WHEATON – Local state senators and representatives met with community members Oct. 17 at the League of Women Voters of Wheaton's most recent Legislative Update.
Senators Michael Connelly (R-Naperville), Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) and Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) joined representatives Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) and Sandra Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn) to discuss state political issues.
Much of the meeting centered around the state's pension shortfall. All five members of the panel stressed the dire need for reform, especially of the annual compounded cost of living increase.
Ives referred to pension reform as a "moral imperative," calling for the passage of a 401(k)-style pension plan.
Both Cullerton and Connelly said they wanted to see a cap on pensionable wages, with Cullerton adding that the Senate hoped to vote on a bill during this week's session that would tie the cost of living adjustment to inflation.
"Many of these teachers did exactly what they were told to do, and they're now expecting to get that level of retirement benefits," Oberweis said. "Unfortunately, when the state made those promises, the politicians who made them knew or should have known that it was impossible to make those levels of payments."
Cullerton said that he believed that local municipalities, many of which also require pension reform, are "watching what the state of Illinois does. How the state of Illinois goes and what comes out of our bills next week and in veto session, you will see trickle down to the local municipalities."
But, he warned, the state needed a plan that would stand up against potential lawsuits or it would "be back here a year and a half from now doing the exact same thing."
One topic the Republican-dominated panel largely agreed upon was avoiding a constitutional amendment allowing for a progressive income tax in Illinois.
Connelly, the chief co-sponsor of a Senate resolution opposing the measure, said that the current flat tax system was put in place for a reason.
"Those who formed and framed our constitution believed [a flat tax] would not only be fair to all taxpayers but it would also entice high economic growth," he said.
Ives said state politicians were told that the last major tax hike in 2011, which was set to expire in 2015, would go toward paying down back bills. Instead, Illinois remains in debt, she said.
"Until we control spending, there's no need for additional revenue," Ives said.
Cullerton was the only legislator in attendance in favor of putting a progressive income tax to vote in a referendum, but stopped short of saying whether he supported it outright.
"I will be offering the voters the opportunity to vote on this," he said. "I listen to my constituents. If my constituents want to take an opportunity to vote on it, I'm going to give them the opportunity to vote on it."
Legislative sound bites
In response to the audience question, "With Illinois's financial mess, why should I continue to live in Illinois?"
• "Whoever put that question forward, they're obviously talking to their neighbors, because everywhere we knock on doors say 'Hey, as soon as my daughter graduates high school, I'm out of the state of Illinois' ... Why is that? Because the business climate is horrendous, and for tax payers, it's even worse." – Rep. Ives
• "Folks, we've got a great state. We now have quite a bit of oil and gas in this state. We have some of the best agricultural land anywhere in the United States. We have certainly some of the best universities anywhere in the world ... We have a great tourist destination in the city of Chicago. We have wonderful advantages. It's the politicians that are screwing it up." – Sen. Oberweis
"A third of the legislature is new this year ... There are 12 more spots open in the House of Representatives that are going to be brand new people. So what was going on 10 years ago is going to be very different than what we are going to continue to push forward." – Sen. Cullerton
Rep. Ives on same sex marriage:
"Marriage is between one man and one woman ... The biggest problem with SB10 is that there is absolutely no religious protections. We've had two legal opinions come out and SB10 as it currently sits has the least amount of religious protections out of any other bill of its nature in the entire United States. So unless you want religious persecution to happen, you would not vote for this bill."
Rep. Pihos on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking:"
"We were told by experts in the field that the laws we put forward are more stringent and safer in this state than in other states who have already experienced fracking."
Sen. Cullerton on township roles and consolidation:
"Many of the townships that I work with in my district provide an extremely valuable service to almost all of my senior communities and they do a lot of work for the food pantries, etc. [...] The reality is that townships, while they may or may not serve a purpose at this time, if we can provide them with more jobs to do they would be well worth the dollars."
Sen. Oberweis on term limits for General Assembly leadership positions:
"What we need to do is get back to citizen legislators instead of career politicians so that we can focus on doing the right things for our state and for our country and not the right things to get re-elected."