Q&A With Senator Jason Plummer
The third time’s a charm for Edwardsville Republican
By GRANT MORGAN
Capitol News Illinois
The third time’s a charm for Republican Sen. Jason Plummer.
Plummer campaigned for lieutenant governor in 2010, but his running mate, Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, lost to Democrat Pat Quinn, the incumbent governor at the time. Then, as candidate for Illinois’ 12th Congressional District in 2012, Plummer lost to Democrat Bill Enyart, who garnered 52 percent of the vote compared to Plummer’s 43 percent.
But in November, Plummer was elected to represent the state’s 54th Senate District, defeating Democratic opponent Brian Stout by 40 percentage points. He was sworn in on Jan. 9.
Representing all or parts of eight counties just east of St. Louis, Plummer said his main focus this session is to improve southern Illinois’ economy.
“I’m a socially conservative guy, and I think I’ll represent the values of southern Illinois well,” Plummer said. “But my overarching focus is an economic one – bringing opportunity back to families of southern Illinois.”
Plummer was born in Staunton, where his family began a lumber business, R.P. Lumber, in 1977. The business now deals in many different fields, including real estate development, property management and hotels, with Plummer serving as vice president of corporate development. Previously, Plummer was an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves.
Plummer discussed some of his legislative priorities with Capitol News Illinois as he heads into his first legislative session. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Capitol News Illinois: Which of your experiences will add the most value to your work as a lawmaker?
Jason Plummer: I come from a business background, and we’ve created over a thousand jobs for families. I know what it takes to create quality jobs. And I think we need folks in Springfield that understand the consequences of what they do, and have lived in an environment where they’re dealing with those consequences. In the past, we’ve had some folks in Springfield who weren’t as connected in that regard.
CNI: What are your first impressions of your new job as state lawmaker?
JP: I’ve met with a lot of folks – Republicans and Democrats – and I’ve been really encouraged thus far with how many items we’re in agreement on. Now, that’s talking in hallways and chit-chatting at the Capitol. We have to also make sure we’re in agreement when the rubber hits the road, and I’m hopeful that through building good relationships and through being transparent and honest with people, we’ll be able to get good things accomplished.
CNI: What are your highest-priority economic issues?
JP: We need real workers’ compensation reform to be more competitive with our neighboring states. My workers’ comp expenses are three times what they would be in Indiana and about 2.3 times what they would be in Missouri. And that line item in the budget is not a small line item – it’s significant. Workers’ comp expenses can truly be the difference between whether or not a business can or cannot make money in Illinois.
Historically, the manufacturing, construction and transportation industries have been really important industries for Illinois, and our outrageous workers’ comp situation puts us at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to those jobs.
Our overall tax burden is also a very significant issue. I’m completely committed to property tax reform. We need to make sure that our families are not getting squeezed by out-of-control property taxes.
I’ve been involved in a million different campaigns. Usually in campaigns, there are five or six or eight different issues that you hear fairly regularly. I kid you not, 80-plus percent of the communications that we received [on my campaign] were about property taxes. People are fed up with out-of-control property taxes, and frankly what I think we’re doing to a lot of families in southern Illinois is immoral. We cannot continue to price people out of their houses. It’s just not right.
CNI: Given that property taxes are levied locally and not by the state, do you think a whole new system would be necessary to lower taxes?
JP: It’s a very important part of a broader conversation that has to be had about the tax burden in general. The overall tax burden in Illinois – sales tax, gas tax, income tax, property tax – we’re one of the highest taxed populations in the country. So I think it’s an important line item in a broader conversation.
We have to slash the number of governmental units that exist. We have something around 7,000, which is dramatically higher than any other state, even those with significantly higher populations like Texas and California. All those little units are taking part of your property taxes. So if we could streamline government that would be a great thing, and interestingly enough, there are some bills being talked about right now that would do exactly that.
CNI: If you could only accomplish one thing in the new legislative session, what would it be?
JP: The most important thing that I’m focused on is creating an environment of opportunity in southern Illinois. Back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Illinois was a growing state, businesses were coming here, people were coming here. Kids graduating immediately went into the workforce. There was optimism and opportunity. I feel like that has disappeared from a lot of parts of Illinois, and we need to turn that around.
If you create an environment where people can have good jobs, I think a lot of your other societal problems disappear.