Mayor Dale Fowler wants to be a servant to the public
Harrisburg Mayor Dale Fowler said it's embarrassing that Illinois has spent more than $900 million on penalties for not paying its bills on time over the past six years.
“Can you imagine? You know how it is when somebody like you or me doesn’t pay our electric bill on time and gets stuck with a late fee? That makes the average person mad,” Fowler told Southwest Illinois News. “But can you imagine $900 million? [Imagine] what would that do to help education? You might as well drive down the interstate and throw [the money] out the window. That’s all it’s good for.”
The report, done by the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based government watchdog group, paints a picture of waste. Fowler, currently running a campaign for Senate District 59, said this mismanagement is an embarrassment and is an example of the failed status quo.
“It’s embarrassing," Fowler said. "It’s embarrassing as a citizen and appalling. The list goes on and on how mismanaged the State of Illinois has been in the last decade. Where has everybody been that has allowed this to happen? The status quo of just business as usual doesn’t work.”
Speaking of business, Fowler said he believes that some business sensibilities can help Illinois get back on track. He alluded to the similarities.
“I grew up in business," he said. "People said that the State of Illinois is not a business, but it can be treated like one. You have to have a budget; you have to spend within your means; you have to grow your revenue and grow your resources. That’s how businesses prosper; same concept with the State of Illinois.”
Born and raised on a farm, where he said he learned his work ethic, Fowler has known business all his life. He ran his family’s meat packaging company in his early 20s and helped it succeed. While other farms were failing, Fowler began to think outside the barn, so to speak. Instead of raising the prices to offset loss, he created new businesses and customers.
“We can’t just raise the price of our services,” Fowler said. “We must create new business. I started the initiative of getting into venison and deer meat processing. In three years times, we were the No. 1 producer of smoked deer sausages in the entire tri-state area. I went out to other states and started bringing in business. Just like we need to do in Illinois.”
Fowler explained that, like a business, Illinois can’t keep charging or asking more from its customers, i.e., the citizens.
“We can’t just raise taxes because if all you did in business was raise the price of your product and never try to increase your revenue by bringing more business, what’s going to happen to your business?" Fowler asked. "You’re going to fail, right? And what happens if you fail? You lose jobs.”
Raising taxes, he reiterated, has caused many to leave Illinois. And he said he fears many more are planning to leave the state.
“You can’t just raise taxes," Fowler said. "We see what is going on. The data is out there. People are leaving the State of Illinois, thousands a month. How many businesses are leaving? And, what we probably don’t know, what we don’t have data on right now, is how many businesses are planning to leave that haven’t left yet. I know of a few right here in Southern Illinois that are saying ‘if things don’t change quick, we’re gone.’ And this is just Southern Illinois.”
People and businesses leaving the state are not the only issues that concern Fowler. He is a firm believer in education. So it is disappointing to him that the school systems are not getting the help they need. The education funding proposed by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), which passed the Senate on Tuesday, is not the approach to take, he said.
“It’s easy to be out there in these press releases and promising this and promising that," Fowler said. "But our kids deserve more than press conferences and empty promises. Right now, our schools, they are on life support. Guess what is going to happen? Our teachers are going to be let go. Continued layoffs. Our students' academic futures are obviously going to be in jeopardy because all the politicians are pointing fingers.”
Fowler said that a decision needs to be made soon before the schools open again in the fall. If a funding formula fails, there will be consequences.
“If the House and Senate can’t agree on a new funding formula before the summer vacation starts, which is right now basically, they must, in my opinion, at the very least, need to fully fund the schools under the current formula,” he said. "I’ve talked to local superintendents all over the districts. They need to be planning for next year and not worrying about whether or not the doors are going to be open. That is not where their focus should be.”
Fowler has heard the anxiety of educators and their concerns about receiving enough funding.
“Right here in Harrisburg, the superintendent told me that they have 37 days in reserve,” he said. “So if they don’t have other revenues that come in between now and when school starts this fall, they have 37 days of operating capital. And you’ve got schools up north in Chicago that have millions of dollars of reserves. And we’re sitting on 37 days, just speaking of Harrisburg alone. Why even open the doors when you only have 37 days?”
The mayor, if elected to the state Senate, hopes to change Springfield so that the school funding and the budget matters will be resolved quickly. He stressed that an implementation of term limits in the House and Senate will help keep things going.
“I am fully in support of term limits,” he said. “I’m on the phone with people, I’m traveling over the district, I’m going to meetings everyday and almost every group I’ve talked to has asked about term limits and are in support of term limits.”
Fowler said he will limit himself if he gets elected; however, he doesn’t think a vote on term limits is going to be allowed in the upcoming November election. He said he disproves of House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and his party refusing to look at term limits. The reason? Fowler states that more and more politicians are losing sight of who they are serving.
“I think everyone in Springfield needs to be reminded who they work for," Fowler said. "They work for the public. Government is supposed to be a public service not a profession. Government is a public service.”
Serving the public is the mayor’s goal if he is elected to the Senate. He said he doesn’t consider himself to be a politician.
“I don’t look at myself as a politician," Fowler said. "I look at myself as a servant. It’s a community service that I am doing just like I do with my charitable foundation, being the mayor, being a banker, a business development guy. I’m doing a service. I’ll feel the same way if I become a senator. I want people to know that I’m not a politician. I am a servant.”
He said he is encouraged by the fact that there are so many other candidates feeling the same way and putting their professional business aside to jump into the race for the right reasons.
“It’s going to be their service," he said. “They are willing to take their valuable time and focus on doing their part to get Illinois back on track."