Running for: State Representative 42nd District
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Served on several Wheaton and DuPage County Boards, including DuPage Historical Society, Served 2 terms as DuPage County Board Member. Served 1 term in Illinois General Assembly
Occupation: Previously: Teacher, Brand Merchandise Buyer. Current: Illinois State Representative
Education: BS, Education. Certified Teacher, University of Pittsburgh
Campaign website: electamygrant.com/
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Amy Grant submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
The COVID-19 situation has certainly had a devastating effect on our state finances. It’s very important to acknowledge that our state finances were already in dire circumstances prior to the virus. Illinois went into this crisis with absolutely no contingency or emergency funds whatsoever to deal with any setback, let alone one this serious. I have been repeatedly frustrated in the budget process, voting no, and then seeing budgets passed that were fundamentally flawed and dishonest. Our state has continually and purposefully spent more than it has taken in annually, allowing our debt to get so out of control, it’s nearly beyond our ability to reconcile. The disingenuousness and dishonesty is appalling. Even in the past two years when we pleasantly reaped more tax money than we anticipated, did we make any progress paying down our debt? No. Our whole budgeting process needs to be overhauled and we need to base our spending on our actual receipts. There are states that are disciplined financially who do just that. When they saw a windfall of extra revenue as a result of a rapidly improving national economy, they placed themselves in a better position to deal with this unexpected crisis. That is what responsible legislators do. I will continue to speak up and reiterate that our budgeting process needs to start over and get rid of the accounting tricks that bypass the intent of our requirement for a balanced budget. We haven’t had one for years. And everyone who voted for it knew darn well.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
As a former teacher, I think I’ll answer this more in a pass/fail grading scale. The Governor passes, but not with flying colors. I watched the daily updates carefully for several weeks. His constant criticism of the federal response distrurbed me since I saw with my own eyes that a hospital was built at McCormick Place within days and the hospitals and facilities in my district were getting much needed supplies. I was truly grateful for all of the responses at all levels of government with the extreme pressure and uncertainty of the crisis. Being mapped into an area with all of Chicago and Cook County for advancing through the Governor’s phases struck me as particularly unfair considering the vast differences between cases in DuPage vs. Cook. That has been rectified, so I’m grateful for the more appropriate change. I wish the Governor nothing but good fortune in leading this effort. I do so hoping and praying that he will make appropriate decisions for appropriate areas going forward. I don’t wish to criticize anyone who’s truly trying their best to help.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
I am fortunate to be in a district with excellent law enforcement agencies. I’ve interacted with all of the municipal agencies as well as the County Sheriff both as a County Board Member and State Representative. I have never witnessed or even heard of an incident like what occurred to Mr.Floyd in any of the places in our district. I was shocked and horrified to see the video of his suffering and death. Beyond unacceptable, it was utterly inhumane. Every government body including the legislature should constantly review best practices and professionalism among their law enforcement agencies, for the sake of the residents as well as the officers themselves. I am a strong supporter of law enforcement and their mission to maintain law and order in our communities. I am just as concerned that we do not victimize any residents in the process of maintaining peace. These are Peace Officers after all, as I was reminded by my County Sheriff. To the extent that legislation, training and standards could positively prevent a heinous murder like that of Mr. Floyd, I would support such an effort.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
For the sake of the safety of citizens and law enforcement equally, I do support body cameras.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
The corruption in Illinois has become so systemic and accepted within our government operation, sadly it took a federal investigation to uncover and honestly pursue this case. Everyone who participated is to blame. Everyone who benefited is to blame. Ethics reforms should start and revolve around the money that is traded and transferred to keep these illegal transactions in place. All of this corruption is designed to generate more mother’s milk of campaign funds to maintain a corrupt status quo. Ethics reform needs to deal directly and comprehensively enough to eliminate both the need and requirement of this money. It’s hideous what is being spent on elections and the expectations are even more hideous. So many of these people are former legislators who’ve joined the supply side of the corrupt money. That needs to end too. Speaker Madigan should resign in my opinion, but he hasn’t asked me for any advice. If term limits were in place, we wouldn’t need to ask anyone about anyone else’s resignation.
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
St. Michael’s Parish PADS member, Marionjoy Rehab Facility Auxiliary, Hearts of Grace, Wheaton, Catechist Teacher for Confirmation, Exploratory Committee of DuPage Foundation creating the Arts DuPage Council. While serving on the County Board, I served on several committees, standing and ad-hoc for community needs. As for a project in the community; Water Culvert Project for flood prevention at a local high school sports facility. Immigration workshop in West Chicago to assist 80 residents with their legal requirements for compliance and a road to citizenship- in partnership with World Relief.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
Rescinding of a parking tax in municipal lots with revenue going to the State of Illinois.
A Graduated Income tax will further penalize District residents after the already devastating effects of the Covid Virus.
Public Safety and Education have become threatened in this district and our area. People have a right to “feel safe” and “be safe” here.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Reforming fiscal policy in Illinois
Restore the faith and credit of Illinois
Emphasize Education from Preschool to Higher Learning
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I am against the graduated income tax. The convoluted manner in which this is being considered and potentially passed is by removing one of the very few safeguards enshrined in the last Constitutional Convention in Illinois. That body understood the complete lack of fiscal discipline the Legislature had or would have to constrain spending within the limits of revenue received or anticipated. This legislature within just the past two years received higher than anticipated revenue when the national economy had been rapidly growing. Even with some dramatic “pennies from heaven”, this Legislature did not take advantage of this unexpected windfall to ease some burden on the taxpayers of this state. If you’re spending money in an undisciplined and often foolish, unaccountable way, can we really make the leap that the solution to this is more money? We’re feeding an economically irresponsible monster. They won’t just spend everything you give them, they have a track record of spending dramatically more than that. We are dangerously close to a tipping point of not being able to maintain solvency, sooner rather than later. This solution is even more dangerous. It could push us past the point of the ability to recover. Everything in our budget is begging for scrutiny. We shouldn’t ask for a single penny more until we demonstrate a better ability to be competent guardians of the treasury.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
Illinois families and families in the district I serve continually to struggle financially as well. Most of them have actually paid their bills in a timely fashion and had the discipline to control their spending. In Illinois, many of our core services are illogically considered discretionary spending. That means they are not part of automatic reappropriation of funding. They wind up fighting for whatever is left over. This is symbolic of how poorly our budgeting process is conceived. Little, if any, of these recurring appropriations are reviewed for efficacy or effectiveness. They simply get reapproved, and more than likely with a hike in funding. Aside from the lack of accountability, it prevents any new expenditures that meet a need in the present. This question asks “In addition to the progressive tax…” which assumes even the progressive (graduated!) state tax is not remedy enough to deal with the hole we have dug financially. So, before we even enact the law and collect the tax, the assumption is; even that isn’t enough? The best remedies to this state aren’t even in the realm of legality. If this were a person or a company, you would be sent to bankruptcy court. That’s not an option for a state. What would be required is a process by which one would be forced to reconceive their entire budgeting practices and start over with a disciplined plan to not be in that situation again. We need that process. We truly don’t know what we need or how much money. We’re deficit spending and have been for years. Until we fix that, we can’t keep making Illinois a place where you simply can’t afford to live. We’ve made pension promises we cannot keep. We will get to a point where this will be a monumental problem as funds are too insolvent to keep up. It’s time to have a very serious and fair discussion to prevent this from happening. Everyone will need to be involved in that discussion. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen. How many people might decide to leave our state, rather than be on the hook for all this poor fiscal management coming home to roost?
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Most states don’t have the overwhelming overall tax burden of Illinois prior to retiring. In my experiences with retired people, we are already seeing them moving or seriously considering moving from Illinois because of crushing property taxes to their single most valuable asset; their home. As with the Graduated tax rates, this kind of move would open the door to decide what number actually defines “wealthiest.” Too often is this state that is defined not by the actual income, but by what’s the number that will increase the revenue enough in any given year. It’s always a magic bullet theory here; gaming taxes, medical marijuana, and then recreational marijuana tax revenue. Then more casinos, more gaming positions, etc. After instituting all of these new taxes, we sink further into debt. The money is spent before we even collect it. Upper income seniors are a very important demographic for how much they already spend and pay taxes on anything and everything they purchase, use, or consume. Much of their income has been already taxed along the way. Not taxing retirement income was once considered and issue of fairness and an incentive to urge people to retire in Illinois. Taxing it now is very short-sighted thinking. I’m a firm “no” on this.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Good heavens, I don’t have space to answer this in so few words! My first career was as a teacher when I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. Our whole view of education needs a recreated holistic view of how we educate our children from K-12 and then beyond. Early education is vital and actually saves money in the short and long run. Preventing the need for more and more expensive services later on should be understandable. If we start with a student-centric, locally determined process, we could eliminate so much of the wasted resources that are mandated in a faux effort to equalize education across the board. Illinois is a diverse state in many ways; urban, suburban, exurban, rural. The idea that a universal approach within that diversity from top to bottom is simply a flawed policy mistake. As a result we have districts (too many of them!) that have vastly different results from excellent to failing. It’s like doing a fine painting with a roller. School Districts have a lot of input and a lot of local expertise to draw on. We created a statewide institutional system that fails nearly all of them with statewide edicts. Watching the ISBE attempt to safely open schools has been as frustrating an exercise as I can remember. They’ve hamstrung local officials to the point where they can’t possibly follow their rapidly changing, inconsistent guidelines. It’s crystal clear to me that the focus is not on students or their safety. They seem to be unwilling to meet any serious challenge to educate children right now in any effective way. There are scads of models out there for how to do this better. I’ve been a teacher. Teaching within this state’s parameters would be a depressing notion to me. We need to prioritize getting our children back to school in person for families that wish their children return to the school building, in the safest and most expedient way possible.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Let’s start by recognizing that what we have done has not worked, and things have actually gotten worse. Once again, we have to remember the makeup of the state we’re in. My downstate colleagues who are in more rural hunting and sporting areas consider their rights to own firearms absolutely paramount. They will also remind me that their agency of law enforcement is not necessarily minutes away, so their personal and property protection is a greater personal burden for them. In the Chicago area we have instituted among the most restrictive laws in the country. That has not stemmed the flow of guns to criminals, but it has limited the ability of law abiding citizens to legally buy and own firearms. I’m for closing any loophole that allows a person to obtain an illegal gun. I’m for rigorously enforcing the laws in place for anyone possessing, let alone using an illegal gun in a crime. There is a morality problem that exists when we have so many shootings and murders in a place where the laws are strict against gun ownership. There are many layers to address this problem. We are an outlier on this in the northeast region of Illinois. This situation is untenable and we must develop a solution beyond what has been tried and failed.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I am in favor of term limits. We should establish a reasonable enough time to ensure elected officials can accomplish positive things. I don’t think it should exceed 10 years. We’ve seen what entrenched government can lead to in Illinois. If we believe it’s important to do a census every 10 years, and reapportion our government every 10 years, it would seem the intent of that is to ensure the government evolves with new ideas and new people in a similar time interval.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
Of course it’s bad and everyone knows it. It just happens to be worse for the party not in power at the time of the census. That shouldn’t matter. The reapportionment is meant to be a process that more aptly represents people with natural boundaries and common issues. The Iowa model is worth reviewing here, as are many others. What we have been doing here in Illinois is the opposite of what was intended.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
We’re beyond what is “possible.” In the case of one utility, they are already guilty and paying a fine. Even here in DuPage County, one of our State Senators is caught up in this, along with another from Cicero. One of our Mayor’s house has been raided and a large amount of money removed from a safe therein. The investigation includes these rotten and corruptible Red Light Camera companies. So, we are well beyond just investigating. There should not be a revolving door out of the legislature and into the Lobbyist business. Too much inside information and corruption are peddled immediately after leaving, potentially with the wheels already in motion. In many cases, it’s more than likely. A body that cannot discipline itself and cannot impose discipline on former members need laws that take away any ambiguity. Public Service should not be the launching point for a “reward career” afterwards. We see what they’ve done and what they will do. It shouldn’t be that difficult to legally stop this from happening. But, you will need a bill that leads to a law that can actually get out of the Rules Committee and onto the floor. Sadly, I believe that will require a different legislature than what we have now.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
We are only now beginning to learn what little control we have over our own data, and by extension, our own identities. That bothers me a great deal. It bothers me even more that anyone’s persona, including mine, is a commodity for sale. When it is characterized as “given up” or an invasion of our privacy, it rankles me. What it really is, is the theft of personal information. We’ve entered a new age where laws are not up to date or don’t exist at all. This entire area needs to be understood first. What is available to anyone willing to buy the information? How does this information move around, get refined and become salable? Who’s doing it, and who’s watching or regulating them? I don’t believe we even understand this issue well enough to responsibly act to protect people. I don’t think we have time to nibble at the edges of it, as a few generations already have these dossiers created and stored in databases and clouds. We may even have to consider how to regulate the information that has already been gathered. People are right to be worried about this. I want experts to assess the current situation, the potential of what’s already happening and offer strong ideas and solutions for how to deal with this. I believe we’re very much behind in this area.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
I have 2 grown children who have experienced this very thing. I’ve witnessed it with them and their friends and classmates. When Illinois becomes less competitive as a state, it doesn’t have to trickle down too far to become less competitive in the arena of higher education. As parents, we saw the amount of out of state recruitment information coming to our children, along with generous incentives to consider coming to those schools. There are an amazing number of students in my local school districts who are going to the University of Iowa. I found it so curious I asked why. Their tuition was equal to or lower than our State Colleges and Universities after offering some incentive programs. Further, it was our best students they have been recruiting very hard in this area. Depending on what our students are deciding to study, other states have a more positive outlook within many disciplines after college. Frankly, the image of our schools lack something attractive to many high school students, despite a system of very good schools here. We’re losing the PR war, and we’re losing the education economics war with other states. It started a while ago, but now every state in every region of the country are recruiting very hard here in Illinois. Our state’s reputation must improve to help our Higher Education maintain a solid reputation. I’m deeply distressed that students feel the need to leave this state for Higher Education. We need to help economically to the extent we can. More than that, we need to upgrade our reputation and standing.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I’m very supportive of reliable, clean, cost-effective energy. Our Parks and Forest Preserve in DuPage County provide wonderful environmental opportunities. Clean water, clean air all matter to me. We’ve done exceedingly well in my district on these issues. Sustainable energy has become more and more economically viable. Our communities are voluntarily getting involved in improving our environment all the time. That change has come with economic viability. Legislation has to make sense and energy has to be reliable.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
DuPage’s own Ellen Martin led a suffrage movement and became the first woman to vote in Illinois, 30 years before the official suffrage movement passed the law officially allowing women to vote. She was also an attorney who argued the Lombard, Illinois ordinance at that time did not specify gender. She became the first Illinois woman to cast a legal vote. Her courage to move forward at that time in history was incredible. We need more women of substance like Ellen, always!
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Mrs. Maisel was a hilarious character who was exploring very non-traditional roles for women of her time and held her own with some less than savory characters. She sought her own counsel and stayed determined to succeed outside of her comfort zone. The writing is very clever and funny. We all need more funny these days.