Name: Joe Neal
Position sought: Illinois State Senate, 31st Senate District
Campaign contact information
Phone: (224) 372-3131
Age and Birthdate: 44 (July 8, 1968)
Resides in: Wadsworth
Attended College of Lake County before transferring to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to earn a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering (1991).
Attended Illinois Institute of Technology to earn a Masters of Transportation Engineering (1998).
Occupation: Professional Civil Engineer and Navy Civil Engineering Corp Officer
Political Party: Republican Party
Official name of your campaign committee: "Joe Neal for Senate"
Previous Elected or Appointed Offices:
Republican Precinct Committeeman, 2005-present
Newport Township Republican Chairman, 2007-present
Is there any additional experience you believe qualifies you for the position? If your race is contested, how does this set you apart from other candidates?
In 2008, I volunteered for the Navy Civil Engineering Corp and was subsequently sent overseas to serve in Iraq. I returned from Iraq in June 2011, with a renewed appreciation for the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy as Americans. Yet, when I look to our leaders in Springfield and the results they have produced, I see squandered opportunity.
I plan to bring to Springfield a pragmatic and collaborative approach to problem solving learned through years in the private sector and service in the military. I am not a politician and this is my first run for the state legislature. My goal is to be an independent voice for reform in Illinois.
What would your priorities be if elected to this office?
My priorities are fixing the finances of this state so we are no longer spending more than we take in, creating a business friendly environment so we can improve job growth, and addressing the major pension shortfall that is leading the state down the path of insolvency.
Illinois’ unfunded pension liability is $83 billion. The state’s inability to address the issue recently led Moody’s to downgrade Illinois’ credit rating. What should be done to address the state’s rising pension obligations?
Once we have passed meaningful pension reform, I am willing to discuss funding reform that increases school board accountability and ensures that the entity that sets the benefit pays for the benefit. For example, the legislature should not be allowed to set benefit standards if the school board is paying the full cost.
I oppose Speaker Madigan’s plan to simply shift our unfunded pension liability and pension payments to local school districts because it will surely result in major increases in local property taxes. This mess was created in Springfield and must be fixed in Springfield. Local real estate taxes are already too high, and shifting the funding burden to the local schools would only put more financial pressure on homeowners.
Meaningful reforms to our state pension system are absolutely necessary in order to maintain a solvent pension fund and keep the promise made to our state employees.
We are in this pension mess in large part because Illinois failed to live up to its obligation to make timely payments into the state’s pension funds. Self-serving politicians used money intended for pension payments to expand government programs and services. This was wrong and Illinois must commit in the strictest sense to making its full pension payment.
I supported a 3-tier pension reform similar to the plan proposed in SB 512 because I believed it was the best solution at the time to meet our future pension obligations and ensure that retired workers are not left with a bankrupt pension system.
Today, I am open to any solution (such as the offer and consideration model or cap and age model) that solves our pension-funding problem and ensures that the program remains solvent. I do not consider the cost shift to be pension reform, but rather a funding reform discussion.
I am certainly willing to discuss funding reform and increased school board accountability, but I do not believe we should let this debate stand in the way of fixing our pension system. Shifting a broken system from the state to the local level ensures property tax hikes while not solving the problem that brought us here in the first place.
Illinois’ state government has a terrible reputation in terms of corruption. What would you do to change the culture of state government that has seen recent governors from both political parties convicted of felonies?
Had I been serving in the legislature, I would have supported Public Act 96-0832, which imposed limits on the amount of contributions that political committees can accept from donors. There is too much money involved in our political process and the ever-present pressure to fundraise too often fosters a culture of corruption.
I support term limits for House and Senate leaders and would be open to term limits for legislators assuming they were long enough to ensure un-elected staff were not empowered in turn (10 years seems reasonable). I would also be in favor of two-term limits for constitutional officers.
I support the principle of citizens being capable of recalling corrupt elected officials at all levels of government. However, I have concerns that this tool could be used excessively by powerful special interest groups at great cost to taxpayers. Therefore, I would prefer a high threshold of petition signatures (perhaps 15 percent of those who voted in the last election for the office in question) to ensure that recall was only used in the most egregious situations.
I believe the current process of drawing new legislative maps is ludicrous. I supported the Fair Map Amendment and was disappointed that it did not receive enough signatures to be placed on the 2010 ballot. My hope is that we can pass redistricting reform that removes politicians from the process of choosing the voters they want to represent.
Education in Illinois is funded primarily through local property taxes. What changes, if any, would you make to that funding system?
When I go door-to-door and meet voters, I often hear that improving education and student learning opportunities is a top priority for parents. The funding of education consumes the largest share of our budget each fiscal year. At the same time, data demonstrates that increased funding does not necessarily mean better test scores.
We need adequate funding combined with better educator training and accountability. The passage of bi-partisan education reform in 2011 was a meaningful step towards improving student learning in Illinois. The bill increased incentives for teachers and ensured schools will be held accountable for student results.
I find the concept of merit based pay raises to be a compelling alternative to the policy of awarding automatic raises based on years of service. I am in favor of raising the cap on charter schools in Illinois and remain open to eliminating the cap altogether. I believe competition in education and student voucher test programs in Chicago can provide meaningful incentives for educators and schools to perform at a higher level.
Illinois recently passed a significant increase in its income tax, yet the state continues to run a deficit. What specifically should be done to reduce the deficit?
The massive 67 percent income tax hike on individuals and the 46 percent income tax hike on corporations that the ruling Majority in Springfield passed in the dead of night was a short sighted, temporary fix that did nothing to address our long-term deficit spending or poorly run state programs. We must repeal this tax hike immediately and set to work on a uniform tax policy that provides a level playing field for all businesses regardless of their size.
Our state is racing off of a budget cliff. Spending continues to increase despite a mountain of unpaid bills. And, this comes after the 67 percent income tax increase that was supposed to help fix our fiscal mess. Illinois must reduce spending by 6 to 7 percent over the next 5 years in order to avoid racing off the budget cliff.
- I support the Medicaid Recapture Audit, which has huge potential to save taxpayer dollars through identification of fraudulent or inappropriate Medicaid payments. Some estimates have suggested that as much as 10 percent of Medicaid payments contain fraud or are inappropriate. The Medicaid Recapture Audit was signed into law, but nothing has come of it to date.
- I support moving eligibility levels in some Medicaid programs to the national average so that those truly in need have access to a solvent Medicaid program. The recent Supreme Court ruling on national healthcare allows Illinois to go back to a Medicaid level that our budget can actually afford without being penalized by the federal government.
- I support meaningful pension reform to reduce our unfunded pension liability.
- Despite our deficit and unpaid bills, new programs are still proposed and supported in Springfield. I support a moratorium on government expansion until our financial crisis is solved. We cannot keep digging a bigger hole.
- I support a state employee hiring and pay freeze
- There has been discussion in Springfield to combine the Treasurer and Comptroller’s offices saving the taxpayers $12 million. This is an easy decision and one that I would support.
- I support reducing the number of government appointments and commissions. We should reduce the salaries of State Board Commissions by 50 percent.
- Former Comptroller Dan Hynes said at least $300 million could be saved by renegotiating contracts thereby reducing the cost of consulting contracts. Again, this is an easy decision, which I would support.
- Additional worker’s compensation reform, including the common-sense addition of causation language, will save taxpayer dollars.
- I would support an audit of programs and agency departments, such as the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. DCEO has often been the source of pet projects, which receive little oversight to determine if taxpayer dollars are used wisely.
Why would you do a better job representing the district than your opponent?
I plan to bring to Springfield a pragmatic and collaborative approach to problem solving learned through years in the private sector and service in the military.
We must focus on improving job growth and reducing spending in Springfield. We can do this by repealing the individual and corporate tax increases and cutting the budget so that spending falls in line with revenues.
To improve our business climate, I support additional worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance law reforms. These steps will help make Illinois competitive again, bring jobs and families back to the district and increase our tax base.
My opponent has refused to support any budget that cut wasteful spending in Lake County. She has repeatedly voted to keep government spending high and raised taxes rather than cut spending to balance her budget.
She voted for a $9.6 million property tax hike on the Lake County Board and she will not commit to repealing the 67 percent income tax increase on individuals and the 46 percent tax increase on businesses. Over the past three and a half years, my opponent has voted 15 out of 16 times for fee and rate increases. This means that my opponent has voted 94 percent of the time to make basic government services more expensive for taxpayers.