Chris Harris

Age: 43

Previous political experience: Commissioner, Village of Forest Park

Occupation/Employer: Proprietor – CHM&M

Education: BA Communications, WIU; Post-baccalaureate, political science, Northwestern University

State government has been stuck in neutral for a year, with the General Assembly and the governor seemingly unable to compromise in such a way that allows the passage for something as fundamental as a budget. What needs to take place in order for the state to begin operating functionally?

Illinois needs legislators who recognize that the financial state of Illinois is on the brink of a major disaster. These legislators need to care about nurturing it back to health rather than ‘win at all cost’ standoffs and political shows of power. I propose a forensic audit of the current budget to eliminate real waste. It is not doing anyone in Illinois any good to dangle relied on social services as fiscal hostages to achieve certain legislative changes. It is also not doing any good refusing to discuss the financial reality facing Illinois.

What aspects of Gov. Rauner’s “turnaround agenda” do you support, if any, and why? What aspects will you not support, and why?

I think there are some things that deserve bipartisan support. Fair mapping is one; gerrymandering has long been an institutional way for the powers that be to remain in power. Politicians should draw their own maps just like a wolf should watch the hen house. Let voters pick their politicians. I think the elimination of redundancy in government is an easy one. I would take it further though. The governor has suggested merging the comptroller and treasurer. I say once the forensic audit is complete we will find many redundancies that should be reevaluated. And although the approach of the governor’s pension reform may be different than mine, one would have to not care at all about the future of this state to not know it’s a necessity.

State funding of education has long been talked about as needing to be addressed. How should the state approach education funding; what solutions would you advocate?

Constitutionally, it is mandated in the Illinois constitution that the state fund the majority of education. Right now, we hover around 20 percent, which is not even close to the minimum of 51 percent. To have a level playing field for the majority of students in our district, Proviso, we should take the burden off of property taxes and have a system where all kids have adequately funded schools so that they can compete. Now there is a big ‘but’ with this. Increasingly, we can’t trust school boards to do the right thing. They have become political playhouses for area politicians to trade favors and jobs. This has to be stopped. So the second part of this is campaign finance reform in that vendors are not allowed to contribute to campaigns nor can individuals employed by these vendors. Nor can they form PACS and participate from the side. Until we truly address this problem, our kid’s futures are for sale to the highest contributor. (Similar legislation for other areas of government would also benefit from campaign finance reform)

What is the single thing the state legislature could do, outside of funding reform, to improve public education in Illinois?

Please see the second part of my above answer.

 In 2014, Rep. Welch introduced legislation that allowed River Forest residents to vote on whether or not River Forest Township should be merged into that village’s government. The residents voted against the motion, but it was still put on the ballot. What are your general thoughts on the number of taxing bodies in the 7th District? Are you in favor of consolidating any of them? If so, how would that look and how would that benefit residents of the district?

Where there is redundancy, sure, but let’s cut down on abuse first. Proviso Township has far more ills when it comes to abuse compared to River Forest Township, and we, again, should be suspect when local/village leaders coalesce to run and support candidates for other areas of government. Proviso Township operates in a black hole when it comes to news sources to cover it, essentially allowing a small group of people free reign over its budget. That said, Proviso and River Forest Townships provide some essential resources that may be redundant in a town like Forest Park, where there is a vibrant community center and senior system in place. But some towns don’t have that, and there has to be a system in place before you pull the rug out from underneath them.

State pension obligations continue to hamstring Illinois. How should the system be reformed?

It has to be reformed. You cannot touch existing benefits for retirees; it is unconstitutional and immoral. Reform has to happen with newer (under 5-8 years of service) and new employees. My father was a union iron worker, I negotiated union contracts on the municipal level. There is a realistic approach that doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and I have found unions are willing to give – especially knowing we currently have an unsustainable system in place. Employee contributions have to go up. I think retirement age or years of service and cost of living increases after retirement need to be discussed. People live longer nowadays than when these concepts were originally put in place. That is just a fact.