Running for: Illinois House of Representatives, District 49
Political/civic background: I currently serve as a North Aurora Village Trustee. I am a former alternate member of the Kane County Board of Review.
Occupation: I am the proud owner of Curtis Appraisals, a real estate appraisal business. I am also a licensed Realtor.
Education: Northeastern Illinois University (Business)
Campaign website: CurtisForRep.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing Illinois and their districts. Laura Curtis submitted the following responses:
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
I strongly believe in the power of community members contributing time to help strengthen local governance, whether that means public service or participation in public discourse. Since 2011, I have served as a Trustee on the North Aurora Village Board. From 2009 to 2011, I served as an alternate member of the Kane County Board of Review. I’m also a member of the REALTOR Association of the Fox Valley.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
1. Improving the state’s fiscal health
As a North Aurora Trustee, I led the effort to approve a flat property tax levy that would not further burden residents and business owners. North Aurora was also able to achieve a bond rating of AA+, one notch below the highest grade. Standard and Poor’s applauded the Village for its “strong budgetary performance.”
I look forward to furthering the discussion on how to reduce the negative impact Springfield has on local governments and easing the financial load Illinoisans are forced to bear.
2. Ethics and corruption
Headlines about legislators, public officials, and lobbyists being investigated, indicted, wiretapped, and arrested are incredibly damaging to the reputation of our great state. When business owners seek to expand or locate new operations, they should not have to worry about an unfair playing field or paying additional costs to a corrupt system. Similarly, Illinoisans are disgusted by the rampant abuse by the politicians they hire to look after their interests and need no additional reasons to look for opportunities outside of Illinois.
3. Economic growth and development
Our area is made up of hardworking people who moved here to raise their kids, support their families, and pursue their dreams. Unfortunately, the economic climate coupled with the overly burdensome tax climate is making that harder and harder to do. I am going to Springfield to help revitalize our local economy and job market. That means finding ways to make it easier for community businesses to hire and helping hardworking families keep more of what they earn. Economic growth and employment growth lead to organic tax revenue growth. We should start at the local level, focusing on helping our hardworking families find and keep good-paying jobs.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
As a real estate appraiser and REALTOR, I’ve helped families achieve the American dream of owning their own home, but that aspiration is threatened by soaring property taxes where Illinois ranks as the second highest in the nation. Property taxes have a direct impact on affordability for those who wish to own homes.
Our leaders in Springfield talk about lowering property taxes, yet their rhetoric fails to turn into action. Our families pay the 2nd highest property taxes in the nation and higher property taxes than states that don’t even have an income tax. At the same time, the most powerful politicians in Illinois are property tax appeals attorneys, getting rich off keeping property taxes high so they can get tax breaks for their wealthy clients.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I oppose changing Illinois’ current flat tax to a progressive income tax, which would allow Springfield politicians to raise taxes even more on middle-income families.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
The first step is to repair the fiscal damage to our state by stopping further damage. We must simultaneously reduce spending by focusing on our priorities and grow our economy.
Illinois must instill fiscal discipline on all levels, and all officials must feel pressure to save taxpayer funds and promote economic growth wherever possible. Governor Pritzker should show leadership in creating a culture of cost savings and innovation throughout state government.
State government must put in place structural and constitutional cost controls and maximize efficiencies. Duplicate layers of bureaucracy should be identified and reduced. Most importantly, government should identify its core responsibilities and ensure those functions are funded. Does anyone think we are prioritizing spending when Speaker Madigan introduces 1,500 page budget bills and forces it through the General Assembly with little time to read the bill?
Getting spending under control is only half the solution. We must also prioritize policies aimed at creating jobs and economic growth in order to attract and retain both human talent and business. Over three hundred people give up on Illinois every day and head to other states, taking their skills and their tax dollars with them. Earlier this year, CEO Magazine ranked Illinois as the 3rd worst state in the nation to do business. To fund the core government services we all agree are needed, we must create an environment that enables families to find good-paying jobs and encourages local businesses to hire and grow.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No. State politicians have proven time and time again, they cannot be trusted with more tax revenue when they refuse to make even the smallest reforms and spending cuts. Like the Progressive Income Tax, state politicians will inevitably find taxing one group of retirees to be insufficient and will eventually add other tax brackets. Retirees have planned for their financial future with precision and sacrifice, and it is unfair to burden them with additional payments when legislators refuse to make needed reforms.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Ensuring quality elementary and high school education is one of the core responsibilities of government. Legislators must reduce the number of unfunded mandates and allow educators meeting quality education standards increased flexibility to spend their resources effectively for students in their care.
Teacher shortages in schools across the district and state must be addressed. We must provide incentives and support for students entering the educational field. Also, outstanding teachers who achieve student growth accountability markers must be rewarded.
Schools are under more pressure than ever to not only perform academically, but also to ensure the safety of students and faculty. Mental health resources, including training and safety funds, must be increased to ensure all schools can meet those challenges.
In addition, I support allowing parents to make education decisions for their children through charter and alternative school options and preserving tuition tax credits to help with that financial obligation.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
There is no easy solution to the heartbreaking scourge of gun violence, so we must take an all-of-the-above approach to these tragedies. We must set aside partisan and political differences and do what is best for our families and children. Increasing community-based mental health resources and training for early detection of mental illness are essential components of comprehensive intervention for troubled individuals.
I believe in strong families that guide young people away from negative practices such as bullying and social media harassment. Strong faith and community networks with caring people need to do even greater outreach to those in need. We all have an obligation to help each other in times of crisis.
In addition, existing gun laws should be enforced and police should use all legal measures to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, while still respecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. In my family, my husband and I have taken an additional step to make it a priority to teach our children about firearm safety and how to handle a situation where a firearm is present.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I support term limits for legislators and legislative leaders.
I not only support term limits, I abide by them. As a North Aurora Village member, I took a personal term limits pledge to serve three terms, and I was recently elected to my third and final term.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
I support the Fair Maps Amendment to allow voters to choose their political leaders, and not the other way around. Allowing a nonpartisan and fully representative commission to draw district boundaries encourages more competitive elections, resulting in a more accountable and transparent government.
Illinoisans overwhelmingly support redistricting reform, and Democratic Leadership should allow voters to decide on Fair Maps at the ballot box.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
Illinoisans should not have to wait for comprehensive ethics reform. Dozens of anti-corruption bills were filed in the last legislative session, with no action by the majority party. Serious damage to our state’s reputation has occurred, which only further encourages businesses and residents to relocate for out-of-state opportunities.
Enhanced disclosure is an important component of reform, but is inadequate to address the crisis of confidence in our state government at all levels. The General Assembly must add real penalties to enforce better compliance of new and existing rules, eliminate conflicts of interest, and expand ethics rules to include locally-elected officials.
Allowing voters to cast ballots on a Fair Map Amendment and enacting term limits would be additional steps that should be taken to decrease the cylinders of power that exist in Springfield.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
The federal government should take the lead in providing additional legal guidelines for technology and software companies regarding data privacy standards.
Illinois legislators should take all steps to protect children from exposure to bad actors online. As part of a quality education, students should learn how to protect themselves and their confidential information online. With children as young as preschool-age using electronic devices, there is an immediate need and opportunity for education at every grade level regarding internet safety.
In 2018, Illinois ranked 7th highest in the United States for identity theft, so there is certainly room for improvement regarding safeguarding private information.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
Illinois has an incredible higher education system with world-class private and public universities scattered throughout the state. Our universities are attractive; unfortunately, they are increasingly unaffordable for working families. The University of Illinois has the second highest in-state tuition in the Big Ten, a price tag many families cannot afford. At the same time, the state provides nearly double the national average in educational appropriations – a price tag tax taxpayers cannot afford.
College used to be the gateway to opportunity. Today, student debt is drowning young adults and preventing them from pursuing their dreams, getting married, and buying a home.
Legislators must find ways to drive down the cost of higher education in Illinois. We must start by looking at administrative costs and compensation, including “golden parachutes” for retiring presidents. We need to look at big-picture structural reforms that improve our procurement policies, right-size pensions, and provide universities with flexibility for hiring and staffing decisions instead of tying their hands with mandates like graduate assistant unionization.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
One of my top environmental priorities is to ensure quality drinking water for all families in Illinois. In addition to continuing to monitor the amount of lead within our water, we must also monitor and conduct research into the amount and effect of microplastics in our water supply. Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that can be consumed by and are harmful to fish and other ocean life. The effects on human consumption are still unknown, and merit additional research and study.
Rep. Mark Batinick passed legislation in the last legislative session that mandates the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency examine the role of microplastics in public drinking water and disclose the results of its testing and reporting. As that research is completed and is distributed, additional steps will likely need to be taken to protect our water supply from this type of pollution.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, demonstrated the tremendous value of optimistic and principled leadership while displaying his trademark good humor. President Reagan was able to unite the nation and achieve historic policy objectives while shrinking the footprint of government.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I love the show Modern Family because it features families who accept and love one another in spite of all personal flaws. I appreciate the fact it shows the importance and benefits of strong families and loving each other no matter what.