News Local/State

A Conversation with Jen McMillin, Democratic Candidate For The 101st Illinois House District

Jen McMillin

Courtesy of Jen McMillin

Decatur resident Jen McMillin is running for state representative in the 101st Illinois House District, which covers parts of Champaign, DeWitt, Macon, McLean and Piatt counties.

McMillin said she’ll work to increase rebuild infrastructure and support rural business development in the 101st District. She supports a progressive income tax and said she’d also consider service taxes and legalizing recreational marijuana.

She’s running against Decatur businessman Dan Caulkins. The winner of that race will succeed incumbent Republican Bill Mitchell, who is retiring.

The following interview has been edited for clarity:

Christine Herman: The state of Illinois recently went two years without a budget. How would you make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Jen McMillin: This is a really key issue for me and it's actually one of the reasons that I decided to jump into this race. I currently work at Lincoln College in Logan County and we were hurt really badly by that impasse.

We have a lot of students that rely on MAP funding, and during the budget impasse we did not have any funds available for MAP grants to put out for our students. So I would have students everyday coming to me and asking for more scholarship dollars because that's part of my role, I work with our Annalyn endowed scholarship programs.

At one point I had to tell a couple of students: You're either going to take out more loans or you're going to have to drop out of school. And to me, that was terribly unfair that the state of Illinois had made a promise to these students and wasn't going to fulfill it.

So at that point I decided that the only way that we can prevent an impasse like this in the future is if we've got representatives in Springfield that are willing to have those really tough conversations and force the issue, to not get up from their desk until there's a budget passed, year after year. That's my goal: to make sure we're working across the aisle but addressing some of our long-term debts and getting the budget under control.

Herman: Even after the recent income tax increase to 4.95 percent, the budget for the current fiscal year looks to be about $1 billion out of balance. Do you support further revenue increases to bring the budget into balance?

McMillin: I do. I am a strong proponent of the fair tax that has been talked about here recently, moving us from our regressive tax system, the flat tax. I'm in favor of also looking at other revenue sources. We're looking at what ones are going to impact on families in the least amount possible to make sure that they've got money in their pockets to keep the economy going.

Herman: What are some examples of those?

McMillin: One avenue that I am interested in is looking at service taxes and looking at the impacts of those on families. Another revenue stream that's been talked about is the legalization of recreational marijuana. Here in Illinois, we recently passed legislation to get industrial hemp as a rotational crop, which is a was a pet project of mine in high school, actually. You know, just looking at new ways, looking outside of our regular traditional revenue sources and thinking of ways that we can really promote growth and economic stabilization, without hurting Illinois families and lower-income folks.

Herman: When you mentioned the change to the income tax, would that be the same as a progressive income tax?

McMillin: It would be. Looking at ways that we can ensure that we're meeting our needs, putting back into our infrastructure in a responsible way.

Herman: The two men at the center of that budget fight are Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Will you support Madigan for Speaker?

McMillin: I have been a very strong proponent of leadership term limits. Recently, every time I go out and about I am asked about Speaker Madigan. And like I told someone this morning, and like I will continue to say over and over again: I am committed to doing what's best for the 101st District, regardless of who's Speaker of the House. I really do think that we need fresh leadership and I think that we need to look to bring up new leaders and prepare them for real leadership roles in the Illinois House.

Herman: Is there someone else in House leadership that you think could do a better job?

McMillin: There's not anyone that I have talked to. To be very honest with you, I'm brand new to politics. I jumped in about a year and a half ago, and I'm just really focused on doing what I can to be the best state representative in 101st. I'm more than happy to talk to anyone that's willing to take that step up and see who the best candidate would be.

Herman: According to the Illinois Budget Book for the current fiscal year, the state currently has $219 billion in public pension obligations but only $85 billion in assets. How would you close this gap?

McMillin: This is an ongoing issue and one of the very tough decisions that we're going to have to make. For the immediate future, I'm supportive of Ralph Martire's plan to re-amateurize our debt and front-load that system.

Herman: What does that mean exactly?

McMillin: Restructuring our debt and looking at ways that we can front-load and pay that off. We may have to stretch out payments a little bit longer through that plan. But I think that we've got to make that a priority. Yet again it's another obligation that the state of Illinois, both sides of the aisle, made. And we need to hold that promise to the Illinois citizens.

Herman: Do you support the consideration model that was originally proposed by Senate President John Cullerton that would force state employees to opt into one of two options with lesser benefits?

McMillin: I am not as familiar with that as I would like to be. However, any model has to be a voluntary model. We have to make sure that we are following the rules set in place, and any changes have to be a voluntary model for those employees. Again, we promised those past employees certain benefits and we need to assure them that we're going to meet those obligations.

Herman: What state issues do you think are the most important to the 101st District - and why?

McMillin: The most important issues are ones in a more rural and underserved populations in the 101st. I have all of Piatt and DeWitt County and a little portion of Macon, Maclain and Champaign. In that district, we have seen roads and bridges and sidewalks and water mains go untouched for years. So, infrastructure repair is a key issue here.

Along with that, we've got rural business development that has not taken center-stage in those communities. So that's why, over the last few months, I worked on putting together the townsquare project, which is a list of priorities that I would have in my first year in office to look at ways that we can use USDA dollars to bring in more grant funding for rural business development, prioritizing infrastructure repair in those smaller communities and then looking at ways that we can enhance and build Pre-K and daycare programs outside of the larger cities.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman