2012 election candidate questionnaire: Naomi Jakobsson, state House, 103rd District
Editor's note: The News-Gazette asked candidates to answer questions regarding themselves and the office they seek.
Naomi D. Jakobsson
803 West Main Street
Urbana, IL 61801
BA in History, University of Illinois
Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language, University of Illinois
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 the ultimate solution to the pension funding shortfall will need the following elements:
A constitutional amendment to permit the Legislature to levy a graduated income tax, permitting a higher rate for higher income taxpayers and a lower rate for lower incomes. Such a tax would increase overall revenues while lowering taxes for most Illinois residents. This would rectify a situation in which Illinois is a high tax state for those with lower incomes, and a low tax state for those with higher incomes.
Through agreed negotiations with the state and public schools and universities a shift, phased in over several years, of obligation for required employer pension contributions from the state to public schools and universities.
Making pensions subject to state income tax and requiring retirees to pay a portion of health care premiums. The tax and premiums should be weighted to protect the retirees on low pensions.
Reduced schedule of benefits and slower accrual to full benefits for new hires to the state.
Elimination of abuses in the system, such as large end-of-career raises to boost retirement benefits, so that individuals get benefits out of proportion to their contributions over the course of their careers. It should also not be possible to impose on the state enormous pension costs totally out of proportion to employee contributions for high-level late career hires into the system, such as university presidents.
Such a package of reforms would require concessions from many parties — high-income residents, educational institutions, and current and future retirees. It will need all of us to put aside political blame games and think seriously about how each group can contribute to solve the problem. The 2013 legislative session, not an election year but a year in which the problem is clearly seen as urgent, is our best opportunity. My special role in this will be to reintroduce the constitutional amendment to permit a graduated income tax that I introduced last year, but in addition I will work for comprehensive reform as outlined above.
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?
My hope is that the Fair Tax Amendment to permit a progressive income tax will pass the General Assembly and be on the ballot for the citizens to approve in the 2014 election. If that passes, as I hope and will work for, in 2015 we will be able to reduce taxes for most Illinois residents in 2015 but more than make up for that with higher rates on higher incomes.
3. What more can be done to draw down the enormous backlog of bills (aside from pension obligations) that must be paid?
We are drawing down the backlog, albeit too slowly. Our tax revenues for the fiscal year just ended exceeded our appropriations for the year. The important thing is to continue that discipline each year. Also any new revenue, for example possibly from gambling expansion, should go to reducing the backlog rather than for any new programs or increasing appropriations to existing programs.
4. Are more Medicaid spending cuts needed than those enacted in the last two years?
A) The answer to this depends on circumstances that are currently unpredictable and beyond our ability to control at the state level. In particular, we do not yet know whether the federal Affordable Care Act will survive potential political challenges, and if it does survive, exactly how it will impinge on state Medicaid obligations. In the best scenario, which in my opinion is reasonable to hope for, the Affordable Care Act incentives for cost containment will result in being able to provide Medicaid benefits at less cost. In other scenarios, which we must be prepared for, we might need to reduce Medicaid spending by making more cuts. I will face that if necessary, but will do everything I can to avoid that being necessary.
5. What areas of state government need to endure more budget cuts than they have thus far?
B) My hope is that we are not going to need to make more cuts overall, but we should always be reexamining our priorities. Our budget for incarcerating convicts, for example, is very large. We should be sure that budget is spent in the most cost-effective way. For example, faced with budget cuts some prisons have eliminated prison librarian positions, drastically reducing prisoner access to books and further education. Yet there are studies showing clearly that reading and education in prison reduce recidivism upon release, so cutting back on these functions is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
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?
I strongly oppose the dumping into the Clinton landfill of PCBs and other chemical wastes that could leach into the Mahomet aquifer. The right way to dispose of such chemicals is by temporary storage at the site of use and then chemical transformation into harmless substances, by one of many known methods. The companies that wish to dump over our aquifer frankly want to save the cost of proper treatment by putting the safety of our community's long-term water supply at risk. I hope by the testimony and evidence of state legislative hearings that we can persuade the federal EPA to prohibit the proposed dumping. If that fails, I will urge the state to take any and all other legislative and court actions to prevent the dumping.
7. As a cost-saving measure, does the Legislature need to act to reduce the number of school districts in the state?
As a general issue I am concerned about the fraction of the education dollar that goes to administration rather than direct instruction at every level, from K through university. The issue of reducing the number of school districts should be considered in the context of this general issue. I am not yet convinced either way on the issue of whether reducing the number of school districts in itself will be an effective strategy for reducing costs without damaging some good aspects of our rural schools.
8. Do you think state government is inherently corrupt? If so, what can be done?
Illinois government is no more inherently corrupt than any other government at any level. It is as corrupt as we will tolerate. We have made progress in the post-Blagojevich years in banning and limiting some forms of campaign contributions and otherwise reforming our political practices. Indeed, under laws we recently passed it would not have been possible for Gov. Blagojevich to use the methods he did to assemble the enormous campaign war chest that enabled him to scare off primary opposition and overwhelm his general election opposition for re-election to his second term. In particular, we have improved requirements for campaign financing disclosures, strengthened the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, imposed limits on the size of campaign contributions, restricted state employees from taking jobs with organizations they have regulated, improved disclosure of lobbying expenditures, mandated ethical training for lobbyists, and have made major strides toward eliminating political influence in state procurement and contracting. It is a cliche that Illinois government is deeply corrupt, but that cliche is significantly less true than it used to be. That being said, there are still many improvements in the ethical climate of Illinois state government yet to be made. Further steps I favor include:
More complete publicly available statements of economic interests for elected officials and administrators in state government
Non-partisan and publicly funded judicial elections.
Non-partisan redistricting after the next census in 2020 and beyond (similar to the Iowa plan).
9. Are there are reforms, changes needed in Illinois' tax structure that should be enacted to bring in more revenue?
As indicated above, the most important reform is to enable the Legislature to enact a graduated or progressive income tax.
10. Are you concerned about the potential use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Illinois? Should the practice be banned in Illinois, or limited in someway?
I am very concerned about fracking and have been working hard on legislation that would enable it with appropriate safeguards, but would impose a moratorium until those safeguards are in place. It is important to utilize natural gas because it is a relatively clean energy source, producing much less carbon dioxide per energy content than either coal or oil. However, there are significant environmental concerns. I have tried hard to understand the relevant scientific and technical issues based on knowledgeable and independent scientists. It appears that groundwater contamination from the fracking itself can be avoided by choosing only locations where the gas is sufficiently removed from aquifers that there is effectively no direct gas-deposit to groundwater contamination. However, there is a major concern about effective containment, treatment and spill and seepage monitoring procedures for the fracking fluid loaded with chemicals that is returned to the surface from the fracking process. The discussions with all parties are far enough along that I am optimistic that in the coming year we will arrive at legislation to enable fracking with appropriate environmental safeguards, so that we can realize the benefits to Illinois and its citizens and the entire nation of the responsible use of this resource.
11. What can the Legislature do to limit tuition increases at public universities and should the Legislature act to limit tuition increases?
The issue is not just tuition, but affordability; that is, tuition relative to financial aid. I believe we should give our universities the charge that no Illinois resident should be unable to attend an Illinois public university for financial reasons. (It is my understanding that University of Illinois does not turn away students for inability to pay tuition.) This could be achieved either by low tuition, or by higher tuition but higher levels of financial aid for students with lesser financial resources, or by increased tuition for students from outstate or for international students, or some combination of these means. The exact method of fulfilling the overall affordability requirement should be left to the judgment of the university administration, but the university should be accountable for fulfilling the charge.
12. Do you favor expanded gambling in Illinois, including casinos in Chicago and Danville? How about slot machines at racetracks?
I voted for the expanded gambling bill that the Governor recently vetoed. This was a departure for me, because I have in the past been a consistent opponent of expanded gambling on the grounds of the social costs of problem gambling or gambling addiction. Frankly, this was a vote that I cast reluctantly rather than enthusiastically. At the end of the day I cast it because I became convinced that our society is so saturated with gambling opportunities (illegal, online, etc.) that passing this legislation would not result in an increase in problem gambling but rather would simply divert some dollars from other gambling activities to the state, which desperately needs them during this period of financial crisis. On the other hand, we should be under no illusion that gambling will be a long-term solution to the state's financial problems. The long-term solutions will come from elsewhere, as I have outlined in other sections of this questionnaire.
13. What can be done to lower worker compensation costs in Illinois?
In general, I support the analysis and the recommendations in the report issued earlier this year by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Most importantly, there needs to be demonstration of cause for workers compensation claims. It is important that legitimate cases of worker injury on the job be compensated, but it has become clear that many frivolous unsubstantiated claims have been paid out. Central Management Services (CMS) of the state has generally not done an adequate job of managing this issue. Dysfunction in this area is one of the remaining legacies of the Blagojevich administration. We should consider moving responsibility for overseeing and implementing the bulk of workers compensation review to the OAG, which currently has responsibility for a small part of this and is doing that part well.
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 am opposed to conceal-carry. All the credible evidence and analysis that I have seen tells me that conceal-carry would result in a net decline in public safety. In a poll conducted in the 103rd District, over 66 percent of the constituents polled opposed conceal-carry.