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State Senate, District 31

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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    (Willen) Bush
Melinda (Willen) Bush
Political party: Democrat
Birthdate: 3/18/1956
Occupation: Lake County
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Andrew (Andy) Bush

Education:

As my family moved frequently, I have attended Half Day Elementary, St. Gilberts Catholic School, Carmel Catholic High School, and Grayslake Community High School.

I began working immediately after high school and have not finished my college degree.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Grayslake Historical Society
National Audubon Society
Sierra Club
Grayslake Exchange Club
Illinois Farm Bureau

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

Grayslake Trustee
Lake County Board Member
Forest Preserve Commissioner

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

N/A

Campaign information
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

Campaign headquarters: 34121 US HWY 45
Website: www.melindaforsenate.com
Campaign manager: Nick Meyer
Campaign budget:
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Senate Democratic Victory Fund -- $164,534
Lake County Federation of Teachers -- $18,500
AFSCME Council 31 PAC -- $19,000
Illinois Education Association -- $10,000
SEIU HealthCare IL IN PAC -- $6,000

For incumbents: In either the fall veto session or in January, will you support a bill like SB1673? That bill cuts pension costs for four of five state pension systems by making state workers and retirees choose between keeping state-subsidized health insurance or an automatic 3 percent annual pension hike during retirement. Do you support the element of the bill that shifts employer pension costs from the state to local school districts?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

N/A

If you don't support a bill like SB1673, what is your plan for rescuing the state's pension systems?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

N/A

For challengers or candidates for an open seat: If there is no action on pension reform in the fall veto session or in early January, would you support a bill like SB1673 in the next legislative session? That bill cuts pension costs for four of five state pension systems by making state workers and retirees choose between keeping state-subsidized health insurance or an automatic 3 percent annual pension hike during retirement. Do you support the element of the bill that shifts employer pension costs from the state to local school districts?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

First of all I firmly believe that if we are to change our pension system, all negotiations need to be in good faith, where all parties are represented and have a seat at the table.

I do not support any bill that makes un-negotiated changes to retiree pensions. We must understand that retirees' pensions are deferred compensation, and in so many cases retirees have planned their retirements accordingly. This money was a promise made to them that they have contributed towards for years. Unless retirees are represented at the negotiating table, I do not support these changes.

While I understand the logic of shifting pension costs locally, I do not believe we can ask our already-overburdened property taxpayers to pay more -- especially in this economy.

If you don't support a bill like SB1673, what is your plan for rescuing the state's pension systems?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

The last time the State of Illinois fully met their pension obligation was 1939. That is unacceptable. This irresponsibility, in concert with the poor economy and reduced revenues, have created a perfect storm that must be addressed.

The pension issue will only be solved when everyone is at the table and there to negotiate in good faith. I support many of the solutions already offered by all parties -- two of the most effective are adjusting cost-of-living increases and increasing the amount employees contribute towards their pensions.

However, there are other options that must be on the negotiating table. These include caps on the amount someone can receive for a pension annually, a tax on extravagant pensions, legislation that prevents the State of Illinois from sweeping pension funds into the General Fund, and -- most importantly -- ending the ability of pensioners to double- and triple-dip.

Ultimately, we need to return to original intent of the pension system -- which was to allow people a comfortable retirement. Pensions were never meant to provide more than a person's annual salary. Given today's economic climate, it is crucial that we bring pensions back in line with their original goal.

For all candidates: Do you support the Medicaid reform package passed last spring, including $1.6 billion in cuts and rate reductions and an increase in the cigarette tax? What else, if anything, needs to done to ensure the health of the state's Medicaid system?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

I have not seen a plan for Medicaid reform that ensures our seniors the essential services they need, while at the same time providing relief towards an already over-burdened state budget.

Do you support letting the 2 percent point income tax increase expire in 2014 as planned, or would you like to see the tax increase extended beyond 2014?        
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

I plan on letting this income tax increase sunset as planned. An immediate repeal would produce a dangerous hole in our state's revenues, which could require unthinkable cuts to essential services.

Do you support any changes to the corporate income tax rate? Do you support any other changes to the state's business tax structure? What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

Unfortunately, in the State of Illinois we have an unevenly applied corporate tax system. While Illinoisans and small businesses are paying their fair share, many large corporations do not pay corporate income taxes thanks to sweetheart deals. These same corporations are able to exploit unfair tax loopholes that are costing the Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Cutting five of these loopholes alone could raise the State of Illinois $696 million.

Rather than making cuts to health care, education and public safety, we need to make sure that in a vulnerable economy all Illinoisans are paying their fair share.

Having helped create over 200 new FedEx jobs in the 31st District via my work on the County Board, I have the experience to know what it takes to create jobs in this District. That experience, and my conversations with our key job creators -- our small business owners and large corporations -- reinforce that there are four keys to attracting jobs to an area:

1. Maintaining and improving a quality workforce in the region
2. Providing a robust and attractive infrastructure
3. Understanding and seeking out our target industries
4. Public / Private collaboration

Despite all the discussion regarding the corporate income tax rate, what many people forget is the State of Illinois already has the 5th lowest effective tax rate in the United States -- 4.6%. The most important thing we can do in the State of Illinois -- and in Lake County -- is to focus on improving the key areas mentioned above. This means, for example, continuing infrastructure projects like the extension of Route 53, and making sure we elect representatives who have experience collaborating with local actors to create jobs.

Do you support the gambling package Gov. Quinn vetoed at the end of August? If not, how could it be improved?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

No, I do not support the gambling package. And I am not supportive of casino expansion. Casinos are often placed in socio-economically challenged suburban areas, and they have social and economic costs that far outweigh any tax benefit for the State of Illinois.

Furthermore, a large effort towards raising revenues via casinos is tantamount to passing out cigarettes to teenagers because we know we will make money off of it.

However, I am not opposed to adding slot machines at racetracks, where Illinoisans already gamble and the infrastructure already exists.

Over the last few years, the state Legislature has begun to bring spending in line with revenues by cutting spending in education, health care, social services and other areas. Has the state Legislature done enough to reduce spending and run government more efficiently? What more could be done? Are there any areas where you would like to see greater state investment?
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

While it is easy to cut from large programs, we will never balance the budget and still providing essential services until we revisit how budgets are created in the first place.

While the "Budgeting for Results" program takes a step in the right direction, I believe we must take steps to phase in zero-based budgeting. This budget system requires programs to start from scratch, justifying their existence, expenditures and overall budget. Programs are evaluated using performance-based criteria that will prevent wasteful programs from sapping budget dollars.

Phased in over time, this budget system would be the most effective way to reduce wasteful spending in our state budget.

Would you seek any changes to the state ethics and campaign finance laws? Would you support capping what state party leaders can donate during a general election?        
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

While I would absolutely support a cap on party money, the only way to really reform how we run elections in the State of Illinois is to have true public financing of campaigns.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?         
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

If Illinois residents voted to approve it, I would support a shift from a flat income tax to a fairer tax system.

There are only seven states in our country with a flat tax system. Illinois' tax system is broken, and this is especially true in Lake County -- where property taxes are forcing residents out of their homes.

The way the state's current system is set up, it does not account for an Illinoisan's ability to pay these taxes. If an Illinoisan loses his or her job, this high property tax burden stays the same. In this economy, especially in Lake County, we have seen young couples, young families and seniors lose their homes because they lost their job and could not afford to pay their already high property taxes. Meanwhile, corporations are exploiting tax loopholes that are costing this state billions of dollars.

A shift to a fairer tax system, along with shifting some of the burden of education off of property taxes, could be the difference between middle-class families keeping their homes and being foreclosed on.

Do you have a plan to reform Illinois' school finance system so that it no longer produces inequities in school funding across the state?        
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

Education funding in the State of Illinois is a tremendous problem. Our current school funding system, based entirely upon property taxes, gives unfair advantages to school districts simply for reasons as arbitrary as a school district containing valuable commercial property - nothing to do with the actual need for funding in an area. It contributes the vast majority of the tax burden to property taxpayers.

A problem this large will only be fixed when all stakeholders come to the table ready to negotiate a real solution that includes sharing the funding burden across different mechanisms -- a fair swap that eases the burden on our seniors and middle-class.

What is your view on gay marriage?     
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    (Willen) Bush
(Willen) Bush

I am supportive of every Illinoisan's right to marry. This is a human rights issue, and should be voted on by the people of the State of Illinois.

The candidates
MelindBush

Melinda Bush

Joe Neal

Joe Neal

 

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The district
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