Meet the Illinois-36th Senate Candidates: State Rep. Mike Halpin and Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms

Grace Kinnicutt

The Illinois 36th Senate District race will see a match-up between Rep. Mike Halpin and Republican Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms.

It will be the first time since 2015 that Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, will not be on the ballot for the 36th senate district after being drawn out during the redistricting process. Anderson now resides in and is running unopposed for the new 47th district. 

Halpin is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives, representing the 72nd since 2017. He has been practicing law for the past five years at the Rock Island firm of McCarthy, Callas, & Feeney, P.C.

Thoms has been the mayor of Rock Island since 2017. He is a lifelong resident of Rock Island and worked his way up in his family business, Thoms-Proestler Company, for 30 years. 

The Quad-City Times sent questionnaires to the candidates, asking for their views on several matters, including the state’s budget and pension, criminal justice reform, climate change, and more.

Following are the questions asked and the bulk of the candidates’ written replies:

What is your No. 1 priority if elected? 

Halpin: “My top priority is to protect the middle class. That means bringing good-paying union manufacturing jobs back from China and elsewhere overseas. With the war in Ukraine and the pandemic disrupting supply chains, we need to be more self-sufficient in making products for our citizens. Protecting the middle class also means continuing monitoring inflation and targeting tax cuts like suspending the grocery tax, freezing the gas tax increase, and offering property tax rebates to offset some of the increased costs facing working families.”

Thoms: “My top priority is making Western Illinois a more affordable place to live and raise a family by lowering taxes and growing our economic base. We need to attract more businesses and families into our state, which has long suffered from out-migration of students, families, entrepreneurs, and tax dollars. Recent policies coming out of Springfield have exacerbated this loss. While I have been mayor, we have grown Rock Island through increases in economic development projects, not by raising taxes on families or employing temporary tax cuts during an election year. In Springfield, I’ll continue to build, not buy our way out of the problems we face.”

Where can Democrats and Republicans find common ground? 

State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island before taking his seat during the public celebration of the new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.


Halpin: “Democrats and Republicans find common ground every day in Springfield, and I work with my Republican colleagues wherever I can. I led the charge on Senate Bill 3762, a bipartisan bill that helps children of fallen veterans receive scholarships. We should also be able to find common ground on the issues of stopping disinformation, funding the police by voting for balanced budgets, and protecting union jobs.”

Rock Island mayor Mike Thoms speaks during the public celebration of the new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.


Thoms: “Regardless of political affiliation, every candidate for office should come together to pass real ethics reforms that put a stop to the culture of corruption in Springfield. The underlying system that puts special interests and political aspirations above serving the people of Illinois has driven our state into the ground with reckless spending and higher taxes and it must change. Additionally, it should be an agreed-upon priority to support our local governments, rather than continuing to hand down unfunded mandates that force cities to make impossible financing decisions.”

Did Illinois appropriately spend COVID-19 relief funds? If yes, why? If not, how should the state have spent them? 

Halpin: “Yes. Over the past four years, the State of Illinois has entered a new era of fiscal responsibility, passed balanced budgets that held the line on new spending, paid down billions of dollars of debt, set aside $1 billion in the state’s rainy-day fund and earned us six credit upgrades over the past year. Our use of COVID-19 relief funds was no different.

“We allocated $898 million to pay off the group health insurance backlog, saving millions in interest. We also allocated $230 million to fund College Illinois and millions to help small businesses.”

Thoms: “In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, I supported measures to use the portion of the $3.5 billion to buy personal protective equipment, pay for nursing staffing costs and set up alternate care and testing sites. However, even with the Governor’s recent actions, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund remains grossly in debt from overuse and fraud, and I believe that monies should have been invested into this fund and helping small businesses. Taking that action would have benefited the businesses that pay into the fund and who suffered tremendous hardships during the pandemic and are now seeing their insurance rates increased.”

Illinois is expected to end fiscal year 2023 with an estimated surplus of $444 million. How should the state spend the extra money? 

Halpin: “Illinois should invest in our rainy day fund, pay off more pension debt, and give money back to taxpayers to help with inflation like we did this year with the income tax and property tax rebates.”

Thoms: “Illinois’ FY23 budget was filled with gimmicks to entice voters with one-off tax relief measures. Suspending the gas tax just to have two increases next year is just one example of temporary relief when the state needs long-term fiscal solutions. Illinois has the second-highest effective property tax rate in the nation. This burden is being multiplied now with record inflation, grocery price increases and spikes in energy costs. Any supposed ‘surplus’ should immediately be invested into reducing property taxes for Illinois families and businesses, or paying down our existing debts.”

What changes do you propose to the state’s budget? 

Halpin: “Our state budget should reflect our priorities. We should be funding programs that work and that provide value to the state. We should be funding K-12 and higher education as an investment in our people. We should continue implementing our historic $49 billion capital plan to improve and maintain our transportation infrastructure.”

Thoms: “The main change that should happen in the state’s budgeting process is allowing for bi-partisan input to shape it. The current process deprives residents of the transparency and representative government they deserve when budgets are passed by one party in the middle of the night. Specifically, Illinois should institute meaningful and permanent property tax and regulatory reforms and more heavily invest in incentives that attract businesses such as the Historic Tax Credit program.” 

What can the General Assembly do to lower property taxes? 

Halpin: “The biggest thing the General Assembly can do to lower property taxes is to continue to fund the Evidence-Based funding model for K-12 education. More funding from the state means that local districts do not need to rely so heavily on property tax wealth. In most cases, school district taxes make up about 60% of property tax bills. Reducing this number will go a long way in reducing residents’ property taxes.

Thoms: “The General Assembly can assist in lowering property taxes by reducing the number of unfunded mandates it hands down to local governments. This will result in more flexibility in the local budgeting process and allow for planning long-term fiscal solutions that don’t raise taxes. Additionally, the state can adequately fund schools in Western Illinois to ensure further investments from property owners aren’t needed to fund their children’s education.” 

What do you propose to fix the state’s pension problem? 

Halpin: “The biggest problem for our pension systems is paying the debt caused by years of underpayment and pension ‘holidays.’ Current pension costs are $2 billion per year, which is manageable under our current budget. However, there is currently an annual $7-8 billion in debt service for pension payments skipped in the past. I support efforts to prioritize paying down this debt. For example, our most recent budget put an additional $500 million dollars into the system, over and above the required payment. This will save us several billion dollars over the next five years. We should make these extra payments as often as possible, to bring the existing debt down.”

Thoms: “I firmly believe any promise that has been made to employees should be kept, meaning no benefits guaranteed to employees should ever be cut. To be able to keep up with our pension obligations, our state should focus on identifying new revenue streams that will offset what we will need to pay in pension plans. Further, we should seriously consider a recent proposal that would earmark a certain percentage of our state budget each year to be put toward paying down our pension obligation, and if the state falls short, the remaining money should go directly to property tax relief.” 

In 2021, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) was signed into law, one of the most comprehensive pieces of climate legislation. How else can Illinois improve land, air, and water quality? 

Halpin: “We need to do everything we can to get ahead of climate change from reducing fossil fuel emissions to increasing the affordability and availability of electric vehicles to increasing renewable energy sources. Looking at smaller-scale ways individuals can protect our environment, our municipalities can make composting and recycling easily available to community members, we can plant more trees and utilize public transportation. We all have a role to play in protecting our environment.”

Thoms: “Part of what makes our region so unique are the natural resources we are surrounded by, including the Mississippi River and our vast amounts of farmland. To continue supporting the jobs and products that we rely on from these sectors, the state should prioritize passing responsible clean energy plans to grow the economy and ensure a healthy future for our next generation. One very concerning provision in CEJA is the expansion of eminent domain for renewable energy companies. This attack on our farmers and property owners is a serious concern that should have never taken place.” 

What is your stance on abortion? 

Halpin: “I respect and support women’s right to control their own bodies and reproductive health decisions.”

Thoms: “The one common ground I have heard from voters is they believe Illinois has gone too far in repealing the Parental Notification Act that removes the requirement that guardians must be notified when their children have a major healthcare procedure like an abortion. Parents across our district strongly disagree with removing this notification and if elected I would work to reinstate it.” 

Some provisions of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, Equity-Today Act, known as the SAFE-T Act, have already gone into effect with no cash bail set to take effect Jan. 1, 2023. What are your thoughts on the criminal justice reform? What else might be needed for the justice reform? 

Halpin: “The SAFE-T Act provides funding for training of officers. It ensures that mental health and other support services are available to police, who have a very difficult job to do. The Act also mandates the use of body cameras, which both law enforcement and the communities they serve say helps bring trust and accountability to the work they do. In our bail system, it is common sense to make bail dependent on the threat of the alleged offender and not how much money they have. Under the Act, no one gets released without a judge determining how dangerous they are. No longer will violent criminals be able to simply buy their freedom. The Act has wide support among organizations advocating for domestic violence survivors. I echo the position of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police in that we need to make some changes but keep intact the best parts of the law.”

Thoms: “The SAFE-T act contains provisions that should immediately be removed through amendments to the bill. This includes eliminating cash bail across Illinois, which would allow criminals, oftentimes repeat offenders, back onto the street. Unfortunately, this bill will also place a tremendous financial burden on local governments who must allocate additional funds to comply with various components of the bill. For instance, while I agree with police officers wearing body cameras, local governments are now charged with financing the storage and review of all footage captured. Finally, there are portions of this bill that I agree with and believe will help our criminal justice system, such as increasing training and mental health treatments for our police officers.” 

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October 21, 2022 at 05:38AM

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