Rep. Roth: Ready to work with Democrats : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Rep. Roth: Ready to work with Democrats|
|Republican lawmaker's new district includes much of Kendall County |
|by Tony Scott|
In looking ahead to the Illinois General Assembly's upcoming legislative session which starts next Wednesday, State Rep. Pam Roth said she would continue to work with legislators on the other side of the political aisle to get things done.
Roth, R-Morris, is now representing much of Kendall County after new legislative district boundaries went into effect following the November election, including Plano and portions of Yorkville and Oswego, as part of the 75th House District.
Roth said her "closest friend" in Springfield is state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn, which, she said, is "crazy, because we're polar opposites."
"What I enjoy most about Kelly Burke is, I can ask her a question, whether it's gun control or whatever it is, and why she doesn't support it, and she can articulate it to me," she said. "I respect somebody that I may not agree with, but at least you can articulate cohesively why you feel the way you do."
Roth added, "You have to be able to work together."
She praised the Republican leadership in Springfield for hosting weekly caucus meetings where members can talk about issues.
"It's a very open dialogue - you feel that you can talk about whatever the issue may be, without getting hammered by either the media or the other side of the aisle," she said.
Roth was serving as president of the Saratoga Community School Board in Grundy County in January 2011 when GOP chairmen tapped her to fill the two-year term of then-State Rep. Sue Rezin. Rezin had been appointed to the vacant seat of State Sen. Gary Dahl, a Republican from LaSalle who had retired.
Roth was re-elected to her seat in November, as was Rezin, who also represents much of Kendall County as part of the redistricting.
Pension reform 'gorilla' in
room for General Assembly
Roth called the issue of pension reform is "the looming gorilla" for the upcoming session. She praised a bill co-authored by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, and Rep. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, that was introduced at the end of the previous session.
"The last bill... I think there was some good things in that bill, and I think it needs to continue to be finessed," she said. "It was too late in the process and so it was getting ramrodded through."
The bill would increase workers' pension obligations, raise the age to collect benefits, and make other changes.
Roth called Quinn's pension commission a "crazy idea."
"In his defense, how frustrating it must be to sit where he sits and see the inaction from both the House and the Senate in getting anything accomplished," she said. "I think it's going to be a lot of - this is cliché - shared sacrifice on all ends. And at the end of the day, it's going to end up in court. It just takes one person to decide, 'I think that's unconstitutional,' and I think at that point we'll end up in court."
However, she said she didn't think a tax increase was necessary, as she said there still needs to be spending cuts.
"In 10 years, our average salary for a state employee has increased 66 percent," she said. "That's a pension cost. So, as we continue to give out raises, huge raises, that are negotiated through contracts, and we continue to give out pension sweeteners, those are a cost. And if we don't ask for employee contributions to be higher, I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that it's unsustainable."
Roth said she would not be in favor of a progressive, or graduated, income tax, but wants to stick with the current flat tax system that is mandated by the state constitution.
"I don't really subscribe to that," she said of the progressive tax. "I think we create a more business-friendly base to allow more jobs, and those people will then go out and spend, and you have more sales tax (revenue), you'll have more property tax (revenue). You'll have a better base if we're all working. When times were good, we still had a problem, but I think our revenue has decreased so much because of the recession."
Roth said she is "torn" on the issue of shifting the pension burden to local school districts, a measure called for in the Nekritz-Biss bill.
She said the state's bond rating downgrade could shift the pension investment return from 8 percent to 7.5 percent.
"Obviously with that downgrade, that's a bigger pension bill," she said. "That could be a couple teachers. So, I struggle with that."
As for the issue of school district consolidation, Roth said she would support districts that wish to consolidate but doesn't want to force the issue. The issue could affect local schools, for example, Lisbon Grade School in southern Kendall County is its own district.
"I am a proponent of willful consolidation if that's what the schools choose, and I would actually help draft legislation to encourage that if the schools so choose that, but at the end of the day, it's a voter issue," she said. "I think that decision does need to stay what those voters."
Roth said she plans on sitting on the General Assembly's Education Committee, noting that the committee's chairman, State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, did a "great job" as chairman in the previous session. She said the committee has a mandate subcommittee and that it had approved a mandate moratorium.
"We're very vocal on that committee, if it even sniffs of a mandate, we try to kill it," she said.
Roth said that State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, is talking about sponsoring a bill to take away some of mandates.
"It's unfair to the schools that we continue to cut their funding, but we don't change the way they have to do business," she said.
Roth: Social issues should
'go by the wayside'
When it comes to issues like same-sex marriage, she said the state needs to focus on economic issues first.
"Honestly, is that the most pressing issue in our state?" she said. "We have our own fiscal cliff; I think the social issues need to go by the wayside. We need to figure out pension reform, we need to figure out our budget, we need to create more jobs. And I was really disheartened that that's what we were focused on."
However, Roth said she understands that it's an issue of equality for gay Illinoisans.
"Honestly, I'm not sure if (marriage) has any place in our legal system, from a separation of church and state," she said. "And I have several friends who are gay, and when I ask them, what's the difference between the civil union that was just passed and the gay marriage act, as it's proposed, (it's) equality."
Roth said that she'd talked to a gay friend about how he felt on the issue, and recalled that he told her that, while she could call her husband that term, because they were married, he could not call his partner that.
"I understand that perspective of it," she said. "But at the end of the day, I don't know what the difference is between civil union and marriage."
On the issue of concealed carry, which needs to be addressed by April by the General Assembly as part of a court order, Roth said it would probably be attached to some kind of gun control-related bill. However, she said the more important topic is mental health issues that lead to tragedies such as the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"I just think we need to focus on the issues of why people would do this," she said. "I think there's a lot of mental health (issues) involved."