OAK BROOK — When gubernatorial candidates speak to a room full of educators, there’s no doubt they will be asked their opinion on pension reform and the recent passage of a tax credit program to overhaul the way Illinois funds schools.
But three Democratic candidates were surprised when educators also wanted to know their views on fracking, climate change and clean energy.
“I wasn’t thinking I was going to discuss climate change, but talking to educators — I should have known better,” joked Sen. Daniel Biss.
Biss, along with Chris Kennedy and Rep. Juliana Stratton — JB Pritzker’s running mate and candidate for Lt. Gov., were invited guests to the West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571’s 12th Annual Legislative Breakfast.
Local 571 President Jane Russell believes it’s in the best interest of her members to meet and form relationships with local legislators. The annual breakfast encourages members to be aware of current political issues and candidates.
All three candidates believe a progressive income tax for Illinois is the best way to fund schools.
Stratton laid out a plan she and Pritzker intend to follow: Make preschool universal, bring back vocational training to high schools and apprenticeships for young adults and invest in financial aid and MAP grants.
“We are ready to increase public funding for education across the board . . . by passing a progressive income tax in Illinois. Those who can afford to pay more should do so,” she explained.
Kennedy would like to go a step further and eliminate the property tax system, which would eliminate a conflict of interest in both parties where political leaders are property tax appeals lawyers.
“They’re making money on the property tax system. They’re not going to let us switch to an income tax system — they have a conflict of interest and it’s big money,” Kennedy explained.
With one of the most regressive tax codes in the country, Biss would like to start with repealing the flat tax provision in Illinois’ Constitution and move on to a progressive income tax.
He also pointed out the issues of school funding was an issue prior to current GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner taking office. As he put it, “things weren’t great in Illinois,” reminding guest two Democratic governors prior to Rauner were imprisoned.
“We have to defeat this horrible governor, but if we only defeat him and go back to whatever we had before Rauner — then shame on us. We need to understand what it was in Springfield, on both sides of the aisle, that stopped us from enacting the progressive policies that our state needs.”
Along with the three gubernatorial candidates, three legislators, Sen. Linda Holmes, Sen. Laura Murphy, and Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, were honored for their dedication and support of public education, labor unions and working families.
As a member of the Pension Conference Committee Holmes has stayed committed to defending pension legislation, being the one dissenting vote on SB1.
She held fast to Illinois’ Constitution, which indicated pensions shall not be diminish. “You can’t change the terms of the contract once it’s in place. To me that seemed really, really obvious. Why it wasn’t obvious to everyone else [on the committee], I don’t know,” Holmes explained.
SB1 eventually made it’s way to the Illinois Supreme Court, where it unanimously ruled SB 1, unconstitutional.
“The morning I heard that, I really wanted to pour champagne over my cornflakes, I was so excited,” she said to laughs.
Looking ahead, Holmes and Welch are looking at charter schools. Both legislators are moving forward with HB 768, which creates a charter school application process where only locally elected school boards and parents could decide if a charter school is good for their community.
Welch also is fighting to keep the recently passed tax credit program to five years. “[Republicans] are going to try and make it go even further to where they get vouchers in the public school systems. If that happens, that’s going to destroy the public school systems. We need to be putting more money into our public schools and not taking out money,” he said.
Murphy also voted against the school voucher bill. She knows Rauner’s agenda is to eliminate unions and the pension members have earned. She’s going to continue fighting for public education, jobs, and to close corporate loopholes. “That’s how we make the middle class successful,” Murphy added.