2012 election candidate questionnaire: Michael Frerichs, state Senate, 52nd District
Editor's note: The News-Gazette asked candidates to answer questions regarding themselves and the office they seek.
45 Greencroft Drive
Champaign, IL 61821
Date of birth: 7-28-73
Education: B.A. Yale University
1. What should the Legislature do to resolve the enormous pension funding shortfall? Do you believe lawmakers can constitutionally reduce pension benefits? Can some of the pension costs be shared with local governments? Are there any other methods of addressing this problem?
I believe that unilateral reduction of pension benefits for retirees is unconstitutional. I believe that if we reach a negotiated agreement with unions representing the majority of public employees, the legislation stands a greater chance of surviving a court challenge. I believe that the unions have an incentive to negotiate so that there is money to pay the benefits owed to their members in the future. I believe that pension costs can be shared with local governments, but I would be opposed to the proposed cost shift unless there were other changes to state allocation of dollars that restored some parity to downstate Illinois.
2. Do you think the state income tax increase passed in 2011 should remain in full effect, or should it be reduced, as scheduled, in 2015? Why or why not?
Before we talk about increasing taxes or extending tax increases, we need to do more to cut wasteful state spending. I do not support a permanent extension of the tax increase of 2011. I believe that we need to modernize our tax structure to make it fairer to all Illinoisans. I would support a constitutional amendment to allow for progressive tax rates and I would also support a reevaluation of current exemptions.
3. What more can be done to draw down the enormous backlog of bills (aside from pension obligations) that must be paid?
In the long term, we need to pass budgets that bring in more money than we spend, with the difference used to pay down our backlog of bills. In the short term, some vendors are waiting over half a year to be paid now for services provided. I think the fairest thing to do and the most fiscally conservative is to restructure our debt to reduce interest costs so that we are borrowing from lenders, and not vendors.
4. Are more Medicaid spending cuts needed than those enacted in the last two years?
The Legislature is going to need to make more cuts to our budget next year and since Medicaid is such a large part of our budget, it is going to be difficult for it to avoid sharing in the pain. If further Medicaid cuts are to be considered, I think we need to first look closely for unintended consequences to cuts made this year that increase other state spending and then possibly recalibrate our cuts to Medicaid.
5. What areas of state government need to endure more budget cuts than they have thus far?
We need to reduce management positions in state government, as well as duplicative or redundant state programs. We can also work to reduce the number of units of archaic, local government. We also need to be less generous with tax breaks for companies threatening to leave the state. If we do a better job prioritizing our spending we can better protect important, essential parts of the budget such K-12 education and higher education.
6. Do you favor limiting the disposal of PCBs and chemical wastes at the Clinton landfill? If so, what can the Illinois Legislature do to restrict that disposal?
Yes, I have supported blocking the disposal of PCBs over the Mahomet Aquifer and have worked with Reps. Chapin Rose and Naomi Jakobsson on legislation to do this.
7. As a cost-saving measure, does the Legislature need to act to reduce the number of school districts in the state?
I would like to see a reduction in the number of school districts, but through state incentives, not forced consolidations.
8. Do you think Illinois state government is inherently corrupt? If so, what can be done?
I don't believe that Illinois is inherently corrupt, but that there have been too many corrupt politicians. I do believe that there are problems of transparency which we should place a high importance upon addressing. Legislators and the government must be accountable to constituents. I have supported numerous reforms during my time in office to clean up corruption and work with groups to continue to root out corruption. I was very happy this year, after several years of sponsoring bills to eliminate the General Assembly tuition waiver program, to see it finally eliminated. Far too many of my colleagues had abused this program in the past.
9. Are there reforms, changes needed in Illinois' tax structure that should be enacted to bring in more revenue?
I think there are reforms needed to bring in revenue more fairly. I support amending the state Constitution to allow progressive tax rates in Illinois, just as we have had at the national level for the last hundred years.
10. Are you concerned about the potential use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Illinois? Should the practice be banned in Illinois, or limited in some way?
I am concerned about potential problems from high-pressure, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing, so during the last two years I have passed legislation out of the Senate that would mandate disclosure of chemicals used, protect well casings, and would control the discharge from ending up in our natural water supplies. I think we need to ensure transparency and accountability in how companies ultimately deploy in Illinois the technology already used elsewhere, not to shut down the emerging industry. I think no piece of legislation makes everyone happy, but I think we've struck a nice balance between the concerns of environmentalists and an emerging industry.
11. What can the Legislature do to limit tuition increases at public universities, and should the Legislature act to limit tuition increases?
We should all be worried about tuition increases pricing students out of higher education, or saddling them with so much debt that they are crushed by the burden. If we want to be competitive globally in the future, we must solve this problem. We need to provide the resources to our public universities that will allow them to control tuition and fee increases while also ensuring that those monies are used efficiently. I also support protecting financial aid for students attending public colleges and universities.
12. Do you favor expanded gambling in Illinois, including casinos in Chicago and Danville? How about slot machines at racetracks?
I have been a strong and consistent supporter of bills to allow a casino in Danville.
13. What can be done to lower worker compensation costs in Illinois?
I supported the workers comp reform bill that the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association stated would save businesses in Illinois $500 to $700 million. I was happy to attend the local bill signing at the Kraft factory. That reform brought needed relief, but there is still work to be done to bring Illinois more into line with our neighboring states. I will continue to work to find ways to reduce our worker comp costs and make our businesses more competitive.
14. Would you favor a conceal-carry law in Illinois? If so, what sort of public safety provisions should be part of the legislation?
I have supported and co-sponsored conceal-carry legislation in the Senate. I support the safety provisions contained in the legislation, e.g. background checks and firearms training.