Halbrook: Tax hike not answer to state budget impasse
House District 102 GOP candidate Brad Halbrook said a tax hike will not solve Illinois’ deep-seated financial problems.
In response to a Chicago Tribune questionnaire on what spending reductions or tax increases he would support to resolve the Illinois budget crisis, Halbrook said raising taxes is off the table -- as far as he is concerned -- but some painful cuts may be inevitable.
“I do not support a tax increase,” Halbrook said. “We need to have a freeze in base employee wages and a full-scale review of spending that eliminates waste. It is entirely possible that some programs may need to be eliminated due to the gravity of the financial problems we face.”
In an effort to curb government spending and boost the state’s economy, Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a list of reforms packaged in his Turnaround Agenda, hoping to promote economic competitiveness and job growth, a property tax freeze, and government and pension reform.
“The governor has substantially pared back his agenda in an effort to reach a compromise with the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly," Halbrook said. "I believe that the five remaining items on his Turnaround Agenda should be included in the budget resolution."
When asked how he would resolve the state's $111 billion unfunded pension liability, Halbrook said he supports Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton’s bill, which would offer workers a choice in retirement benefits as an avenue to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability.
“I would support that plan,” Halbrook said. “I suspect that it will be a large step, but not the final one in getting a resolution.”
One of the areas where Halbrook would like to see improvement, however, is education. Although education-reform legislation was passed by the General Assembly in 2011, Halbrook said more changes are necessary.
“We need more transparency and accountability with our school systems," Halbrook said. "We need a funding formula that is fairer for students throughout Illinois. Early indications are that the reform is not meeting those goals. Further, the reforms don't enjoy the broad support from parents that is necessary to be truly effective. At the same time, we are in the earliest stages of these reforms, and we may see progress that is not apparent now.”
Halbrook also said he believes parents should be given more choices in public education for their children and should have access to information about the performance of their schools.
“I also believe that accountability will drive better performance,” Halbrook said. “I also believe in an education system that prepares children for work in a variety of areas. We must go back and strengthen our technical/vocational education components. We also need to develop mechanisms to help our smaller rural districts provide greater course offerings. Community colleges and online courses are probably part of that solution.”
Illinois’ current financial problem has increased the public’s scrutiny of legislators, and revealed strengths and weaknesses of Illinois political leadership. Halbrook said Rauner has incredible insight; but because his methods are new, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cullerton have been slow to act.
“Gov. Rauner is a principled leader with a record of success in business," Halbrook said. "He sees the depth of our problems and is working hard to address them head on. Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton appear to be content with running the state in the same way that it's been run for the last decade and which has put us in this bad situation. The two Democratic leaders are intelligent. The governor's way of addressing these issues is unconventional in their experience, and I think they've been slow to take him seriously.”
Halbrook said he is confident that at some point, all legislators will come to the table and engage in serious negotiations about the Turnaround Agenda, and voters can count on him for integrity.
“I ran against an incumbent state representative in 2012 who was backed by the political establishment," Halbrook said. "I'll always stand for my principles, regardless of the pressure from any political leaders."
The Republican candidate supports term limits for members and leaders, and his highest priority is getting Illinois’ economy back on its feet.
“My highest priority is to improve the Illinois business climate to retain jobs and attract new jobs," Halbrook said. "After that, I believe strongly in accountability and transparency. There is an unprecedented lack of trust in government. That distrust has been earned. We need to pass reforms that will bring that trust back.”
Halbrook is running against James Acklin and Randy Peterson in the Republican primary.