Democratic candidate for Illinois Senate (8th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
It has been difficult to pass a balanced budget because of lack of adequate and stable revenue sources and the historical failure to address growing pension obligations. It is important to remember that Illinois state spending per capita is among the lowest in the nation. Governor Rauner's resistance to exploring common-sense revenue solutions, such as a graduated income tax, or even the obvious need, in the absence of a graduated income tax, to make the 5% income tax rate permanent has significantly contributed to the lack of a balanced budget.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
First and foremost, our state needs stability. It will be very difficult to balance the budget going forward without additional and stable sources of revenue. We need to confront the structural imbalances between revenue and expenses in a sustainable and permanent way that reflects a real commitment to put Illinois back on the right track; this may mean making hard decisions in the short term that pay off in the long turn.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
The most important revenue source should be a graduated income tax. Historically, states with a graduated income tax have recovered faster in a recession than states with a flat tax structure. We also need to close corporate tax loopholes. I also support exploring other sources of revenue that many other states utilize, such as the "LaSalle Street tax," taxation of retirement income and/or an expansion of services subject to tax. Ultimately, our guiding principle in choosing revenue sources, should be ones that are reliable, stable and not regressive and can support our economy even in the downturns.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Yes. A graduated income tax is needed to bring in revenue in order to bridge the gap in our budget deficit. It is also fundamentally fairer, and better economic policy to tax higher-income individuals, who save more of their income, at a higher rate than lower-income individuals, who spend a far greater percentage of their income in the local economy. A constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax is one necessary step toward addressing Illinois's structural budget problems.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
- Illinois has had several years of cuts to human services, higher education, and Medicaid. The last couple of years without a budget have had a devastating impact on our social safety nets under the Rauner administration. We need to be very careful and strategic with any additional cuts. We have seen that some short-sighted cuts have ended up costing more down the road; for example, cutting after school programs and crime prevention programs have resulted in a spike in crimes with resulting human and economic costs. In general, I support thoughtful cuts whose short and long-term impact is well-studied. To the extent that there are inefficient departments or duplicative or wasteful services within governmental agencies, I would support cutting them.
- I support consolidation of local units of government that are often duplicative and inefficient.
- Opportunity scholarships for private schooling should be cut.
- I would support merging the Treasurer's and the Comptroller's offices if after careful study the merger saves taxpayers money and doesn't compromise transparency and ethical operation of the new entity.
- I would support reviewing how our public safety dollars are being spent in our prison system to see how those monies could be gradually shifted from expensive incarcerations to crime prevention and community improvements to prevent crime and generate savings.
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?
We need to fully fund the pension systems. It is important to have pensions for state employees, and we must have the ability to pay for it. I support a graduated income tax and the "LaSalle Street" tax to generate much-needed revenue in our state without making additional cuts. We should not re-amortize the current debt, but we need to have a dedicated source of revenue for pension payments that cannot be touched by future General Assemblies.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
New state workers should not be moved into defined contribution plans. We need to find a sensible solution to ballooning pension debts.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
The governor needs to enter into contract negotiations in good faith without the intent of stripping benefits from public employees. We can support our public employees without slashing the rest of our state budget by modernizing our tax code and entering these negotiations in good faith, while considering the constraints on our state budget. It is therefore critical our next governor is reasonable in his view of labor and understands both the pension systems and details of our state's budget.
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?
One leading factor that is within the control of elected leaders is the perception that Illinois is mismanaged and corrupt. The state did not have a budget for two years, our tax rate and revenue sources were uncertain, and we still do not have a solid plan for how the state is going to fund pension debt. All these have contributed to a sense of uncertainty, mismanagement, and instability. Residents and business cannot make plans for their future when their government does not function properly and makes unpredictable decisions with serious impact on people's lives. For example, threats to our social safety net from having no state budget led some of people who rely on those services to leave, as well as many young people, like Early Intervention therapists, to build their careers in a more secure environment. Some business have left the state because they could not make a 10 year plan and grow their business if they had no certainty of the tax rate and fiscal condition of the state.
In addition, not only are property taxes high, but Cook County residents justifiably feel that the system is stacked against the average homeowner, and in favor of those who can afford the high-priced property tax attorneys who contribute to the tax officials' campaign coffers. Electing more reform-minded and truly independent leaders who are willing to work across the aisle and whose only interest is the public interest, would restore confidence that the state is on a stable and promising future. We also cannot discount the role of unemployment and underemployment in Illinois, especially relative to its neighboring states. Unemployment data indicates that Illinois's unemployment rates are at least 1.5% higher than almost all of its neighbors. Thus, we must focus on policies that stimulate the growth of well-paying jobs.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
First and foremost, Illinois needs to demonstrate fiscal stability. That means we need stable revenue sources, rational budget processes, pragmatic plan to pay our debt and pension obligations and stable funding for our human services and higher education. We also need to promote job creation in various ways, including investment in clean energy and recycling technologies, and free college, especially for those highly promising students who otherwise cannot afford it. The state should also create a program similar to the federal first-time home buyer tax credit. If first-time homebuyers agree to stay in their home for 5 years; they should receive a tax credit from the state. Likewise, the state should consider a tax credit for young college graduates who remain in the state to work.
Public safety is also part of this equation. Gun violence on our streets contributes to an exodus not only from Chicago, but sometimes from the state. Violence likely impacts not just those who are directly affected by it, but could be a compounding negative factor for those who are feeling negative about their prospects in Illinois for other reasons. At the state level, this requires more attention to cutting the flow of guns into the wrong hands.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Illinois needs to invest in companies that invest in the state. We need to maintain and train an educated workforce. Invest in infrastructure and schools. Partner with both national and international partners to bring in more businesses.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
I support much of the education funding reform bill that was passed. The new education funding formula that will now be implemented is vital in order to support school districts with the greatest needs. I also support the pension relief provided by the funding reform bill. I know that our pension obligations are making it tough for our government entities to survive and thrive, and we need to find creative solutions in order to continue to hold up our end of the deal for workers while continuing to come up with the resources necessary to ensure every child has access to a high-quality public education. However, the troublesome portion of the bill was the part that provides tax credits for private schools. This sets a precedent that I fear will grow into a full-blown voucher program in this state at a time where we all need to be investing everything we have into public education and not providing incentives to opt out.
I am a firm believer in public education and how it can lift up children, families, and communities - and that we should be doing everything possible to ensure the success of our public school system. I myself am a proud Local School Council member of my 8 year-old daughter's school, Sauganash Elementary, which is our wonderful neighborhood school that we have the privilege to attend. Every child in Illinois should have access to a public school like ours and that is something I am committed to working on in Springfield.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
The legislature needs to allocate more money to all public schools. Many states pay a much higher percentage of public school budgets. As more state funding becomes available for public schools, the need to have high property taxes lessons and reduced property taxes encourages more residents, especially those on a fixed income to remain in their homes and in the state.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
No. If elected I would support eliminating the program.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
Yes. Political party committees should not be able to give unlimited amounts to candidates. In addition, people who are running for judge currently make contributions to party leaders; they should be prohibited from contributing before and after their election. Also, Illinois' contribution limits are more than twice the federal limits, and the corporation limits are four times higher than the federal individual limits, whereas corporate contributions to candidate committees are banned. Given the prevalence of self-financed candidates, it is difficult to recommend cutting those limits dramatically because those who are not self-financed need to be able to compete, but this is a matter that deserves more attention.
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 not receiving any help from the Democratic party or the leadership. I am qualified to serve not by my connections to powerful people or special interests, but by my long history of civic engagement. I am the only viable candidate in this race who is truly independent of party leadership and any interest group.
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?
I do not support term limits for legislators. Although term limits for elected officials sounds good on paper, in practice it leads to inexperienced legislators with no institutional knowledge or experience or deep understanding of issues who have to rely on staff and lobbyists to get educated. The nature of the job is such that most representatives and senators do not remain in office to warrant a term limit.
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, I support changing the redistricting process. I believe an independent, transparent, and impartial commission should be in charge of redistricting. I would commit to sponsoring legislation and lobbying my colleagues if elected.
Tell us a little about your family.
My husband, Brandon, and our 8 year-old daughter, Norah, live in the Sauganash Park community where we have resided for over 5 years. Norah attends the local neighborhood CPS, Sauganash Elementary, and I'm a proud member of our Local School Council.
My grandfather, Owen McAteer, came here from Ireland and Brandon's father, Paul Fournier, arrived in the United States from Canada. Both of these men had a strong work ethic that they passed on to their children and grandchildren. Owen McAteer worked at the Illinois Central Railroad for forty-two years. He was a proud member of his union, The Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen. That union membership helped him to support his family throughout the depression and after. Paul Fournier became a mechanical aeronautical engineer. His inventions earned him several patents registered with the United States Patent Office. My parents are Owen and Rosalie McAteer. My father, now retired, was an agent for Farmers Insurance. My mother, also retired, worked as a social worker at a nursing home. My sister, Catherine McAteer, my only sibling, is a Cook County Public Defender.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Before marrying my mother and entering the insurance business, my father served as a Catholic priest in Chicago's black community at three different parishes. My mother had a similar background. She served as a Glenmary Catholic sister in Appalachia. My parents gave me their strong Catholic values of service, humility, and helping the less fortunate, and those core values are what drive my interest in public service.