LEXINGTON, Ill. — Following Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey’s opening statements at the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable forum, he answered questions posed by those in attendance.
Here are state Bailey’s replies to the questions read by Richard Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president.
What actions you have taken or would take to alleviate Illinois’ current debt situation such as the bill backlog, unemployment fund and pensions?
Bailey: That may in and of itself be the most important question in Illinois. I was elected to the House in 2019. That was my first term, and I came in with J.B. Pritzker.
I came in in the super minority in both chambers, the first time in history in the Republican Party. I found that I didn’t have a voice, and over the last three and a half years there’s been no voice.
J.B. Pritzker develops the policies, they get amended while we wait and then they get plopped in front of us, so we have an hour to figure things out. Those days have got to end.
Under my administration, the table will be filled with everyone, Democrats, Republicans. Everyone will have a voice.
I’ve sat for four years trying to address the pension system in different committees, only to be interrupted by the chair to be told “We have Tier 2, so it’s OK, everything’s fine” or “By the way, it’s protected by the constitution.”
One month ago, I was talking to an 85-year-old retired state trooper and I asked him if he was satisfied with his pension and knowing it’s going to be coming to him and his answer was an absolute no, “I’m scared to death.”
We can deal with this, but we’ve got to put it front and center and start working on it. So, with our out-of-control debt, which I want to remind you, $20 billion of federal COVID money that was laid on the lap of the state and it was wasted.
We still have a large debt in our unemployment insurance fund, and those of you that have employees, this fall because that money has got to be paid back, your unemployment insurance is probably going to double.
And anyone that’s working in Illinois that gets laid off, they’re going to reap 20% to 30% less in what they should be reaping.
In 2017, when I first started running for office, the state budget sat at $32 billion. Today it’s $46.5 billion.
So, if more money is the answer, we shouldn’t have any problems should we? But yet our problems have grown.
I would establish new agency directors who will actually get to work and do something, who have common sense, who are business minded and who will begin to develop their own budgets, a zero-based budget.
In a perfect world, it would be nice to slash this budget and be able to send some of that back to you, but we’re going to have to use that excess waste that we have to start paying off that pension debt and start paying down our other debt.
State workers, new hires, put on 401(k) so we can get rid of this pension problem — I will address that, and I look forward to your help with that.
What are your views on school consolidation?
Bailey: I served on the North Clay Unit 25 board for 17 years, the last 12 as board president. In those days, I’m not for sure if it’s happening so much now, we were being shorted money every year.
One year, we wouldn’t get $200,000. The next year we wouldn’t get $400,000. Sometimes the money would come later. Sometimes it wouldn’t come at all.
Our schools and especially our colleges are top heavy with administration. We must address that. That’s why college is so expensive.
The state dangles the money and says here it is, but, oh, by the way here are all the gimmicks to it and you have to tell us how it’s working.
So, schools then have to hire more administration and that’s taking away from our educational process, and in colleges it’s taking away from our research process.
So, yes, consolidation may be starting off in administration. We’ve got to start somewhere because Illinois has more units of government, more school districts almost, than any other state, and our property taxes continue to increase because of that.
Illinois spends more money per student than almost any other state, yet we lag in our results.
As governor, would you support legislation to create statewide control over the siting of wind and solar projects, and with numerous food security concerns, do you have a long-term plan in how we manage solar and wind projects?
Bailey: Last year, Illinois imported 15% of our energy. Throughout most of the state geographically the energy is determined by the (Midcontinent Independent System Operator), through Ameren.
I don’t know how many of you are on that, but you’ve seen your electric bills double over the last few months. I’m sure you’ve gotten a letter warning you of impending brownouts and possible blackouts if the brownouts aren’t controlled.
This energy bill that was just signed leads to a lot of those problems because it wasn’t well thought out. I have no problem with wind energy. I have no problem with solar energy. But we’re not there yet.
We need to continue to ease into that, because if we’re going to attract industry, if we’re going to attract more business, we’ve got to have the power to supply and right now we don’t have that.
So, the first part of the question, state regulation, that word scares me right off the bat. I will look forward to talking with you about that because I don’t have wind or solar energy on my farm.
I’m sure there are things I need to learn about that, but in my administration, I seek to cut government. We must have less government in our lives. More government is what’s destroying this constitutional republic.
There was a provision in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that would allow the use of eminent domain to take private property for a project that is not a public utility. Do you support giving companies that are not a public utility the right to use or take private property?
Bailey: I do not. I have two counties in my Senate district that are affected by that, and I stood on the Senate floor and I said there are a lot of things wrong with this bill.
It forces coal out too early. It forces natural gas out too early. It makes our dependency on wind and solar too soon.
But I said, all of that aside, if there was one reason and one reason alone why I would vote no on this bill it would be because of the eminent domain clause.
The message that came back to me from the other side of the aisle was “one of these days we may need to tie into that for our own needs.”
There’s no reason why that line needs to cross our state to pump coal-fired energy from Wyoming to the eastern seaboard. We should be providing that.
The state budget has been closer to being balance the last two years. How do you see that continuing in the future as federal funds will probably not being readily available?
Bailey: The state budget hasn’t been any closer in the last 20 years to being balanced as it was last year. Every year our government on both sides of the aisle depends on borrowed money or selling bonds to balance the budget.
We’re farmers here, so let’s say we have a bad year this year and maybe lose $500,000. Well, what the state would do is borrow $600,000 and say we made $100,000. That’s what’s taking place. That’s why our debt continues to build.
We have got to hold our agencies accountable and show transparency. That’s why I keep talking about a zero-based budget. Each agency director will build their budget from the ground up, and that’s how we’re going to expose the waste.
My successor, Adam Niemerg, called last year for a forensic audit for our budget. No sooner had he proposed the idea to the bill writer, when Frank Mautino, the auditor general, called him and said you can’t do that.
Adam was told it would take about four years and cost a quarter-billion dollars to tell taxpayers where their money is going. That’s a problem and that’s Illinois and that’s got to change.
What is your position on agricultural sales tax incentives or exemptions on seed, feed, fertilizer and farm equipment?
Bailey: It needs to stay as it is. We feed the world, any kind of production business, that’s the way it’s been, that’s the way it needs to stay. It is under threat, so I hope you ask our governor that exact same question this afternoon. That would decimate the ag economy.
My breakeven cost in southern Illinois this year is on soybeans, a 50-bushel average, we’re looking at about a $15.10 per bushel breakeven on our cost of production. There’s no way farms can function and survive if the sales tax exemption is repealed.
In the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, the state established goals for the electrification of vehicles in Illinois. What are your plans for addressing how our current renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel can be incorporated into the act?
Bailey: Being on the road as much as I am I look for that station that has ethanol because it’s $1 a gallon cheaper right now. We use those products on the farm.
I think until the point in time when food becomes a problem and I see that day coming, that we should go ahead and focus on renewable fuels. We’ve got great industry with the ethanol plants and I see that continuing.
In what ways do you plan to unite Chicago with the rest of downstate Illinois?
Bailey: By focusing on the things that we have in common, and those are crime, taxes and schools, in that order.
Just a few days ago, my wife, Cindy, and I had meetings all day in downtown Chicago. During 20-minute stop at a clothing store, people were coming up to me offering encouragement, saying we have got to fix things and I’m hearing that.
We focus on what unites us and not what divides us as our current governor is doing. The things he’s talking about, they’re not going to change.
The things that need to change are the fact the city of Chicago has become the O.K. Corral with shootouts and homicides every night. These people don’t feel safe. It’s real, especially on the South Side where they’re being ignored.
Everyone here knows someone who has left the state because of taxes. Everyone here has considered that. We farmers know that we can’t, but we think about it.
Our schools are decimated. We have got to get the woke policies out of our schools and teach our children how to think, how to work and how to grow an economy and participate in life here in Illinois and keep them here.
That’s how we unite the state, and I’m telling you people in Chicago and the collar counties are as fed up as we are regardless of what the media tells you.