NAME: Katherine Ruocco
IMMEDIATE FAMILY: Husband: Eric Ruocco; Daughters: Amanda Ruocco, Candace Ruocco Valentine; Sons: Alex and Michael Ruocco
OFFICE SOUGHT: Illinois House 113th District
PARTY AFFILIATION: Republican
PREVIOUS ELECTED POSITIONS: Swansea Village Trustee, 2013-present
Q. Why are you running?
A. I’m running because I’m tired of career politicians such as Mike Madigan and Jay Hoffman spending more money than we have and taxing people out of their homes and work. We need a balanced budget, term limits, and more jobs. Property taxes are the single largest tax in Illinois, and has become an unaffordable burden on Illinois residents. While our residential property taxes have increased 3.3 times faster than median household income, my opponent’s legislative pay has increased over 100% since he took office 25 years ago. This is a problem and must be stopped. Our legislators also need to be honest with those that they represent. There is a severe lack of transparency and accountability for Illinois entrenched career politicians, such as my opponent. He boasts of voting for a desperately needed property tax freeze 18 times, but fails to tell his constituents that in our district, only Swansea, where he resides, is awarded this protection. No other municipalities in his district. He states we’re overtaxed yet in May 2016 votes for a $7 billion out-of-balance budget that will require a near 50% tax hike to pay for. This reckless disregard for our tax dollars and constituents must stop.
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. What the legislators refer to as the “stopgap budget” isn’t a budget at all. It’s a spending plan that’s nothing more than a continuation of the status quo that’s made our state insolvent. This bill hasn’t done anything to reign in out of control state spending. It has no real reforms or spending reductions. It includes an additional $625 million for Chicago Public Schools, and $275 million of Illinois’ rainy day fund. We’re simply continuing Illinois’ plummeting off the fiscal cliff and almost guaranteeing that Illinois’ fiscal health will continue to worsen, while Springfield builds momentum for a massive tax hike in November. We must stop placing politics over people. We haven’t had a balanced budget since 2001. Illinois politicians’ lack of discipline has left Illinois with over $7 billion in unpaid bills. By the end of FY2016 our Comptroller estimates that we’ll be $12 billion of unpaid bills, which could take a nearly 100% tax hike to pay for. We need reforms to drive Illinois towards sustainable balanced budgets, including reducing the size of Illinois government, more aggressive pursuit of federal funds, & reducing procurement costs. We currently have 175,000 more government jobs than manufacturing jobs. This is shameful.
Q. Should the state raise income taxes, other taxes or fees, in order fix the budget issues? Why or why not?
A. Illinois has a spending problem not a revenue problem. Illinois’ estimated revenue for 2016-2017 is $32 billion. From 2003 to 2016, Illinois collected an average of $5.4 billion a year in additional revenues per capita, well above what the state would’ve brought in if revenue had only grown at the rate of inflation since 2003 – and we’re in more debt now than then. We need to reign in our spending. Any tax increases will only put additional pressure on overburdened taxpayers and encourage more residents and businesses to move out of Illinois, which will further erode our tax base. The massive 3-year income-tax hike (2011-2014) did nothing to solve Illinois’ fiscal crisis or fund social services. Politicians doubled payments to pensions during those four years, while funding for K-12 and higher education actually fell by nearly 10 percent. Illinois already has the fourth-highest state and local tax burden as a percentage of income, and that includes the highest property taxes in the nation. A tax increase is not the be-all-end-all silver bullet that today’s entrenched Illinois politicians promote. All other means of balancing our budget should be undertaken prior to consideration of putting even more burden on overtaxed taxpayers.
Q. How can Illinois grow its economy?
A. The path for growth of Illinois’ economy is to grow the tax base, and not increase the tax rate. Mike Madigan, Jay Hoffman and other politicians in Springfield believe the only way to generate more money to pay for government programs is to increase taxes, and leave us with a smaller paycheck. We need to create a climate that is attractive to businesses, so that they will invest in Illinois, and create jobs. These workers will then earn income, pay taxes, spend money and create more jobs. Currently over 363,672 people are out of work in Illinois and in August 2016, Illinois lost 4,400 manufacturing jobs. Since 2015, we’ve lost 14,200 manufacturing jobs – the greatest manufacturing job loss since the Great Recession. Illinois continues to lose jobs to our neighboring states because they have less litigation, regulation and taxation forced onto small and large businesses. Job creation is the key component to getting the state back on the right track. The legislature needs to decrease regulation, lower taxes and fees on small businesses, and pass workers’ compensation reform if we want to bring back the jobs we have lost.
Q. How should the state solve its pension crisis?
A. Illinois’ pension debt is currently estimated at $111 billion, consuming 25% of lllinois’ budget. Every day that passes kicking the can down the road, Illinois’ pension debt grows by over $20 million. It’s simply not sustainable. Illinois politicians have provided state workers with incredibly lavish benefits unheard of in the private sector, such as 60% of state pensioners retiring in their 50s with full pension benefits and over half will receive pension benefits of $1 million or more over the course of their retirement. It’s a great deal for the state worker, and terrible deal for the taxpayer. The average pensioner will get back their retirement contributions in about two years, which equals on average about 6% of what they’ll receive over the course of their retirement. Illinois needs to move new government workers to 401(k) style plans and make any needed constitutional amendments to change pension benefits moving forward. However, I do believe that promises made and relied on by retired/current state workers should be fulfilled to the greatest extent possible. These state workers did get a great deal, at taxpayer expense, but the blame for the catastrophic consequences lie 100% on Illinois legislators, and not state workers.
Q. How should the state approach funding of public education? Is the system broken? If so, how you would fix it?
A. Illinois’ school funding system is clearly broken. Illinois General State Aid (GSA) is Illinois’ largest appropriation for K-12 school funding. The purpose of GSA is to provide funds to districts that lack the needed local funds to meet the state’s minimum funding standards. However, certain changes to the GSA formulas have been made so that now billions of special subsidies are redirected from the Metroeast to Chicago, Cook County and others upstate. Because of the way GSA works, if a district underreports their wealth, through present GSA loopholes, some districts can receive a windfall at the expense of others. Out of $500 million in special state subsidies in 2013, Chicago, Cook County and its collar districts took the lion’s share and we in downstate districts only received 3%. Chicago presently is allowed to exclude property wealth from GSA if such property is located in special economic zones. The result? Chicago gets a windfall at the expense of our Metroeast districts. To fix this built in bias for Chicago and upstate, we need to fix these formulas, end the loopholes, and consider giving parents more of a choice with regard to how to educate their children.