Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (10th District district)
Responses to our questions
In preparing future budgets, Cook County may face rising costs and static revenues. How should county government evolve? What specific finance strategy will you encourage for producing balanced budgets? Please be decisive.
During my tenure as a Cook County Commissioner, I have consistently voted for balanced budgets. This most recent budget included many difficult decisions but ultimately led to an increased collaboration among board members.
As Commissioners we came together to fill a budget gap created by the repeal of the sweetened beverage tax, a tax that I was against from the beginning. Through collaboration and good faith negotiation, we were able to maintain our critical safety net services at the hospital and criminal justice system without placing another burden on residents in the form of a tax increase. County government should evolve as all governments need to - to take on those tasks that only government can do and to look carefully where alternatives exist.
Responsible reduction of debt and continued investment into our pension funds must remain a part of short-term and long-term finance plans. Without a doubt, there are troubling signs ahead - the budget was balanced on several kinds of one-time savings that cannot be repeated in 2018. Our duty and opportunity in preparing future budgets is to start this dialogue now. This applies to both revenue and savings, both of these need to be put into a public process well before the budget is presented - not just before it is passed.
For savings, we must also consider how we interact with other levels of government to avoid duplication and find efficiencies to achieve a balance between those who use our services, those who provide them, and those who pay for them. But we must also be creative and find a new way to provide traditional services.
Budgets can be more than cuts and taxes - they can also include growth. To do so, economic development cannot happen in a vacuum it must be coupled with a healthy workforce, neighborhood revitalization, and a friendly business environment. This is why I passed paid sick leave, created the Cook County Land Bank and introduced apprenticeships back to the County.
The Land bank, focuses on two missions that spur development, insure it is shared equally and done in a way that is financially sustainable: we sell homes to developers who are committed to home ownership, we insure that our developer base is diverse and reflective of the community and we use no taxpayer funds. Four years and over 200 homes later, 75% of the homes we have redeveloped have been sold for homeownership and we have over 190 developers, the majority of whom are African American or Latino and that is growing. It's not enough to have development, it must build wealth in all communities.
If faced in budget debates with cutting the county's payroll or raising taxes, which one will you choose, and why? Please be decisive.
It is impossible to make a static prediction regarding a dynamic budget situation. I can, however, point to my track record. Going forward, there will likely need to be a continued balance of shared sacrifices and needed revenue to ensure we are meeting our obligations without gutting essential services and the men and women who work each day to deliver these services.
Do you favor or oppose privatization of county services and downsizing of the county's workforce?
There are some functions - jail, courts, some public health functions - that only government can do, and private involvement can be counter-productive. Then there are some that require specialized expertise or equipment that is difficult to source for one time or infrequent enough not to merit investment. Those are the types of services or functions best outsourced.
There are others in the middle that can seem attractive for outsourcing, but we need to be rigorous in making the delineation and insure that outsourcing improves services and doesn't just move management elsewhere.
The Cook County Land Bank is an example of the outsourcing of what were traditionally taxpayer financed services - the rehab, demo and redevelopment of vacant and blighted properties. The Land Bank not only provides those functions and all attendant costs without a dollar of taxpayer financing, but also has added over $20 Million in value to the tax rolls. The concept of looking outside of the usual way of doing business can have real impact on the County and its residents - be creative!
The relative stability of the county health system has reduced the costs to taxpayers. How can the county now stabilize the finances of the public safety and court systems?
In order to prepare for the evolution of the Affordable Care Act, the County created CountyCare, enabling the expansion of both insurance and affordable healthcare to an additional 400,000 residents in Cook County.
Because uninsured patients traditionally have the lowest rate of payment - getting more people covered connects them to the County, improves their care with regular providers and increases the potential to be reimbursed for services. This is just one cost saving initiative that has also expanded healthcare coverage throughout the County.
Just as we acted proactively to cut costs and stabilize the County health system, we must now do the same to the public safety and court systems. Pressing the implementation in the Clerk's office of e-filing will continue to lead to cost savings if implemented effectively. Continuing to push on a risk-based analysis of who needs to be in jail versus electronic monitoring or I-bonds will create a stable assessment of what the true jail population will be.
The population has dropped dramatically in the last several years and in order to make long term decisions on facilities and operations to achieve the savings that a 30% decline in population would suggest requires confidence that these numbers can be sustained.
What is the role of the County Board in accelerating criminal defendants' time to trial and otherwise speeding up the flow of court cases? What if any changes do you propose for defendants' pre-trial release and electronic monitoring?
Reforming our bail and bond system so that offenders are held in relation to the risk they pose to appear, to themselves or to society, is one common sense approach that will reduce costs and help to unclog our public safety system. Over the past few years, we have made great strides when it comes to criminal justice reform, but we cannot stop now. I pledge to continue to be proactive champion for reforming our public safety system and court system. Specifically we need to look at the population of pregnant women in the jail and what happens before and after they give birth. Barring the most extreme circumstances, pregnant women should not be held in jail awaiting trail and separating newborns and new mothers is unacceptable. Housing new mothers at the Women's Treatment or back at Haymarket should be adopted as soon as possible.
Do you favor or oppose contracting with municipalities or other public bodies to take over services now provided by the county's highway department, the forest preserve police, and other county-run offices? Please be specific.
Continuous improvement mandates that we test the premise of how Cook County interacts with other local governments and internal agencies to avoid duplication and find efficiencies. Currently, the County highway department maintains unincorporated roads that overlap with roads maintained by another body of government. Illinois has more units of government than any other state in the country, so it stands that merging duplicitous functions should be one of the first places we examine for common sense cost savings
Do you believe unincorporated areas of Cook County are paying their share for services provided by the county? What if any changes do you propose?
With scale comes efficiency and as the unincorporated areas have shrunk, the services provided to them have, as a rule, become more expensive. That doesn't mean that they are getting more or better services and in some cases the service levels, especially in health and safety are unacceptable, it is that serving them is more costly. Having these areas be absorbed by the closest municipality makes the most sense for service and cost. However, there has been resistance from various fronts. To address the most pressing concerns, at least separating out the life safety functions and incorporating them into a neighboring municipality is a first step forward.
What specific changes, if any, do you advocate for Cook County's property assessment system? Do you favor or oppose creation of an office of tax administration to combine functions now performed by several offices?
I have long been a supporter an office of tax administration to combine functions now performed by several offices if, in doing so, County taxpayers saw operational efficiencies without losing access to services. In striving for continued improvement, we must at all times consider, weigh and test how Cook County interacts with other local governments and internal agencies to avoid duplication and find efficiencies to achieve a balance between those who use our services, those who provide them, and those who pay for them. Consolidation of local government functions needs to be a focus going forward and not just in the Tax Administration area.
For incumbents: During your current term, on what proposed ordinances have you been the primary sponsor? For challengers: What proposed ordinances would you introduce?
Paid Sick Leave; Cook County Apprenticeship Program; The Settlement Disclosure Ordinance to increase transparency of all county legal settlements above $500,000.00. In such cases, the State's Attorney's Office will now have to provide commissioners information regarding any legal conflicts of interest of any party to the suit, any violations the county's ethics ordinance, the current status of employee stakeholders named in the proposed settlement, and any significant tangible evidence the State's Attorney's Office believes is relevant; CCHHS Direct Access Program to increase the number of insured patients.
Candidates for Cook County Board (10th District district)
- Bridget Gainer
- Mary Ann Kosiak (No survey)