I’m a business guy. An entrepreneur. When I was elected to the Illinois Senate six and a half years ago, I thought I could help solve our pension mess. Having started Oberweis Asset Management and the Oberweis family of mutual funds, I understand economics and pension liabilities very well. Unfortunately, one of the first things I learned in Springfield was that the power centers didn’t really want someone who understood the problem or someone who would help fix the mess in a way that would be meaningful to taxpayers.
So I thought I could at least fight for ways to make business better in Illinois. I would fight for things to help encourage entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses and to help grow the Illinois economy. But it turns out that politically influential businesses are more interested in protecting their own turf and preventing competition than in growing our economy and creating a favorable environment for new businesses.
Yesterday’s votes were just one more example, especially those bills that are to find revenues to help build our “vertical” and “horizontal” projects in Illinois. They provide authorization for new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville and three more locations. They also allow for new sports betting. They double the gasoline tax to $.38/gallon. They end the sales tax offset on car trade-ins valued at $10,000 or more. And at the last minute, the big franchise car dealers were able to sneak a provision in one, to increase their so-called “doc fees” to $300 from $150. Under questioning by me during debate on this bill, the sponsor indicated that he thought the extra $150 went to the state, only to be corrected by his staff to admit that it actually goes to the car dealers. That means that the next time hard-working Illinois families buy a new car, they will have to pay an additional $150 plus, possibly, more sales tax. What benefit do we get for that? Nothing. Just an extra $150 per car in the pocket of the dealer. By the way, these are the same dealers who fought tooth and nail against my bill to allow a small used car dealer, an Orthodox Jew by the name of Uri Adler (and others) to be open on Sunday instead of Saturday since his religion prevents him from being open on Saturday. The car dealers don’t want any competition, even from a little guy selling fewer than 35 used cars per month. Incredible! Disgusting! Here I am, the business guy, fighting for the little guy against the big politically connected businesses. Who would’ve thought?
But it doesn’t stop there. I had to fight incredible pressure from insurance companies when I sought to increase speeds on Illinois expressways from 65 mph to 70 mph. That one I eventually won even though others had tried four times before me and they had failed. Last year, I also filed a “Right to Shop” for elective medical care services. The bill would have required insurance companies to publish on their websites the average in-network rates for elective surgeries like a hip or knee replacement, and would have allowed us to shop for lower rates outside of network. If we find a provider that we wish to use, we could go to that lower cost provider and, under this bill, we would get to keep half of the savings and the insurance company would get to keep the other half. Win - win, right? Wrong. The insurance companies fought this like cornered wild animals. Transparency? No way! Competition? Stop! Yet it is only through transparency and competition that we will be able to bring down our extremely high medical care costs. But again, the big, politically connected insurance companies prevailed even though this program has worked well in Maine and is being started in several other states in various forms. But not in Illinois because taxpayers would benefit, not the politically connected.
Currently, I have SB 1061 which would allow counties to publish real estate tax assessments online instead of in a newspaper. That small change would save Kane County $150,000/year and statewide would save taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. The vested interests (newspapers who would lose that revenue) are fighting that simple taxpayer initiative. The Illinois Press Association lobbyist has been earning his pay. Some legislators may believe it is better to continue publishing in a newspaper. Others may want to assure future contributions from Press Association members.
Oh! Did I mention that our budget includes a healthy $1,600 salary increase for our legislators even though we are one of the highest paid legislatures in the country?
Illinois has tremendous advantages. We have some of the best farmland in the world. We are the largest soybean producer and the second largest corn grower. We have some of the best universities in the world – think University of Illinois, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. We are a transportation hub with interstate highways crossing our state, river transportation from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, and the busiest airport in the world. We have a great tourist destination in the city of Chicago. And much more. If only the politicians in Springfield would just stop screwing it up and start looking out for taxpayers! We must change or our state cannot survive. Term limits would stop the total dominance by someone like Mike Madigan. Redistricting reform would let voters select their politicians instead of the politicians selecting their voters. How about those two simple but important constitutional amendments? LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!!!
State Senator, 25th District