The two candidates, Suzanne Ness and Jim Malone, vying to be the Democratic candidate for the Illinois 66th district primary race talked about property tax reform and pensions during a meeting Friday with the Northwest Herald editorial board.
Malone, currently a Carpentersville trustee, said he is in this race because he doesn't think the area is being represented properly by current Republican state Rep. Allen Skillicorn.
"Pretty much everything [Skillicorn] votes on I disagree with," Malone said. "So instead of sitting and yelling at the TV, I decided to jump in."
Currently a McHenry County Board member, Ness said she's learned that the solution to a lot of local issues originate at the state level. "Like Mr. Malone, I agree that our area's just been underrepresented for a number of years and I wanted to change that," Ness said. She also cited HB-348, which is a bill that would give McHenry County voters the power to eliminate townships, as something that spurred her to run.
"When I read that bill and I read the transcripts from the [House] floor of that bill, I realized we have no local representation there," Ness said.
Both candidates said they support Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would change the state income tax from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.
When it came to pensions, Ness and Malone agreed that reform is needed, but stopped short of wholly supporting a suggestion that the state constitution be amended to fix it.
Ness said she liked Pritzker's signing of the pension consolidation law, calling it a "great first step in the right direction."
"A lot of people were afraid of that, but I thought that was a courageous thing to do and a smart thing to do because it will allow those funds to grow more in earned interest and thereby provide the pension obligations," Ness said.
A second thing that needs to happen when it comes to pensions, Ness said, is that people shouldn't have multiple.
"If you are receiving a pension from another position, a tax-funded pension, I think you only get one," she said.
The third thing that needs to happen, in Ness' opinion, is that any question of pension reform needs to include the stakeholders and the people that are impacted by it.
"I don't know that any true effort has been made to sit down with people who are recipients of the pension or the ones that (have) the most to lose (regarding pensions)," she said.
Malone said pension obligations need to be honored.
"We made promises and we have to honor those going forward," Malone said. His suggestion for reform would be to look toward the union trades pensions.
"My pension is fully funded," said Malone, a tradesman. "We take zero money from taxpayers. It's all funded by us. It's very healthy pension. And that's maybe something we could look at as a model."
Combining pensions, such as police and fire, is a good idea, Malone said, but amending the constitution would be a "huge step" that should not be taken lightly.
"There's other ways we can try to reduce the burden of the pensions," Malone said. "I do agree with if you're taking one pension from taxpayers, that should be enough."
When it came to property taxes, Ness cited her experience on the McHenry County Board, which she said has made a concerted effort to reducing the property tax levy.
"Clearly, that's a small thing that we can do here locally," she said.
However, Ness said that there hasn't been real property tax reform at the state level since 1970, although said she liked several things she read in a report written by legislators that came out in 2019.
"One was looking at how we're assessing corporate buildings and retailers, and making that more of a fair process because we don't right now have a good way to assess that," Ness said.
Another thing she liked was the idea of generating revenue from other places, diversifying the tax base and not relying so heavily on property taxes.
Malone said for most people, property taxes are their big issue.
"As most people know, most of our property taxes go to pay for the schools," he said. "I think the state should step up and pay for it ... so it doesn't rely on property tax, you know, property taxes and property owners."
In addition, Malone said, "big, giant wealthy corporations need to pay their fair share." Like Ness, Malone mentioned his experience in local politics.
"I'm a trustee for the village of Carpentersville. We haven't raised our property tax levy in three years. We also cut where things need to be cut and look at other forms of revenues such as the video gambling and the legalized cannabis," Malone said. "We're going to try to raise some revenue that way."
For information on these and other candidates, referendums and issues in this primary election, go to shawmediaillinois.com/election/ for Shaw Media Illinois' Election Central.