NAME: Sheila Simon
FAMILY: Husband: Perry Knop; daughters Reilly and Brennan Knop
OCCUPATION: Law Professor at Southern Illinois University
OFFICE SOUGHT: State Senate 58th District
PREVIOUS ELECTED POSITIONS: Carbondale City Council (2003-2007); Illinois Lieutenant Governor (2011-2015).
Q. Why are you running?
A. When I get a chance to talk to anyone I talk about three main ideas. First, we need to change the way we fund our schools. Illinois has one of the most inequitable education funding formulas in the country. While some schools spend $26,000 per student, others are forced to make due with only $6,000, and unfortunately, many of those schools are in Southern Illinois. Second, I will stand up for the rights of collective bargaining. As an IEA member, I understand that together, we can negotiate better wages and better terms of employment from our employer. Finally, we need to make sure we are investing in resources to provide opportunities for Southern Illinoisans. The state needs to fund resources like the Business Incubator at Rend Lake to allow small businesses to share resources at a low cost that they may not otherwise have access to.
Q. The state recently passed a stopgap budget, but a long-term solution to budget issues has evaded the General Assembly and governor’s office. How should the state solve its budget issues?
A. First, the governor needs to drop his non-budget related demands so that negotiations can begin in good faith. His agenda to break unions and drive down wages for working families has nothing to do with balancing the state budget. The General Assembly and the governor will have to compromise in order to finally pass a balanced budget. Both spending cuts and new sources of revenue will have to be identified.
Q. Should the state raise income taxes, other taxes or fees, in order fix the budget issues? Why or why not?
A. The legislature cannot solely cut its way out of the budget crisis. A combination of cuts and an increase in revenue will be needed. In 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved taxing income over $1 million to help pay for education. I would support a similar proposal to help pay for state services for working families in those in need.
Q. How can Illinois grow its economy?
A. Businesses need a stable environment to grow. The biggest step the state can take toward providing this stability is to pass a balanced budget, to allow business owners to see that there is a long term plan in place for Illinois. We can’t expect businesses and families to come to Illinois when we can’t even promise if our colleges and universities will be open for more than the next few months.
Q. How should the state solve its pension crisis?
A. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court made it clear that benefits for state workers and retirees cannot be diminished. Any attempt to decrease these benefits would be unconstitutional and I would oppose it, unless it can be negotiated and agreed upon by all parties – state workers and retirees included. Instead, the legislature needs to prioritize making the annual payments to the pension system to continue to pay down the state’s pension debts.
Q. How should the state approach funding of public education? Is the system broken? If so, how you would fix it?
A. Yes, the current education funding formula is broken. Currently, schools in wealthy Chicago suburbs spend as much as $26,000 per student, while schools in Southern Illinois are forced to make due with $6,000 per student. We need to change the funding formula so all of our students are given the same opportunities. People criticize changing the formula because there will be winners and losers, but we already have winners and losers under the current formula. Recently, a mother with a high school student in Du Quoin told me that her child couldn’t take some of his schoolbooks home at night because there aren’t enough copies for the entire class. On the other hand, there are schools in wealthy Chicago suburbs that have multiple swimming pools and teach scuba diving lessons. As a state, we can’t afford this type of disparity. The formula needs to be changed to give our students in Southern Illinois the same type of opportunity that they have in other parts of the state.