Illinois has the sad distinction of being considered the wild west of campaign finance. While the federal government and most states have limits on how much an individual or special interest can contribute, no such limit exists in Illinois. At the same time, Illinois does not provide any significant public financing for campaigns. Special interest money is thus able to strongly influence politics in this State.
2009 Ethics Reform Legislation
In June, the Illinois General Assembly sent to Governor Pat Quinn a set of bills that are designed to change our culture of corruption in Illinois. While I do not believe we went far enough with the reforms we passed, we made significant contributions to ending corruption by:
*Reforming the state's procurement process to enhance disclosure, boost transparency, and require expert, professional oversight and management. (SB51 -- click here to read the bill).
*Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ensure citizens get better, timely access to government documents and information. (SB189 -- click here to read about the bill).
*Altering the process to appoint members to Illinois boards and commissions to prevent insider deals that have plagued the state. (SB364 -- click here to read about the bill).
*Establishing the state's first limits on campaign contributions. (HB 7 -- click here to read about the bill).
I do not think our work on ethics reform is close to done, however. I argued for stronger campaign finance reforms -- I carried a bill that would provide lower campaign contribution limits in sync with federal limits and voluntarily abide by these limits in my own campaign. Ultimately, I voted for the contribution limits bill because I believe it will be easier to strengthen this existing law moving forward than to begin from scratch. Work has already begun to strengthen the campaign finance bill and I am committed to accomplishing the broader reforms we know must happen in ares such as redistricting.
Senate Rules Reform
Our Senate rules determine who leads us in the Senate and how, when and if legislation is considered for a vote. I believe that rank and file members need to play a larger role in decisions about what is voted on and when in order to better represent our constituents and be held accountable for these decisions. Reforms that empower all members will simultaneously bring more perspectives into the legislative process and encourage sensible compromise to move issues forward. I worked with the new Senate President to begin the process of changing our rules to make the senate more small "d" democratic.
Tax Increment Financing Districts
Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) were originally created in order to build funds for economic development in specified, blighted areas. I support the idea of TIFs, but believe they have been overused and would like to see several improvements to the system. I support greater transparency and an effort to make those living in TIF districts more aware of how their TIF is operating. Tax payers have a right to know what is being done with their tax money, and should have a say in the matter.
Schools within TIFs can suffer because they do not receive extra funds due to the "freeze" that is put into place by the TIF. I believe the state should consider measures that would counteract the negative effects of TIFs on schools, for example, indexing TIF funds to inflation for schools and other public entities.
TIFs originally were a tool to assist a blighted area with redevelopment, but many times areas that are already economically well-off are put into TIF districts. I support tightening this regulation to limit where a TIF district can be located as well.