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Lawmaker: No results yet on big issues

Demmer talks pensions, guns, tax hike

Representative Tom Demmer speaks Wednesday with the SVM Editorial Board.
Representative Tom Demmer speaks Wednesday with the SVM Editorial Board.

DIXON – The Illinois House has met more days than usual this year, but it has no accomplishments yet on the big issues – pensions, the budget, and concealed carry of guns.

That's the verdict of Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who was elected to his first term in November.

Any surprises about his new job?

"You gain an appreciation for how many associations there are in Illinois," said Demmer, who, at 26, is the General Assembly's second-youngest member. "Every one of them schedules a legislative day."

On one hand, he said, the groups give legislators a chance to find out how bills might affect constituents. On the other, it's hard to focus when so many associations bring up issues, he said.

On Wednesday, Sauk Valley Media's editorial board interviewed Demmer about a variety of issues.

Video: Full interview with Rep. Tom Demmer

Earlier this year, Demmer sponsored legislation in response to Dixon's City Hall scandal. The bills passed the House and await action in the Senate.

His legislation would require municipal and county officials to check state payments made to municipalities and counties on a semiannual basis, strengthen penalties for forging state documents, and provide stiffer penalties for official misconduct that illegally obtains property or monetary gains for personal advantage.

In the interview, Demmer:

• Disagreed with proposals to require school districts, rather than the state, to pay for the employer part of teachers' and administrators' pensions.

"I don't think it's appropriate to transfer unfunded liabilities to the districts for payments the state has skipped in the past," he said.

At the same time, Demmer said he was open to proposals to curtail the custom of giving big end-of-career pay raises to teachers and administrators, which result in larger pensions. These days, educators and their bosses typically get 6 percent annual hikes in their last years.

Demmer said he would consider making districts pay all or part of the pension costs associated with the big raises. He also suggested basing pensions on a greater number of years of pay, which would reduce the size of the benefits.

• Defended the work of Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, who is negotiating with a Chicago Democrat on a compromise to allow concealed carry of firearms. That compromise would empower the state police to issue concealed-carry permits. Those permits would apply everywhere in the state except Chicago and Cook County, where people would have to get endorsements from local law enforcement.

The NRA criticized the compromise, saying it denies Chicago and Cook County residents their civil rights.

Demmer said he would like to apply the same rules around the state, but the reality is that supermajority support is needed for a concealed-carry law. So the controversial provision may be necessary for the larger goal of allowing concealed carry, he said.

• Opposed extending the 2011 income tax increase. The hike was meant to pay old bills, but those bills have only increased, Demmer said.

The tax hike, he said, has been "absorbed in an ever-growing state budget."

"It's been an economic negative," he said.

• Rejected the idea of charging admission fees to state parks.

"We already pay for state parks through our taxes," he said.

• Said he has greeted House Speaker Michael Madigan but not had a conversation with him. Asked about his observations of Madigan, Demmer said: "I don't have much observation of him. I'm a freshman in the minority party."

• Defended township government, questioning whether township consolidation with another layer of government would save money. At the same time, he said he wouldn't close the door on combining certain functions of townships, including the assessment of property and general assistance for the poor.

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