“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | 1 Comment

Frustrated? Call (217) 782-5350. Ask for Mike.

We have 19 days until the end of the legislative session, and how have we spent the month of May so far? We didn’t meet at all during the first week, and this past week was spent passing resolutions and making “points of personal privilege”. We didn’t vote on one bill, and didn’t go anywhere near talking about getting a budget. We were supposed to be in Springfield all week, but Friday session was cancelled.

I’m going to lay this directly at the feet of the Speaker. He controls what goes on in the House, and I think he decided to show everyone, including his own caucus, that he can jam up the works any time he wants. Here’s my latest episode of “Riding Shotgun with Steve”, where I expand upon that thought:

Riding Shotgun Ep. 2

Watch this video on YouTube.
Posted in Illinois Budget | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why I’m Not Taking a Pension

Last week I told you that I have elected to opt out of the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS), and thus will not be eligible for the legislative pension. There are a number of reasons why, and I’d like to let you know what they are.

  • I don’t believe that anyone in elective office, from dog catcher to President of the United States, should be eligible for a public pension. If we want to get serious about making sure that elective public service doesn’t become a career, we can start by making it less comfortable for politicians to stay in office.
  • As a legislator, I’m going to have to make some tough choices regarding the state’s pension system. By not taking a pension for myself, I’ll be able to make choices that aren’t colored by my own interests. I can look state workers in the eye and tell them that I’m not asking them to make any greater sacrifice than I am.
  • At 16% funding, GARS is the worst-funded of the state’s five retirement systems. The fact that almost half of the General Assembly has opted out means that fewer and fewer members will be contributing to and subsidizing the pensions of those we replace. As of February of 2015, 37 state legislators (29 House, 8 Senate) had opted out of GARS. As I write this, 12 members of the incoming Republican class have already opted out, and I’m confident that more will follow. What this means is that while all of the pension systems are in dire straits, GARS is on the fast-track to insolvency.

There is one other thing I just found out. GARS is the only system among the 5 state public pension systems that allows members to opt-out. (The State University Retirement System (SURS) has a limited op-out provision, allowing them to put their money into a defined contribution style plan.) Those who opt out of GARS must then choose to either participate in Social Security or the state employees’ deferred compensation plan. Under the deferred comp plan, I can, as someone over 55, contribute up to $24,000 per year into the plan. I won’t pay taxes on the money until I take it out.

The bottom line is that instead of contributing 11½% of my legislative salary into a pension plan that’s on the road to insolvency, or 7.65% to Social Security (matched with money the state doesn’t have), I can put over a third of my pay into my own account which I control. Even though there’s no state matching contribution, that’s a no-brainer.

The question I have: if this is such a great deal for the General Assembly, why isn’t it offered to the rest of the state workforce as well? Obviously, if employees were allowed to opt-out, fewer participants would mean lower contributions needed to prop up the system. Therefore, new employees are chained like galley slaves to a sinking ship they can’t escape.

Without true pension reform, and a plan to get the underfunding off the budget, Illinois will soon run out of options.

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Opting Out of the Legislative Pension

Early on in the campaign, I said that, if elected, I would not take a legislative pension.

Pension Election

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Moving From Campaigning to Representing

State SealI’ve waited to discuss the outcome of the election, not because I didn’t feel that I owed you a comment, but to allow it to sink in. The days since November 8 have been a whirlwind, but now the dust has settled.

First and foremost, I want to thank my wife Deb for her support and understanding during all these months of solitary dinners and neglected household chores. Throughout the campaign she was my gracious silence, and my rock.

To those who supported me with their votes, I simply say that I will do my best to justify your confidence. For those who didn’t, I ask that you give me the opportunity to show you that I am representing you as well. To all the citizens of the 63rd District, I want you to know that your interests will always come before mine or those of anyone else.

On election night I received a very gracious phone call from John Bartman congratulating me on my win. He’s to be commended for standing up and taking on the challenge of running for this office, and I wish him nothing but the best.

Much has been said about the amount of money spent on this race, and it’s something that I cannot leave without comment.

This is the first time in my recollection that there has been anything like this in McHenry County. We’ve seen other races where millions have been spent, but we never thought it would happen here. But it did.

At the outset, I insisted that my campaign maintain a positive message, that it focus on the issues that confront us all: property taxes, business-friendly reforms and jobs. For the most part, that became the theme of the campaign and I’m proud of that. Both sides threw some elbows, but I insisted that this race would not become personal, and it didn’t. To his credit, John’s campaign held to the high ground as well. That can’t be said for most of the other races in this State.

The thing that embarrasses me is the sheer volume of mail pieces, radio ads and other media that blanketed the District. I know that name recognition is key to anyone getting elected to public office. But I also know that there’s a point of diminishing returns, and that point was reached weeks ago. The fact that there were millions of dollars available to spend doesn’t mean that they needed to be spent. While I was the beneficiary of many of those dollars, in no way does that make it any less disturbing. On behalf of those who thought that more was better, I apologize.

Finally, to those who’ll say that my election was bought and paid for, let me say this: I’m not so naïve as to not know where the bulk of my funding came from. But while the money might have been theirs, the message was mine. I’m going to Springfield with that message and will work to move the needle toward lower property taxes, less regulation and more opportunity for the people of the 63rd District and for the State of Illinois. My loyalty is to you and to those principles, and no other. McHenry County voters have long insisted upon independence from their representatives; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted in 2016 Election | 2 Comments

Creative Destruction in Education

School ChoicePeople I’m talking to during the campaign tell me that property taxes are the top issue they want to see fixed in McHenry County. They all understand that the real driver of high property taxes is the cost of education.

When I’m asked by voters how I intend to change the way education is funded in Illinois, I tell them that it’s time to put the responsibility for paying for education squarely where Article X, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution says it should be:

“The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

In an earlier post I said:

     “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. Rather than complain about the current state of education, we should tear it up, root and branch. 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.

Of course, there’s another constituency that would benefit from having our government schools churned up by a wave of creative destruction: the long-suffering taxpayer who is being taxed out of his house to pay for that sclerotic system.”

So what would I replace it with? Five states: Arizona Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Nevada have enacted laws which give parents control over the funding received for their children’s education. It’s the Nevada program, called the “Educational Choice Scholarship Program” that interests me the most. Signed into law in 2015 (and challenged in court by the usual suspects), the program provides that education funds will be allocated on a per-student basis and will be deposited into an education savings account. Parents can then use that money toward expenses approved by the state’s treasurer’s office, such as tuition, textbooks, tutors, test fees, transportation, and therapy for students with special needs. Money left unspent rolls over and can even be saved to pay for college tuition.

(Side note: My Con Law professor at dear ol’ UGA said that if you examine the case law to determine what expenses may be paid to private schools with public funds without violating the Constitution, you’ll find that all of them start with the letter “t”).

The only stipulation for eligibility is that a student must have been enrolled in a public school for 100 consecutive days. That means 93 percent of students in the state will be eligible for the new program, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, said in a statement:

“Nevada is the first state to make the vision of dollars following every child to the school that works best for them a reality.”

So what’s so special about this program? Is this just another voucher program? No, the exciting thing about the Nevada ESA is that the money allocated to each student is truly portable. Unlike vouchers, which merely give parents the ability to shop for a single solution for their kids’ needs, thus allowing schools to ratchet up the cost of their programs to suck up the entire value of the voucher, this program allows parents to choose among a smorgasbord of options that are available across a wide platform of educational providers. If you want to put your kid into a private school or homeschool and he or she has special needs that are better provided in another program, the money can be allocated across those separate platforms. If you’re a homeschooler and your son wants to play football for the local district school, the money can be used for the participation fee.

Programs such as the Nevada ESA provide something that’s sorely lacking in the discussion of K-12 education: competition. It’s not a coincidence that those entities which we rely upon the most and which most consistently fail us are run by a monopolistic government.

If you want one more reason to support this program, it’s this: Hillary Clinton is against them.

 

Posted in Education, Federalism, Property Taxes | Tagged , , | 1 Comment