Democratic candidate for Illinois House (17th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
In short, I believe it's because we have prioritized political interests and personal agendas over simply doing what's right for children and working families across Illinois.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
I believe that we must live within our financial means in Illinois and make the necessary cost reductions to do so, but also generate the appropriate revenue to fund our key priorities €“ educating our children, providing healthcare to the most vulnerable and elderly, and keeping residents safe. If we destroy the cornerstones of our safety net and the hallmarks of a true democracy, we will all pay the price for years to come.
We need to take the same approach with our deficit at the state level as I took when President of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board, where we faced a $128M deficit over eight years. In District 65, we first looked internally at where we could reduce costs. Next, we worked with our community partners to improve and expand programs through innovative partnerships. We then brought all of our employee groups together and negotiated a restructure of our compensation structure to slow the pace of expense growth and connect it to our growth in revenue. Only then did we go to the community for the first time in 30 years to increase funding for our schools because we had attracted 1,500 new students. The community responded with 80% support for our schools. This is a perfect example of shared sacrifice and how taking shared responsibility can work.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
I would support both a graduated income tax and extension of sales tax to only specific types and categories of services including high-end, luxury services where there is significant price inelasticity as potential new sources of revenue for the state.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Yes. Illinois is one of only four states in the U.S. with a constitutionally mandated flat tax. This forces middle class individuals and families in Illinois to pay a disproportionate amount into the tax system, while not asking those who make more to pay more. This simply does not make sense. We need fair tax reform in Illinois that is progressive and not regressive. Ultimately, we must shift the balance of revenue sources, so that property tax revenue is not the dominant source of funding for critical priorities like public education, which the state is dramatically under-funding.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
Illinois' biggest issue is not spending. The lack of funding to critical services, including higher education and particularly social services, during the budget impasse has had a detrimental and lasting impact on our society creating an even larger drain on services and reducing income sources to the state. That said, there is a very clear need for shared sacrifice as we work our way out of this deep hole due of decades of mismanagement. As a management consultant who focused on cost reduction and efficiency gains in large organizations, I bring expertise in this area. I would explore the following options:
- Consolidate the more than 600 separate police and fire pension funds to gain efficiencies in administrative costs and fees. Collectively, with the police and fire unions, I believe we could negotiate a fair consolidation that would in no way affect benefits, but it would bring lower costs and efficiency gains to employees and the state.
- Politicians and elected or appointed members of the Governor's office should voluntarily change their pension benefit structure to reduce costs. The Illinois General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) offers the earliest retirement dates coupled with the most generous formula for calculating payments. This makes absolutely no sense and should be a no-brainer for any leader committed to public service.
- Restructure the early childhood system, so there is a single body responsible and accountable for all early learning programs regardless of funding source. For instance, the efficiency and impact of all six home visiting programs we currently fund would be evaluated on the same accountability model and the most effective could receive more investment. Data has proven time and again that there is at 13x return on investment to spend on quality, early childhood programming. We must make the most of these investments.
- Restructure the outsourcing of social service supports in our state. While I understand the intent of outsourcing services to non-profit agencies that may be more flexible in hiring and closer to clients, this model has proven costly to support and has created a system that is redundant and leaves our most vulnerable citizens underserved.
- In FY17, $46M was allocated to assessment spending in the ISBE budget. I believe we do need annual assessments that can track student growth and be used by educators to impact instruction. However, PARCC is not that type of assessment. The accountability role of PARCC can be achieved without testing the entire population each year and would result in savings for the state and for local school districts.
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?
The Supreme Court's decision was clear. We cannot legally diminish benefits for current employees or retirees. I believe the best path to reaching agreement on ways to address pension costs over time is to bring all the parties together, which is the approach we took when addressing our deficits locally in District 65. Together, the parties can explore options such as voluntary buyouts for defined benefit employees such that a portion of the expected value of the benefit is accepted today and the employee takes control over the funds and its investment. The most critical aspects of the dialogue needs to be around fairness to employees and ensuring higher predictability that the benefit will actually be there when collected.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
The only condition under which new employees should be moved to a defined contribution plan would be if all components of compensation and benefits are evaluated and negotiated together. When I participated in negotiations with our teacher's union, we looked at only a portion of compensation — setting salary levels, salary growth, and healthcare. It is unfair to the process and to the parties if they can't look at the whole picture during negotiations. I would work to make this a more holistic bargaining process as possible.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
First and foremost, the Governor must stay at the table throughout these negotiations. Taking your ball and going home is not only disrespectful but also unproductive. Similar to the previous question, I think the biggest change that can/should be made is to ensure the ability to evaluate and bargain the complete compensation package alongside other working condition areas. While the pension component may be set, that value needs to be reflected in the bargaining process.
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 the number one reason people are leaving was and is uncertainty regarding our long-term fiscal situation and the lack of confidence residents have in the ability of our leaders to change the trajectory of our state.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
There is no single set of policy actions that will unilaterally reverse this trend. It needs to be a combination of transparent, honest discussion about the state of our state, the consequences we face if we don't take action, and the range of options available. It takes leadership at all levels, and I want to be part of that leadership.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
We need to look at the interrelationship between job readiness, workforce development, and job creation. As I speak with employers in high growth companies in my district, they are not able to recruit and retain employees to meet their needs. This, in turn, hinders employer's ability to expand. We need to provide incentives to high schools and community colleges in particular to build targeted programming for high growth jobs and enable us to better prepare our young people for higher wage careers.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
Overall, I believe SB1947 is a significant step forward in increasing equity and quality in our K-12 public schools across the state. That said, I believe there are specific aspects of the law that require further evaluation and vigilante oversight by legislators like myself who have expertise and experience in our schools, from volunteers to board members to policymakers. It is negligent, for example, to give tax credits for private and parochial scholarships when we are 50th in the nation in terms of state funding of education. In addition, funding for the $350M in new revenue to public schools has not yet been allocated, and we must ensure it actually happens each year. Finally, the current law wrongly penalizes school districts that are growing in enrollment because state funding is held at the same level for most if not all the schools in my district regardless of the number of students served.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
Chicago Public Schools will most benefit when the states finally starts living up to its constitutionally mandated responsibility and adequately funds our schools. At the macro level, the inadequacy of state funding hamstrings our most under-resourced schools, many of which are in CPS. Limiting the volume of unfunded mandates would also benefit CPS significantly. As a local school board leader I know that many of these mandates, while well-intentioned, are difficult, if not impossible, to implement unless they have some technical assistance/funding associated with them. Finally, attacks on adequate federal funding for special needs students will disproportionately impact CPS because of the strains for such a large district to supplement or replace this funding when reduced. I believe the Illinois state legislature needs to closely focus on the impacts of the changes to federal education funding and in particular mitigate any adverse impacts on the most vulnerable and marginalized students and families.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I do not support opportunity scholarships as outlined above and would work to eliminate or reduce the program if elected.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
The easiest and most effective campaign finance reform would be to cap spending by office sought. The spending limits could be set by an independent body and grow at the pace of inflation only. This would include lowering individual contribution limits, donations from PACs, and other political committees. Additionally, I believe that campaign time frames should be limited because the extension of campaigns to roughly two years is unnecessary and leads to increased expense by design.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
I am receiving no help or resources from the Democratic party at the state level or its leadership. I am seeking endorsements from the local democratic parties as are my opponents but this process has not yet happened.
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.
Do you support term limits? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?
Yes, and yes.
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?
Yes, and yes.
Tell us a little about your family.
I was raised by a single mother, Jackie Parks, who wasn't able to graduate high school and worked two jobs to pay the bills. She taught me the importance of education, hard work, and giving back, and in so many ways she is the reason I'm running for state representative. My husband Dan Chow currently works at the Kellogg School of Management in Executive Education, is an excellent cook, and father to our two beautiful daughters, aged 12 and 15, who attend local public schools in Evanston.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people have trouble spelling or pronouncing my name correctly. (Its pronounced pronounced CAND-is). But surprisingly (at least to most), like my name, I Can Dance and attended a performing arts high school.