Democratic candidate for Illinois Senate (27th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
The state has failed to balance its budget since at least 1991. There are many reasons for this, including politics and weighing the different challenges and needs of the diverse geographic regions across the state. Historically, both parties have also been unwilling to face and close the longstanding structural deficit through revenue enhancements and modification of the taxing structure. As a result, year after year the state has cut services and borrowed to keep the government running.
Fixing this will require rebuilding a bipartisan coalition of new leaders who are not adverse to changing the current system. Even though we have the fifth-largest gross domestic product of any state, our spending on state services as a percent of GDP is 31st in the nation. This is why we have problems at DCFS (as reported by the Tribune), have lost other critical services and lack resources to effectively regulate cost drivers like Medicaid and workers compensation. It's also resulted in the pension shortfall, as the state has borrowed from its pension liabilities to make up the deficit. And most egregious, it has stolen from our children, with the state's funding of education falling from nearly 50 percent to less than 30 percent.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
No. I don't believe that enough is left to cut from the budget to close the structural deficit. Therefore, it will be absolutely necessary to find new sources of revenue to set the state's fiscal house in order.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
First, I would bring the sales tax into the 21st century by acknowledging the increased role of services in our economy. We can tax services that are used by more affluent taxpayers, such as country club memberships, lawn care, and spa services. This approach will continue to protect the incomes of middle income taxpayers. I also support legalizing and taxing marijuana, a financial transactions tax, and responsible expansion of gambling. None of this will be adequate, however, without establishing a graduated income tax.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Yes. As the vast majority of states already recognize, you cannot sustain world-class infrastructure and education and provide for other needs on a flat income tax structure. Illinois is one of only eight states with a flat tax; 34 states, including the District of Columbia, have a graduated income tax. Implementing a graduated income tax would not place Illinois at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states. Although Indiana and Michigan have flat state income tax rates, counties or municipalities are allowed to assess a separate income tax in addition to the state tax. Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota already have graduated income tax rates.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
Reduce the prison population and initiate reforms in the criminal justice system; Reduce the number of local governments within the state; Evaluate all outsourcing services to assess whether they actually produce savings; anything that can be done more cost-effectively in-house should be brought back in; Conduct a value stream analysis' in partnership with unions and employees to reduce non-value-added steps and streamline processes; Eliminate unproductive incentives used in our attempts to attract and retain businesses.
Since the Illinois Supreme Court's 2015 decision tossing bipartisan pension reform, what can and should the legislature do to control pension costs, if anything?
Benefits are not the problem with pension costs; the issue is a combination of the payment system established in 1994 and the failure to fully fund the pension some years. When a balloon payment on a mortgagee comes due, the mortgagee refinances the debt. Like a mortgage, refinancing the pension debt at a flat rate over 45 years would save the state millions of dollars. Yes, refinancing would be at a higher rate than we're currently paying, but it would be less expensive in the long run. It's important to remember, and for the public to understand, that a significant portion of the pension costs are in lieu of paying the 7.5 percent Social Security and Medicare payment. Not counting repayment of the debt, the pension actually costs the state less than an employer paying social security and contributing to a pension plan alternative (e.g., a 401k match). Therefore, any legislative change needs to carefully account for this in order to avoid creating a new set of problems.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
Any alternative proposals need to be developed in partnership with workers through their unions to include a cost benefit analysis. At this time, I do not support moving to a defined contribution plan because I believe that the overall costs would be higher.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
Before any negotiation can take place, the state needs to demonstrate good faith by taking steps to amortize the debt as described above. After years of finger pointing, the state must demonstrate a real desire to reach a mutually acceptable solution.
Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016 and the trend appears to be holding for 2017. What is the No. 1 reason, in your opinion, for the exodus?
I believe there are multiple reasons why residents leave Illinois, including: -A growing percentage of people are aging and moving to warmer climates. -The consolidation and mechanization of agribusiness is resulting in the deaths of many downstate small towns. -University students and faculty have left Illinois as a result of reduced funding and financial aid to our state schools. -An over-dependence on property taxes for funding schools and local governments is driving some residents out of state.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
Illinois does best when it invests in people and infrastructure. In my experience, this is how we'll attract and retain business. When I was the general manager of a large mail order production facility, we considered moving out of state. We decided to stay, and not because of taxes and incentives; Texas offered us more than Illinois and is a lower wage state. We stayed because we had plentiful access to skilled labor from the area's pharmacy schools and tech programs and because Illinois is the transportation hub of the country. Investing in career and technical education, particularly in areas where industries have been leaving, can also be used to attract new industries to Illinois. States like Washington and Minnesota have proved that this approach works
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
As said above, first and foremost we need to invest in people. This means investing in our education system instead of continually cutting costs. Companies can't succeed without access to a qualified workforce. That's why I so strongly support developing Career and Technology Education programs throughout the state, and those already in place in the northwest suburbs are great ones to model. Second, we need to invest in infrastructure. During the past three years, our infrastructure has continued to deteriorate as the governor and legislature have battled over the budget. Illinois is a major transportation hub, one of our greatest assets, and we need an infrastructure that continues to support this. Third, to encourage startups, the state should continue to encourage angel and venture capital investing while supporting technology transfer programs which connect research at our universities and colleges to new product development in the private sector
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
I support the evidence-based funding formula that is in the bill. However, I do not support other aspects of the bill, such as diverting public funds to private schools.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
Since many CPS schools are in high-poverty areas, the new funding formula should help reduce the funding gap they currently experience. Every effort should be made to increase the timetable to fully fund the formula to help the schools. The school board also needs to be more accountable to Chicago taxpayers. To accomplish this, I support an elected school board.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I will try to eliminate this waiver program. There is nothing that a private school does that a public school can't do if properly funded. This program is taking $75 million away from the public school system at a time when that system is already underfunded.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
Financing campaigns in Illinois has gotten out of hand. My preference is to see Illinois establish a mechanism for public financing of campaigns. However, without a reversal of Citizens United, it's unlikely that much will change, since private entities that are regulated on the federal level would still be able to make unlimited contributions. I would support any reasonable bill that demonstrates it can correct the problem. To truly address the root cause of the fundraising problem, we need to reduce the need for the funds. Shortening the time frame for campaigns to a statutorily specified period (an approach taken in England and most other world democracies) significantly lessens the need for excessive spending.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
Because I am in a contested primary, the only support I am receiving from the party is technical advice (about petitions, filing, etc.), which is also shared with my competitor.
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
I am not an incumbent.
If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.
I am not an incumbent.
Do you support term limits? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?
I support term limits for leadership positions. However, I don't support term limits for legislative office holders because it won't solve the structural problems facing our state legislature. If all things were equal in terms of campaign financing and district boundaries, it would be fairly easy to vote out a legislator who was not meeting his/her constituents' needs. Voters should be free to elect whomever they want to represent them.
Do you support changes to the redistricting process? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?
I support redistricting led by an independent commission and not the state legislature. The process must be transparent, impartial and fair. Such a process will result in more competitive races and legislators who are more responsive to their constituents.
Tell us a little about your family.
I am a lifelong resident of the northwest suburbs, having grown up in Des Plaines as the oldest of four sisters; I currently live in Arlington Heights. My mother was Lutheran General Hospital's first full-time nurse. My father was in sales and was a private pilot. When I was seven, he was in a plane crash that resulted in life-altering injuries. My mother returned to work to support the family. My sisters and I worked minimum wage jobs to contribute to the family, and with the support of state programs, we were able to go to college. I have a son and a daughter. My daughter is an early childhood educator and my son is a union organizer.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
In late 2016, I won the Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest. I had taken early retirement and was thinking about opening a bakery, and I entered the contest with that in mind. Only two months later, I attended the Women's March in Washington, D.C., after which I became motivated by my new involvement with a local grassroots Indivisible group, We the People - Mt. Prospect Area, and I felt increasingly empowered to run for office. My bakery dreams will have to wait!