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Preserving society: An interview with Joe Wiegand of the Family Taxpayers Network

By Bernard Chapin
web posted June 9, 2003

Joe Wiegand is the executive director for the Family Taxpayers Network (FTN). The FTN defines itself as "a multi-issue Illinois PAC which supports candidates who champion a good moral and economic climate for families and businesses." Their mission is to "…elect good political candidates and to help insure they enact good legislation." A noble but sometimes allusive goal (as was the case with our last governor). Through their website, thechampion.org, they provide precise information about school rankings and school salaries which, as the site demonstrates, are open to public scrutiny.

Joe WiegandMr. Wiegand was once named one of America's top 100 college students and has not disappointed anyone in the years since. Just a few weeks ago, he helped organize and present the 2003 Chicago Conservative Conference. He is an eloquent speaker and possesses many other talents. An example of his diversity can be found in the way that he quickly transitioned from giving The Pledge of Allegiance to singing a spontaneous rendition of "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" after discovering that there was no flag present in the banquet hall.

The Family Taxpayers Network has a thorough formula for electoral success. It suggests doing the following: educating voters on the issues, endorsing candidates, providing the voters with scorecards and guides, providing position papers, creating phone banks and enlisting volunteers, conducting seminars and campaign management software, literature development, lobbying, hosting gatherings and lobbying lawmakers. Of course, just in case all of that does not work then I'd recommend using prayer as a last resort.

BC: Mr. Wiegand, thank you for taking time out to answer some questions. First of all, could you explain to the reader what makes your organization unique as there are a great many organizations that stand for tax modification. What sets yours apart?

JW: Family Taxpayers Network (FTN) understands that families and businesses will
be better off if the ability of government to tax and spend is limited. To achieve this goal, FTN believes it is necessary to elect a better class of citizen to state and local government. To this end, we maintain a database of all seven and a half million registered voters in Illinois. We make this list available to candidates in their campaigns on the condition that candidates improve the data. Candidates may note which voters support lower taxes or other conservative issues, as well as noting who allowed yard signs or who volunteered for the campaign. Each year, the data quality improves, bettering the chances for future candidates.

BC: Congratulations on being a masterful and entertaining MC last weekend at the Chicago Conservative Conference. How do events like this benefit your organization? What's the next project that the Family Taxpayers Network is going to take on?

JW: Thanks for the compliment. Family Taxpayers Network is one of dozens of conservative/libertarian organizations in Illinois. When our organizations and volunteers work together, we have a better chance of prevailing in elections and in our lobbying efforts. The Chicago Conservative Conference is a valuable opportunity to build cooperative relationships among our community's leaders.

At FTN, we have two major projects to carry us through the summer. We continue to lead the call for the dismissal of Illinois' Republican National Committeeman Bob Kjellander. Mr. Kjellander, a powerful Springfield lobbyist, has done his best to make the Illinois GOP a wishy-washy, moderate organization. His won-loss record in Illinois is abysmal, and his role in ousting the clean and competent Gary MacDougal from the state GOP chairmanship is damning. Because personnel is policy, Kjellander must go.

While we work to improve the GOP, we are also taking on the bulwark of Liberal Democrats, the Illinois Education Association. We are authoring a how-to pamphlet, "Defeating the Teacher's Union Scam: Defeating Referendums, Winning School Board Elections and Re-writing Union Contracts." Much of this work relies upon the expertise of Jack Roeser, our founder and president, who has been a many decade leader for school choice and against higher education taxes.

BC: I don't even know if you're aware of this but your site www.thechampion.org is well known to all school personnel. Anytime someone wants to change jobs they consult your tables regarding what the pay will be in the districts they contact. That certainly wasn't your purpose in creating the data base. Am I correct in saying the function of your website is to increase educational responsibility and taxpayer awareness?

JW: You are correct. Often, school administrators and teachers unions note a first year starting salary, usually between $25,000 and $35,000 per year, when they begin to advocate large pay raises or the tax increases to pay for them. By posting real salary data for teachers and administrators throughout the state, we are able to expose the fallacy of underpaid teachers. Our website allows local voters to use real data to challenge local school and union officials. Learning that a drivers education teacher with a masters degree earns over $100,000 for nine months of work tends to throw a little cold water on a tax increase effort.

BC: What do you say to people who think that the problems with education are that there are simply not enough funds? Do you think teachers on the whole are adequately compensated?

JW: In Illinois, total federal, state and local spending on education has increased tremendously in the last decade, and yet school performance continues to disappoint. Clearly, a school choice model that rewarded schools and teachers based on results would be better for students, families and education professionals. Only those who find sanctuary in the top down education bureaucracy would fear such a meritocracy. The teacher's union scam rewards seniority and continuing education rather than results. So, we see talented young teachers earning very little while the biggest salaries go to long-serving teachers who have advantaged themselves of advanced degrees of questionable value. Eventually, this last bastion of ineffective government monopoly will fall of its own weight. In a market-based choice model, good teachers should be earning at or above the higher pay levels seen today.

BC: Is there a tax that you hate the most? If you had the choice of eliminating one tax what would it be?

JW: Interesting question. Personally, I agree with efforts to eliminate the income tax, as it is terribly inefficient to administer and penalizes achievement. At FTN, most of our work has gone to defeating income, sales and property tax increases on the state and local level. Would that the people of this state had leaders who were inspired to actually eliminate taxes. As a matter of principle, FTN has advocated eliminating the tollways in Illinois, a promise made when the tollways were established. While the tollway as a user fee is a rational model, the continuation of the toll simply promotes the waste, fraud and inefficiency which has been well documented at the Tollway Authority.

BC: Maybe I'm going out on a limb by asking you this but do you agree that the notion of a property tax is illegitimate? I mean government is really taxing money for a second or even third time whenever it collects your property taxes.

JW: Again, your questions are thought provoking. Our state constitution allows for the taxing of real property, and the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution acknowledges state authority in this area, so I think I'm ok with its legitimacy. While the property tax in Illinois is onerous, it is one that gets the taxpayer's attention and one over which the local property tax payer has some say. Unlike the death by bleeding of withholding taxes or the
virtually unnoticed payment of sales and excise taxes, a property tax bill will actually cause my usually sedate neighbors to experience a moment of kinship with the tax revolt. Translating this taxpayer anger into political action is the challenge.

BC: What can the government do to help families? Do you believe that it is sound governmental policy for our legislature to have a bias in favor of married couples? Isn't marriage the bedrock of societal stability?

JW: The best thing government can do to help families is to provide families with school choice. Many millions of American families are exercising school choice in private schools, charter schools and home schools. Still, many millions more are trapped in under-performing government schools. Americans need school choice, in part, because of the strong anti-family bias contained in government school curriculums. Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of civilization and that institution is under attack in the schools, in the legislative assemblies and in the workplace. FTN will support candidates who demonstrate a bias in favor of traditional families.

BC: Let's say a person lives in a state with serious economic difficulties, like say Illinois for example. What types of immediate action can government take to ameliorate their shortages? I know by your past history you won't say increasing taxes. What course of action would you recommend to our beleaguered and befuddled legislature?

JW: To the point of your question, Illinois government can help the down and out by avoiding tax and fee increases which hurt Illinois employers. Unfortunately, our governor is likely to sign just such tax and fee increases in the coming days. These new laws will cost more Illinois jobs, adding to the economic malaise. Tax refunds, rebates and reductions would help spur the Illinois economy, but don't hold your breath. Finally, there is one tax increase we have advocated and the legislature just adopted in part. Casino gambling in Illinois is a government monopoly, limited to ten licensees in different parts of the state. Currently, by our estimates, licensees earn an approximate 300% annual return on investment. We believe casinos, as a state regulated monopoly, should be limited to a generous twenty percent return on investment. The state legislature just increased the highest marginal tax rate to 70% on adjusted gross revenues in excess of $250 million. While short of our advocacy of auctioning the licenses to the highest bidder, this is a step in the right direction.

BC: Isn't the biggest challenge convincing people that the taxes they pay are not charity? There is this misguided assumption that people are "saving the world" every time they write out a check to the I.R.S. How do you combat this argument when people believe that every dollar they give a bureaucrat helps humanity?

JW: Actually, the biggest challenge is convincing citizens that political involvement can decrease the size of the checks they write to government. Fear and loathing of government is a healthy American tradition, and it is alive and well. Countless are the citizens who know that their tax dollars are wasted and ill spent. The challenge is to get these irate taxpayers to become precinct captains or school board members, where they can really have an impact on public policy and the tax bills it creates.

BC: Lastly, could you tell us something about your organization's found, Jack Roeser? I've seen him speak twice. Would you agree that he's a role model for what a grass roots conservative should be?

JW: I can't say enough about Jack Roeser. He comes from common Chicago stock. He took a break from pursuing an engineering degree at the University of Illinois to join the Army and saw duty in the Philippines and Japan during World War II. Jack worked for some big Chicago companies, starting many successful business ventures and inventing many gadgets. In 1962, Jack struck out on his own, founding Otto Engineering, named for his father, with a five thousand dollar investment. Today, Otto Engineering employs over 450 workers in a family owned electronic switch manufacturing business. Jack serves as Chairman of Otto, while his son, Tom Roeser, a Purdue engineer, serves as President and runs the day to day operations. Eighty years old this August, Jack is in the office every day, leading and inspiring our efforts. Every summer, Jack and his crew compete in the Chicago-Mackinac sail boat race on the Jeannine, named for Mrs. Roeser. In 1985, they won the race.

Jack Roeser believes that good people, with conservative values, are worthy of support when they make the decision to run for local or state office. Imagine how much easier lobbying for our issues would be if our legislature wasn't dominated by a second class of citizen who puts political expediency before principle. Each and every year, Jack Roeser stays in the fight against bigger government, a fight in Illinois which is more often lost than won. Win or lose, he returns to the fray, armed with the truth and the desire to see good accomplished. His optimism, determination and generosity are characteristics which make him an excellent role model for grassroots conservatives.

Thanks for your time, Joe.

Bernard Chapin is a school psychologist and adjunct faculty member in Chicago. He can be reached at emeritus@flash.net.

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