Running for: 97th District IL House
Political party affiliation: Republican
Occupation: Commercial Real Estate Agent
Education: Business Education 1992 University of Illinois
Campaign website: MarkBatinick.com
Facebook: Mark Batinick campaign, State Representative Mark Batinick official
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Mark Batinick submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
There needs to be a multi-prong approach to this issue. The federal government has given the state billions of dollars in assistance. Unfortunately, the assistance comes with significant strings attached to it. Some of the necessary response costs are covered while others are not. Giving the states more flexibility in spending the money will incentivize efficiency while also helping to deal with the shortfall related to COVID.
Secondly, a budget shortfall is not a new problem for Illinois. We have to stop the cycle of over-spending and over-taxing, which leads to a net-out migration of higher-income earners. This type of policy-making only places a further burden on the budget. We cannot fund projects that are ineffective or inefficient. Previously, I have passed legislation changing things as small as mandates on certain types of ink usage required in printing to outdated maintenance schedules on state vehicles. I’ve also addressed larger issues by introducing legislation that led to the lump-sum optional pension buyout. This program has been over-subscribed and can be expanded.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
Solid B. The Governor acted relatively quickly to halt the spread of the pandemic. Decisions made hastily aren’t usually perfect but in this instance there was definitely more good than bad. The Governor certainly listened to some of my suggestions. I was the first elected state official to push for the use of face coverings indoors. I started a local campaign and gave away PPE to help make that happen. He acknowledged my efforts publicly several times. Being a Republican pushing early for the use of masks also made it much easier for him to implement their use statewide. People forget that early in the Pandemic there was a lot of pushback against the face covering requirement. It is always helpful for significant policy decisions to have bi-partisan support. My initial conversations to him about this were the end of March with an open letter mid-April. The requirement was put in place at the beginning of May. I wish it has been put in place even sooner.
Big box stores were allowed to stay open and sell all of their items while small businesses selling the same items were not. Not only was this not fair it put more people in fewer places. That is harmful not helpful. The picking of winners and losers should not have been allowed. I have filed legislation to eliminate this practice.
But the issues at Illinois Department of Employment Security alone make it impossible to give him and “A”. The calls to my office for people waiting months to receive benefits during this difficult time was massive. That is completely unacceptable. There were also many calls to my office over fraudulent use of their names to receive benefits. People who didn’t deserve benefits were getting them while people who were desperate did not.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
I had several people send me information on the national “8 can’t wait” campaign. Illinois recently passed police reform that included many of these items. I supported the legislation.
Two additional concepts I would like to see addressed are the removal of “bad” officers and other support services. As in any profession, there needs to be a way to remove the bad actors. The police that I speak with agree on this issue.
Our police are pulled in many directions. An individual capable of breaking up a bar fight or dealing with a riot may not have the capabilities also to de-escalate a domestic violence situation. One of my constituents was involved in a pilot program in Iowa that has social workers ride along with police officers. The purpose of the program was to help deal with personal situations where police officers may not have sufficient training to properly address. The program was considered a success and deserves a discussion to expand elsewhere. Of course, this sort of approach requires additional funding, not de-funding. I believe it is a better and more productive approach.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
The General Assembly recently passed legislation addressing police reform, which allowed for and outlined the guidelines for police body cameras. Local municipalities can choose to use them. At this time, I believe the local governments should decide on the most appropriate route for them to take.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
The culture starts at the top. Speaker Madigan has been in charge for four decades, and he is responsible for the culture at the Capitol. Last December, I was the first sitting State Representative to call for his resignation. Speaker Madigan has lost the trust of the people and he must resign. Because of my fight against corruption, Speaker Madigan has spent millions on my opponents trying to defeat me – something I fully expect to happen again this year. My opponent, Harry Benton, has chosen not to call for Madigan’s resignation, take full funding from him, which is likely to be in the multi-millions, and stands fully behind the Speaker.
Illinois needs significant ethics reform measures from strengthening the statement of economic interest requirements to banning legislators from serving as lobbyists. While ultimately some will break the law, we must also implement term limits for all elected state officials. Not only do I support term limits, but I also introduced legislation for retro-active term limits.
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
In the early dates of the COVID outbreak, I recognized the severe threat to our vulnerable population. I called my parents to let them know that my brother and I would get their necessities and that they needed to self-isolate immediately. When I hung up the phone, I realized that there was no agency responsible for helping seniors self-isolate, so I decided to activate my district office. We shot a Facebook video asking for volunteers to run errands on behalf of seniors so they would not see a need to leave their homes. The response was tremendous. Countless volunteers and I spent several weeks buying groceries, getting prescriptions, and other items for the vulnerable. We volunteered at senior centers, meal on wheels, and sponsored mobile food pantries.
As we learned more about the pandemic, we took steps to buy and deliver PPE to nursing homes, restaurants, and people who needed it. We set up phone banking for seniors. I texted every senior citizen in my district that had a phone number I was able to procure. I even had a senior citizen reach out to me via text that required medical assistance. We were thankfully able to get her the help she needed. It was great to see the outpouring of support to help our fellow members of the community while also showing the type of constituent services a legislator can provide in times of need.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
Property taxes is the most persistent issue in my district. While I supported the school funding formula change, we still have not done enough to lower the tax rate in most districts. The property tax appeals scheme in Cook County hurts the funding for suburban and downstate districts. When connected property owners get massive breaks, it artificially lowers their “local capacity,” and diverts state money to those districts and away from other school districts. The practice is unfair and must stop.
We have a few deadly intersections in need of traffic signals. While those projects are scheduled, they never seem to come fast enough.
I have a very high population of families with college-age students in my district. Many students are leaving the state for more prosperous opportunities. As one of the highest funded states for higher education on a per-student basis, students still feel the need to leave. To put Illinois on a pathway that restores faith in the state government, we must enact reforms that end corruption and builds an economy for the future that encourages people to stay and relocate to Illinois.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Ending corruption. Enacting term limits. Putting the state on a stable budget path. Eliminating wasteful or unnecessary programs. Passing Stephanie’s Law which would make it harder for sex offenders to plea their way off of the sex offenders list.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I voted against putting the question on the ballot. Our biggest debt issue is our unfunded pension liability. Yet only 5%, $200M, of the predicted revenue will be added to the pension payment. Adding $200M to the pension payment may seem like a large amount, but when you consider that our unfunded liability is closer to $137B, you realize that it is not a serious step toward reducing unfunded pension liabilities. It is the equivalent of adding an extra $1.67 per month to a credit card with a $13,700 balance. My concern is that this will create a short-term increase in revenue but have severe negative consequences long term. College graduates are leaving the state, and families flee to neighboring states to improve their economic opportunities. My daughter is one of them. We cannot allow this exodus to continue and expect things to be fixed. The solution is not more taxes and spending.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
As I mentioned earlier we actually fund higher education at one of the highest rates in the nation! We just are getting the results we deserve. We have an extremely inefficient and corrupt system in Illinois. If legislators or candidates do not have the ability to call for Speaker Madigan to resign when the corruption is so blatantly exposed why should they be surprised when the citizens don’t want to send more money to Springfield?
Other than growing the economy through making Illinois less corrupt and more job friendly I do not support other new revenue.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No. The flat tax and the lack of a retirement tax are two of the few economic reasons people choose to stay in Illinois.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Continue to more adequately and evenly fund K-12 education. While or average funding per student is well above the national average, there are still significant disparities by district. We have a very wide range of funding levels per student.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
We have passed a significant amount of legislation recently regarding this issue. What we have not done is address the social reasons for the spike. The breakup of the family and high amount of fatherless homes have exacerbated the issue. These tangential causes need to be addressed too. A stronger, fairer educational system will play a big part in that but the school cannot be responsible for all of it.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I strongly support term limits for all state officials.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
You have it right. It is also true that some Republican-held states tend to gerrymander because they are in power. I would like to see a national model that is used for both state and federal districts. I have also offered the possibility to have Illinois partner with a similar sized Republican held state to create a compact so that the balance of power at the Congressional level is not affected by a state during the right things. The Iowa model seems to work well. I also like the “splitting algorithm” model. It is very important to address because all of these highly partisan districts have created extremism governing. Elected officials are usually just playing to their base. That is unfortunate.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
It is sad that in the wake of all of the exposed corruption that was all we were able to pass. The reality is that long-term power – at nearly any elected position – creates an environment for corruption. It is excessive in both state and local governments here. There is much to be done, but nothing would be as powerful as term-limits.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
Identify theft is an important and growing threat. I know several people who faced issues with their identities being stolen. I am willing to act at the state level. While states can act, our jurisdiction stops at the stateline. It is a role that I hope the federal government takes more seriously by enacting nationwide measures to combat data collection and identify theft.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
As mentioned earlier we actually fund higher education at one of the highest levels in the nation. The same things that make it more expensive to run a business in Illinois also make it more expensive to run government. We also put more mandates on top of that to universities. This drives up cost. The rich can afford to attend Illinois school and the poor often get significant grants. The middle class is left behind. Despite being a University of Illinois graduate my first two children left the state for school. I have a 3rd that is a senior that is only looking out of state. Too many of these students leave the state permanently. That is a significant brain drain. We need to give the universities more ability to run how they see fit. We can concentrate on the large issues like graduation rate, number of in state students, etc. We need to let them concentrate on how to get there.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I passed legislation regarding micro-plastics in water. I believe it is one of the most under-reported environmental issues today. There are many legislators looking at other issues but not too many concerned about this one. Therefore, I will be focused here.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Ronald Reagan. He was someone that had an uncanny ability to disarm people and make us all laugh. He was able to be a strong leader while making people smile at the same time. Politics used to have more levity. Things are too visceral today.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
The Simpsons. They were able to make fun of just about everyone. It is important to laugh but also be able to laugh at yourself. I found myself doing that often.