Running for: IL House District 63
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Incumbent Representative
Occupation: Tax Attorney (Retired)
Education: University of Illinois (B.S. Accountancy, 1975) and University of Georgia (J.D, Masters of Accountancy, 1980)
Campaign website: ILikeReick.com
Facebook: Steve Reick
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. Steve Reick submitted the following responses:
1. 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.
I would like to have seen more of an effort to cut costs before borrowing money. Businesses and households throughout the State were tightening their belts, but State government didn’t do its part. Other states didn’t hesitate to trim payroll, why couldn’t we? At least the level of borrowing would’ve been lower. Going forward, Illinois is going to have to trim a lot out of future budgets to come up with the money to repay this obligation. I’m ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make those hard choices.
2. 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?
I’m going to give him a “B-” on the public health part. He was blindsided by the pandemic just as much as we were, and I’m not going to fault him for his initial reaction from a public health perspective. I opposed his plan of putting McHenry County into the same region as Chicago, a decision which was partly rationalized by the fact that METRA comes out here, but when ridership fell by 95%, that excuse fell flat. Also, he sent mixed signals, as did so many others, by giving the protests a pass on his public health orders and holding public events at churches and daycare centers immediately after attending rallies. He should’ve self-quarantined until he found out he’d tested negative, which took almost a week.
On the economic side, I’m giving him a “D”. There was no rational reason why big box stores were allowed to stay open while Main Street establishments were forced to close. If, God forbid, we see a resurgence of the disease, I hope he’ll have learned that small businesses can work within safe guidelines just as the big boxes did and thus have a fighting chance of staying in business. His attempt to assess criminal penalties against business owners in May was a fiasco both from a policy and a political perspective. As a member of JCAR, I was taken totally by surprise by those rules, and we had little choice but to file a motion to suspend. I didn’t support the new rules just issued because statutory law should be interpreted by rule, not limited by rule. This issue needs to be addressed by the Legislature in special session.
3. 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?
The first responsibility of government is to keep people safe, and while what happened in Minneapolis was uncalled for and a tragedy, we need to avoid kneejerk reactions and take a hard look at what police reform would look like. Too often we take action before looking at the downstream, unintended consequences of that action. I’m sure if you asked the police, they’d be the first to say that they’re often expected to do things that don’t fall under the strict definition of law enforcement. It’s a conversation that needs to be had, but where it goes I can’t say.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I think it’s a good idea for officers to wear them, but that’s a matter for local jurisdictions to decide.
5. 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?
There’s enough blame to go around that everyone can have a share. Certainly Madigan shoulders most of the blame, but so do any number of others who’ve spent years giving him the authority that he’s misused in return for those favors and the millions in campaign cash that has kept him and his party in power. Of course he should resign, but that’s for him to work out between himself and his conscience.
6. 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.
I’ve been very active in supporting our schools through sponsorship of booster club events and participating in fundraising efforts. I’ve been a bidder and buyer at the McHenry County Fair livestock auction, having donated purchases to local food pantries. My resolution to honor Deputy Jacob Keltner for his sacrifice in the line of duty was an attempt to acknowledge the healing that the outpouring of grief and gratitude brought to our community. I’m a member of the Woodstock Rotary and have been a strong supporter of its “Christmas Clearing House” project for years.
7. 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.
I’m going to focus on one, which is the issue of the total dysfunction at DCFS which contributed to the tragic death of 5 year-old A.J. Freund. After his death, I served on a legislative working group that took a deep dive into the operations of DCFS and came to the inescapable conclusion that the agency is incapable of substantive reform.
Last October I received a letter from Patrick Kenneally, the McHenry County State’s Attorney, in which he describes in great detail three cases that have come to his attention after the A.J. Freund case, any of which could have ended just as tragically. He concludes by saying:
“The primary responsibility for protecting children in a community should belong to the community, not the State. Moreover, and in my opinion, the agents designated to protect children in a community should be primarily accountable to the community, not the State. As such, I would strongly urge you to consider legislation that would provide a significant measure of control over DCFS operations within a county to county government.”
Patrick is right. The child welfare system will not work unless there is accountability at the local level, accountability to the community that’s being served. Guided by my experience with the DCFS working group and inspired by Patrick’s letter, I introduced H.B. 4886, which would create a county-wide pilot program in McHenry County to replace the local office of DCFS with the McHenry County Children and Family Services Agency. It would be responsible for investigating instances of abuse and neglect here in McHenry County, and would be responsible to the people of McHenry County.
I realize that changing an entire agency from a one-size-fits-all model to one where the buck stops at the County line will be a heavy lift, but it has to be done. A little boy consigned to an anonymous grave alongside a back road deserves nothing less from us.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I’m against it because it won’t work. When the 2008 crash occurred, the number of tax returns filed in Illinois with AGI over $250,000 fell by over a third. It’s going to be far worse this time around, and there’s no way that the rates the Legislature passed will remain in effect.
Do we need tax reform? Absolutely. But this isn’t the way to do it. We need a global review of our entire tax structure with an eye toward creating a tax system that moves in the direction of our economy, which requires us to look at not only income taxes, but all sources of revenue: sales taxes, motor fuel taxes, user fees and property taxes. That doesn’t mean raising rates across the board, but looking at changing the mix, broadening bases and thus encouraging economic development, which is the real solution to our problem. Otherwise, the rates that we’re going to be asked to vote on as part of this package of bills will have to be raised, by a large amount and soon.
There’s an element of moral hazard at play here, as well, and that’s the real risk that people will think that by going to a progressive income tax, we’ll have solved our fiscal problems. We know that’s not the case. And when it doesn’t, we’re going to find ourselves back here with the same problems and fewer options to fix them.
We can start down a path of fixing this mess. But it begins by acknowledging the depth of our problem and making a bipartisan commitment to fixing it. The progressive income tax isn’t it, and may very well end up making things worse.
10. 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?
The big issue hanging over us is the same one that’s been plaguing us for years: Debt. Our backlog of bills is huge, but it pales in comparison to our pension debt. When you start out by taking 25% or more from General Revenue and putting it into pensions, there’s no way that any change to the income tax structure will accommodate both that and the need to fund essential state programs. The cost as a percentage of General Revenue may drop as a result of the tax change, but the dollar amount is the same. Where’s that money supposed to come from? The Governor is on record as saying he’ll allocate $200 million per year of the tax increase toward the debt, but that amount won’t even keep up with the annual increases that are called for under the ramp. It’s a rounding error.
Herb Stein’s Law says that that which cannot last forever, won’t. There’s an argument of whether or not states can file for bankruptcy, and general consensus is that to do so would run afoul of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, states cannot waive their sovereignty, and eventually the police power bound up in that sovereignty will take precedence. The Heaton decision dismissed the State’s invocation of that power, but did so not by saying the police power was an illegitimate argument, but by saying that Illinois was not to that point yet because it could raise taxes. There’s going to come a time when that won’t be an option.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Simply adding another level of taxpayers onto a broken tax system is no different than adding a second story onto a house with a crumbling foundation. It’s going to collapse even sooner.
Hoping to increase revenue by keeping the current tax system and then taxing more sources of income within that system is a recipe for disaster. Taxpayers are already overburdened by high property taxes and fees, and to tax retirement income would encourage more citizens to vote with their feet.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Glenn Reynolds, in his wonderful book “The New School” points out:
“When our public education system was created in the 19th century, its goal, quite explicitly, was to produce obedient and orderly factory workers to fill the new jobs being created by the Industrial Revolution. Those jobs are mostly gone now, and the needs of the 21st century are not the needs of the 19th. Perhaps there’s still a role for teaching children to sit up straight and form lines, but perhaps not, and this role for public education is undoubtedly less important than it once was. Certainly the rapidly increasing willingness of parents to try homeschooling, charter schools, online schools, and other alternative approaches suggests that a lot of people are unhappy with the status quo.”
We can start the process by describing our current system of government schools, and the medieval guild that runs it for what it is: bloated, self-indulgent and counter to the needs of us, our children and our country. Schumpeter’s notion of “the perennial gale of creative destruction” is no less applicable to education than it was to the buggy whip industry after the introduction of the automobile.
The explosion of access to educational paths not rooted in the traditional government school model is going to produce both winners and losers. As Glenn Reynolds goes on to say:
“The current system isn’t working. If it is replaced – as I think likely – by a system that is faster, cheaper, and more focused on delivering what students need, they will be much better off than they are now. Instead of entering the adult world at 22, or 25, they will be able to work and earn and direct their own lives at 18, or 20, and without the burden of student debt faced by so many young adults now.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
David French wrote an article in which he said: “If you’re concerned about confiscatory gun control, the real threat to the Second Amendment is…the increase in mass shootings. Each shooting exacts a terrible toll in human life. Each shooting is a shock to our political system. It’s a shock that unites a nation in grief but also divides it in rage.”
There’s a common thread that runs through the shootings at Fort Hood, San Bernardino, the Charleston, South Carolina church, the Orlando nightclub, the Sutherland Springs, Texas church, and Parkland school: each happened after authorities were given plenty of notice to stop them. What good is “if you see something, say something” if those to whom you say it, who have the authority, don’t do something? We have policies already in place which may have stopped these killings, it was human failure that stood in the way, and no amount of “common sense” gun legislation is going to fix that.
The majority of the deaths from gunshot wounds in the United States are suicides. Three out of five of the Americans who die from gunshot wounds every year are suicides, not murders. The Americans who die in suicides are being killed by despair, by the same spiritual crisis that is at the foundation of so much misery in the United States today, from opioid addiction to the neglect and abuse of dependent children.
I was a chief co-sponsor of a bill which was signed into law as Public Act 100-0607 creating a Gun Violence Restraining Order, which addressed the intersection of suicide, mass shootings and the issue of mental health. Its intent was to lessen the chances of troubled persons having the ability to commit gun violence either to themselves or others while protecting civil liberties.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I believe that we get the government that we deserve, and I also believe that term limits will give people just another reason to ignore their responsibility as citizens. They’ll think that it’s all right to not become involved because the person representing them won’t be there long enough to make things too much worse. No, democracy is a participatory activity and we don’t need another reason to roll over and go back to sleep.
15. 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?
I feel the same way about that as I do term limits.
16. 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?
I grow weary of having the issue of ethics reform constantly being brought forward when the “solutions” that come out of it are essentially written by the party that’s most responsible for the bad behavior in the first place. As is the case with term limits and gerrymandering, if people don’t bother to keep themselves informed, they shouldn’t be surprised when they learn that the fox is guarding the henhouse.
17. 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?
I’m less worried about commercial use of my information than I am of government servers being hacked. We should focus on getting our own house in order and take care to control that which we have a responsibility to control.
18. 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?
The problem isn’t kids going out of state to go to college; it’s that they never come back. We need to get our fiscal house in order so they’ll see a reason to stay in Illinois to get their education and find a job here when they graduate.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
If we’re going to insist on getting rid of fossil fuels, we need to make it easier and less costly to use nuclear power.
20. 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.
Everett McKinley Dirksen, whose quotes include:
· “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
· “I have said, with respect to authorization bills, that I do not want the Congress or the country to commit fiscal suicide on the installment plan.”
He’s also reputed to have said that the greatest threat to the Republic came on the day that they installed air conditioning in the U.S. Capitol. ‘Nuf said.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
At my age, there’s plenty to choose from, but I would have to say it was any of the Westerns that I grew up watching on our old Zenith black and white TV. Life was so much simpler then, and the good guy always won.