In the upcoming weeks, the Austin Weekly News will feature a Q and A with some of our elected officials representing Austin. This week, Sen. Don Harmon discusses whether he supports the 2016 Olympic Games coming to Chicago and whether he would support Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to raise income taxes in the state.
The first thing I wanted to ask you about is Mayor Daley’s push to host the Olympics in Chicago in 2016. Do you support the Olympics coming to Chicago? Absolutely. I think the games would be a great opportunity to spotlight Chicago on an international stage. It would also provide a catalyst for redevelopment in areas in the city that deeply need it, like the Lakefront and the West Side.
What were your thoughts about the tax day tea parties held throughout the country on April 15? Well, no one likes taxes, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. We never want to raise them or ask the already financially strapped American people to come out of their pockets further. However, what I don’t appreciate is when Republicans use it as a tool for political gain. We have been waiting for the Republicans to contribute a budget that would allow us to stimulate the economy and create jobs, but all they talk about is tax cuts. Tax cuts alone will not create jobs or solve the financial crisis we are currently in. I saw it as a political rally cry.
What are your thoughts about President Barack Obama’s $1 trillion stimulus package? Some have argued it is just spending and will not stimulate the economy in the way the president says. Well, when you look at the figure, $1 trillion dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is. However, when you consider the fact that it is being distributed among 50 states in dozens of counties, districts and municipalities, it is really not as much as it seems. But the stimulus is needed. We need to provide relief funding for education, pay back-log bills within the states, invest in transportation and health care. Some of the critics of the package say that we should just let the free market work itself out. “Oh, it will come back and we won’t need to invest in these programs.” But the level of job loss will be catastrophic for our economy if we take that path.
Are you concerned, like some critics of the package are, about escalating deficits that could result from the enormous amount of spending? The key right now is to get the economy moving again. I don’t think this is just frivolous spending without a clear vision for what we hope to accomplish. President Obama has laid out an incredibly ambitious plan; one that we feel will bring revenue back into this economy and create a more solid financial foundation for the future of the country. I feel if that happens, the possibility of an inflated deficit can be worked out.
Speaking of budgets, Gov. Pat Quinn released his budget proposal last month. It highlighted his intention to address the state’s $12.5 billion deficit by raising taxes in the state by 50 percent on certain single individuals. Do you support the budget in its current form? We definitely need to balance the budget and address the state’s deficit, but I have not yet signed-on to the current budget. Among other things, the governor calls for a personal exemption expansion in the budget. Whether or not I agree to it depends on the circumstances. We are obligated to balance the state’s budget, but we have to do so with an open mind, with all options considered.
Describe one bill that you are currently working on in the Senate. One bill that I have been working on since I first took office is legislation that would rewrite the Elevator Safety and Regulation Act. We want to allow the condo owners an extension on their time to comply with the legislation to 2013. With so many people facing their own financial difficulties in these rough economic times, we need to allow the condo owners a chance to meet the safety requirements and have enough time to do it.