Melinda Bush: Candidate profile, Illinois Senate District 31
In the race for Illinois Senate from District 31, incumbent Democrat Melinda Bush, of Grayslake, is challenged by Republican Christopher Kasperski, of Lindenhurst.
The 31st District stretches from Antioch, Zion and Winthrop Harbor in the far northeast corner of the state through Gurnee, Grayslake, Round Lake and Round Lake Beach, and into parts of Wauconda.
Q: How would you rate the governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Does the legislature need to have more input and influence in establishing rules and policies related to stemming the spread of the disease? What you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A: I would give the governor a top grade for his handling of the pandemic. He listened to the scientists and followed the advice of public experts when it wasn't politically popular, and those decisions saved lives. If I was given the same resources and the same information, I'd like to believe I would have done things the same way in that position. We have to recognize that managing a pandemic is extraordinarily difficult and requires a degree of agility that a large legislative body simply doesn't have, so even with the benefit of hindsight I feel comfortable with the way the governor has used his executive authority to manage the pandemic.
The General Assembly has played an important role in passing budgets with robust support for pandemic response, sharing vital public health information, helping constituents get the support they need and working to improve aspects of the pandemic response -- all of which have contributed to Illinois' overall success combating COVID-19.
Q: Regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance, what is the impact of the pandemic on the state's economic outlook and what immediate and long-term actions should be taken to address it? Would you support increasing taxes to pay for COVID-19 response or to make up for lost revenue related to COVID-19?
A: We must look to cut costs and save money as a state. We need to consider cuts to nonessential, non-human-service portions of the budget that are simply a luxury during a pandemic. And given our position at the top of the pension-payment ramp, we must consider reamortizing our pension debt to create a fairer and more responsible repayment plan. Then, we must dedicate a percentage of revenues to pay off the state's pension debt. Finally, we should apply the downstate pension consolidation to other pension systems and make all our pension payments on time.
Regarding generating revenues, I strongly believe we must restructure our tax code by continuing to close loopholes that benefit corporations and passing the constitutional amendment to shift Illinois to a progressive income tax system that ensures wealthy Illinoisans pay their fair share. We also need to modernize our revenue structure. Our tax system is based on an antiquated, product-based 20th-century structure when in truth our economy has evolved to be much more service-based. Our tax system needs to evolve with the changing economy in ways that economic experts believe will be more effective.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: That we need ask this question shows just how far our political discourse must evolve before we can enact real change. Absolutely -- all credible science demonstrates climate change is caused by human activity. The state of Illinois must pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act and continue to push Illinois' energy portfolio towards clean and renewable forms of energy like wind and solar power. We must end Illinois' dependence on harmful fossil fuels. We also need to ensure our air and water are clean, and our environment is protected -- for example, I am proud to have led the passage of the strictest Ethylene Oxide regulations in the country, and to have aided in the passage of the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act. As chair of the Illinois Senate's Environment and Conservation committee, I am committed to doing whatever I can to reduce the effects of climate change in our state.
Q: Should Illinois prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government? Should lawmakers be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after their term in office? For how long?
A: Yes, lawmakers should be prohibited from lobbying other levels of government. Lawmakers should also be banned from lobbying for a minimum of one year after leaving office.
Q: What are the most important components that should be included in legislative ethics reform? What will you do to help them come to pass?
A: I have consistently pushed for ethics reform throughout my time in the Illinois Senate, and most recently I have joined with a group of 15 other legislators to propose a package of nine reforms that would help change a culture of corruption that exists in Springfield. Those reforms are: 1. Prohibiting legislator-lobbyists; 2. Stopping the legislator-lobbyist revolving-door, and include upper level staff in that prohibition; 3. Better defining who is a lobbyist; 4. Fuller disclosure of outside income; 5. Initiating an official censure; 6. Strengthening the Legislative IG; 7. Ending the legislative staff exemption from the Human Rights Act; 8. Term-limits for leaders; 9. Removal of leaders and committee chairs if indicted. If these ethics reforms are enacted, when any issues arise related to someone's indictment or potential criminal conduct, a set of rules are already in place to ensure that the issue is dealt with swiftly and we assure the public that their government continues to function effectively.
Q: Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness and capacity to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.
A: There are several examples where I broke very publicly with my party on important issues. To name just a few: In 2013, I voted against my party's gaming bill. I'm not personally opposed to gaming in Illinois, but this bill was what is referred to in legislative parlance as a "Christmas tree bill" -- where legislators and interest groups look to hang their own pet projects on the tree. And while I despise that practice, the primary reason I voted no was because when questioned, the Governor's Office of Management and Budget Accountability assured me that not only would the state not make money -- they would probably lose money. In 2015, I stood up to my party and voted no on unbalanced budgets during the budget crisis. While I did not agree with the way Governor Rauner attempted to systematically dismantle our institutions and social safety net, I could not stand idly by and vote for a budget that would have put us further into a fiscal hole during an already difficult time. Throughout my tenure as Senator for the 31st District I have been vocal in my support for term limits on leadership, which puts me at odds with several tenured party leaders.
Q: The graduated income tax is designed with the intent to reduce taxes for 97% of Illinoisans. Do you believe that will happen? Why or why not? What assurances can be given to voters?
A: I do, because it's no longer "intent" -- the rate structures are written into a law passed by the legislature (Public Act 101-0008). This law goes into immediate effect upon the passage of the Fair Tax constitutional amendment. Based on the six tax brackets and corresponding rate structures in PA 101-0008, 97% of Illinoisans will see a reduction in their income taxes.
Q: Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A: Given the serious economic situation COVID-19 has created amongst Illinoisans, I do not believe now is the time to introduce a tax on retirement benefits.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: As mentioned in question two, we must seriously consider reamortizing our pension debt to create a fairer and more responsible repayment plan. Then, we must dedicate a percentage of revenues to pay off the state's pension debt. Finally, we should apply the downstate pension consolidation to other pension systems and make all our pension payments on time.
Q: Protesters have massed in the streets in Chicago and other cities across Illinois for greater social justice and changes in the funding and responsibilities for police. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in Illinois? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? What, if any, changes should be made in funding and duties of police?
A: Let me state unequivocally that black lives matter, and systemic racism must be eliminated in this state, this country and the world at large. As a legislator who is also a white woman, I have a responsibility to be an ally to my colleagues who live with systemic racism every day -- and that allyship includes doing less talking and more listening to what they know must be done. I stand in solidarity with my colleagues in the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to ensure we can pass a package of bills that would not only address police reform, but systemic racism broadly in this state.