing our future taxpayers. Turning those two things around will do more to increase revenue than any tax increase can. Illinois does not have a revenue problem. Illinois has a spending problem and that's where I will be laser focused —passing legislation that deals with overspending. I've served on the DuPage County Board for six years and have never voted for a tax increase. During my tenure, DuPage County has actually reduced our overall budget by $36.5 million saving taxpayers an estimated $110 million. We accomplished this through joint procurement, shared services, and consolidation. That's how you balance a budget - by cutting spending and reforming how government operates. These are the types of reforms I will bring to Springfield along with the experience and courage to implement them.

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

No. The flat tax rate that is in place currently is the fairest way to collect income tax. When the graduated income tax was brought forth in 2013, I led the effort on the DuPage County Board to pass a resolution opposing the graduated income tax because of how detrimental it would be to taxpayers and economic development. This is not a rich man's tax; it is an everyone's tax. The previous proposal called for a person who earns 18,000 a year to have a tax increase. Hardworking taxpayers of Illinois can't afford anymore tax increases! A graduated income tax would also destroy job creation and further incentivize business to flee to neighboring states.

Please list five areas where you would cut spending.

Pensions: Representative Batinick has introduced a few variations of a pension buyout. It is clearly constitutional because it is OPTIONAL. It allows individuals in the pension system to exchange a benefit for a lump sum value that would be rolled into a retirement account tax-free. For example, a person who is set to earn a $60,000 / year pension at retirement has a net-present value cost to the state of about $1M. He could exchange that for a $30,000 / year pension and a $500,000 accelerated payment minus a small discount to the state. That discount would be the savings. We could also offer optional buyouts to move current employees into defined contribution plans, and even offer buyout for benefits like the 3% COLA. COGFA estimates show that this could save billions. With pension costs being about 25% of our budget and increasing, this is an area that desperately needs addressing. Economic Growth: Turning the unemployed to the employed will have the double benefit of increasing tax revenue while decreasing costs.

Reforms: What many people don't realize is that the types of reforms that businesses are screaming for are also beneficial to government. Governments have worker's compensation costs, insurance cost, etc. An LRU report recently showed that if Illinois had average worker's compensation costs state and local governments would save over $300M.

Waste: It was well documented that the original Neighborhood Recovery Initiative under Gov. Quinn was filled with waste and fraud. What was not widely covered in the press was that when the program was moved to another agency, the waste and fraud continued. We need to be extremely judicious about implementing programs like this in the future.

The small thingS: We need to comb through agencies and find less expensive and more efficient ways to do everything. My husband and I do this in our business constantly. For example, is it cheaper to have a state vehicle or merely reimburse employees for using their personal vehicle for state use? Does the reimbursement rate need to match the federal level or will they be happy with something just below that? Do businesses need to file payroll taxes every week or can it be done monthly? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking because many small savings add up to big savings.

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?

Pensions: Representative Batinick has introduced a few variations of a pension buyout. It is clearly constitutional because it is OPTIONAL. It allows individuals in the pension system to exchange a benefit for a lump sum value that would be rolled into a retirement account tax-free. For example, a person who is set to earn a $60,000 / year pension at retirement has a net-present value cost to the state of about $1M. He could exchange that for a $30,000 / year pension and a $500,000 accelerated payment minus a small discount to the state. That discount would be the savings. We could also offer optional buyouts to move current employees into defined contribution plans, and even offer buyout for benefits like the 3% COLA. COGFA estimates show that this could save billions. With pension costs being about 25% of our budget and increasing, this is an area that desperately needs addressing.

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

Yes. The current system is unsustainable.

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

I would remove the sick leave pension benefits. Right now, retiring teachers may add two years worth of sick days, upon retirement, resulting in an additional $165,000 more on average in pension benefits. With the average age of retirement in the Teachers Retirement System pension fund being 59-years old, it is unsustainable and unfair. The average retirement age in the private sector is 63-years old with no pension. We removed this perk from employee benefits at DuPage County and I will advocate removal at the state level. It's time for fairness for everyone across the state of Illinois by putting the public sector more in line with the private sector. Removing the perks in the teacher's pension system like the sick leave pension benefit would result in savings of approximately $4.3B

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?

Taxes. Speaking with residents in the 49th district, their main complaint is that property taxes are too high. Our families pay the one of the highest property tax rates in the nation. Property taxes are literally pricing people out of their homes, especially our senior population. Illinois loses 1 resident every 4.6 minutes to other states and millennials are leading the pack as they look elsewhere for better opportunities, lower taxes, and a more stable government.

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

Simple — stop raising taxes. Look at the spending side to balance the budget instead of always looking at the revenue side. People need to realize that the exodus of people leaving Illinois is so important because 1) People are being forced to leave their homes and their families because they can't afford to live here anymore 2) They are taking their wealth and tax dollars with them leaving the people who are left with paying the difference 3) The more people leave, the more taxes we will pay because Springfield has an insatiable appetite for our money. We need to stop the insanity of tax and spend policies in Springfield.

What should Illinois do to promote job creation?

I own a family-owned, local business that employs almost 200 local residents. My husband and I have created hundreds of local jobs over the years and our proud of our contribution not only to the local economy, but to our community as well. Being a small business owner as well as an elected official, I know how government can help or hurt businesses. I also know that it is not the government's role to create jobs, it is the private sector's role to create jobs. The best thing our state government can do to help the private sector create jobs is to create a business friendly climate with low taxes, low regulation, and certainty.

If Illinois wants to invest in existing programs, I believe in public-private partnerships for economic development and investing in tourism. I have been Chairman of Economic Development on the DuPage County Board for six years where I also serve on the Board of Directors of Choose DuPage, the County's public-private partnership, and the Board of Directors for the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau. Choose DuPage has facilitated in $34.3M square feet of development and 18,765 net jobs since its inception. The DCVB helps generate over $2.5 billion for DuPage County and the hospitality industry employs more than 23,000 workers. These are the two areas I would choose to invest in at the state level, but nothing can replace certainty in government and low taxes to entice businesses to invest in Illinois and thus create jobs.

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

While I appreciate the effort to make education more equitable and fair, it could have been fairer for the taxpayers outside the city of Chicago.

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

Our current education system is funded primarily by property taxes. Unfortunately for the Chicago Public Schools, the city of Chicago and Cook County are not paying the appropriate amount of property taxes to fund their schools. Several properties in the City of Chicago are under assessed. For instance, Willis Tower was recently sold for $1.5 billion, but is assessed for less than half that - $550 million. So CPS is being cut short what they should be receiving from all of these under assessed properties and TIF districts. To add insult to injury, the rest of the taxpayers around the state have to pick up the tab, even though we are paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation. One of the first pieces of legislation I will propose will be to reform how property taxes are assessed.

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

I support the scholarship tax credit. In less than 48 hours, the Illinois Department of Revenue reported $36 million pledged for donation so it is obvious Illinoisans support the Tax Credit Scholarship program as well.

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

Our current system is extremely unfair. While there are caps on donations to individual candidates, there are not caps on donations to caucus leaders — like Mike Madigan. This makes so many rank and file candidates beholden to their leaders. It gives leaders too much power and has contributed to the situation we are in now. Either caps for all or caps for none.

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

Other than access to the voter database, none.

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

N/A

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

N/A

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.

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. Right now, politicians are choosing the voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.

Tell us a little about your family.

My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 25 years and we have three children: 2 in college and 1 in 6th grade. My family members are my biggest fans and my strongest support system. Worried about my children's future in Illinois with our rising taxes and debt led me to run for office. I refuse to give up hope. It's not too late to save our state — we just need the right people in Springfield to do it.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us.

My hobby is kickboxing!

Candidates for Illinois House (49th district)

REPUBLICAN