Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (13th 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.
The world is urbanizing. People are moving away from rural towns and agricultural areas and into large metropolitan cities. Wealthy urban centers, like Chicago, can stand to benefit greatly from this global trend.
At the moment, Cook County's population is declining, but that condition makes us a global outlier. I believe that it is essential our local government act to prevent this trend from continuing, before we are irreparably damaged by it.
Any series of reforms that works to stop Cook County's population decline must begin with our tax code. I have a series of proposals that will make our tax code simpler, fairer, more progressive, and better for businesses. During my first term in office, passing these tax reforms into law will be one of my top priorities.
One of my key tax proposals is to change the way that we assess property value so that we base the assessment only on land size, location, and usage — rather than the value of the structure that sits on that property. This will immediately eliminate the tax penalty on home improvements, and will remove the tax incentive for letting properties decay.
Other cities have used similar tax assessment schemes to successfully combat urban decay and to promote urban development. For Cook County, this system will also end decades of abuse in the property assessment system — making assessments simple, fair, and transparent.
Similar lots with similar usage in similar locations will assess for similar values under the system, reducing time and money costs for property owners that will no longer have to contest their assessed property values.
I am also proposing that the County Board replace the county's portion of the sales tax with a new tax on a new class of easily assessed property: investment property. Other cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, have implemented taxes on investment property without detrimental effect. Here in Cook County, the effect will be enormously positive.
For one thing, this change will make our tax code far more progressive, helping the very people that are now fleeing Cook County the most. This change will also make Cook County friendlier for businesses, which will see an immediate increase in consumer activity as a result of the dramatically reduced sales tax.
I am also proposing a shift of approximately 2% of the County's overall budget from the justice system into economic development, bringing our total investment in economic development to approximately 5% of the County's overall budget. In the long run, I think this percentage needs to be even higher if we are truly to prepare for the infrastructure strain mass urbanization will create. In the short run, however, I propose using about half of these shifted funds (1% of the County's overall budget) on venture-capital style investments in cultural and academic R&D.
These small scale investments will encourage development across Cook County, and will invest in the place that attracts businesses the most: our workforce.
If faced in budget debates with cutting the county's payroll or raising taxes, which one will you choose, and why? Please be decisive.
I will always be in favor of a county government that delivers the highest quality services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. I do not believe, however, that tax cuts are good in and of themselves. Cook County's government provides many vital services to the taxpayer, and if the choice was between cutting those vital services and raising taxes I would chose raising taxes.
Do you favor or oppose privatization of county services and downsizing of the county's workforce?
Our State Constitution and the Federal Constitution are both designed to curtail the powers of government, but have little to say about the powers of corporations. In an age where privacy rights are poorly protected as a result of this loophole, I believe it is essential for governments to provide services directly to the taxpayer via public employees. Public employees can be held to a higher standard of privacy, ethics and responsibility than can private employees. Until and unless our Constitution can properly protect workers, consumers, and residents from corporate "terms of service" agreements that inherently diminish legal and privacy protections, we should not be forcing taxpayers to do business with private entities if they want to receive vital services. As a result, I strongly oppose the privatization of government services. While I believe the county should endeavor to administer all of its services to the public via public employees, in the case of emergency or where temporary services may be needed, I would support the use of outside professional services if doing so was the best and most cost-effective way of delivering results to the taxpayer.
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?
I believe the only long-term solution to stabilizing our public safety and justice system costs is by drastically reducing the number of people that we put in prison. A large part of why I chose to run for the Cook County Board of Commissioners rather than a different office is my passion for ending the era of mass incarceration here in Cook County.
I believe that it should be our County's goal to divert all offenders that do not pose an imminent risk to public safety away from incarceration and into mental health and life-management services. Thanks to recent advancement in behavioral science and social science, we know for a fact that prison conditions are psychologically damaging even to healthy and highly educated minds.
On any given day, 60% of the individuals we hold in incarceration here in Cook County have a mental disability or a chemical addiction. By subjecting these already vulnerable individuals to psychologically damaging conditions, we decrease their likelihood of properly integrating into society and increase their likelihood of committing future infractions.
In addition, our current system disproportionately punishes the poor who are less able to financially absorb even short-term detainment, thus adding to the likelihood that their families will be low-income. This contributes to the "cycle of mass incarceration" that continues to fuel an expensive and ineffective system. Over the coming decades, I believe that it should be our County's goal to reduce the number of people it incarcerates by no less than 80%.
In particular, we should be harnessing our health services to provide a more comprehensive system of human care to all of our county's patients. I believe private hospitals that claim a tax exemption should be required to participate in the County's public health efforts, and that public and private health facilities alike should be committed to providing more than symptomatic care.
By offering county residents a comprehensive array of social services, people can improve their lives and their lifestyles, which will reduce crime and poverty in the long run.
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?
While the County has made good progress on these issues recently, we have not gone far enough. I cannot claim that I have the immediate answer, but I am highly concerned about the overuse of plea bargains in our criminal justice system.
Scientific studies have proven that innocent people will accept plea bargains in order to shorten the amount of time they spend inside the criminal justice system, and due to the fear that they may be found guilty despite their innocence. Both of these motivations signal a significant problem with our criminal justice system. The lack of a speedy trial, as well as doubt in the efficacy of that trial, is respectively unconstitutional and disturbing.
As the stewards of our County's justice system, I believe the County Board must take an active roll in assuring that defendants receive a speedy trial, and to ensure that the criminal justice system does not mistreat people to the point where they are pleading guilty just to get out of it. At the moment, our default is to detain defendants unless we have a reason not to. I think this system needs to be turned around: we should only detain defendants if we have a valid reason, such as the suspicion they will flee the jurisdiction or because they pose an immediate risk to public safety.
Our justice system should be releasing defendants before their trial by default, unless this kind of criterion is met. Studies have shown that assigning these defendants to a social services professional that will keep in touch with, and provide aid to, pre-trial defendants is more effective and more cost effective than electronic monitoring in ensuring that defendants do not flee or reoffend while awaiting trial.
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.
While it is not a top legislative priority of mine, and I understand that most residents of Cook County have probably never thought of it, I believe one of the long-term goals of our local government should be to introduce a unified City-County.
Our individual municipalities deliver lower quality and more expensive services than our county could if we provided those services collectively for all county residents. You will see in question 7 that I am in favor of incorporating into the surrounding areas currently unincorporated parts of Cook County, in what I hope is a long-term trend towards a more unified Cook County government.
Our municipalities were drawn and incorporated during an era where segregation was acceptable. On the balance, these individual municipalities continue to segregate tax bases and the services that individual taxpayers receive.
I do not believe the county should be contributing to this trend of segregation by contracting out county services with municipalities or other public bodies. The county is the best-equipped unit of government to provide high quality services at a low cost to our residents. In fact, I would be far more in favor of allowing municipalities and other public bodies to contract with the county in order to take over services that they now oversee.
Infrastructure in particular could benefit considerably from unified county-level planning, and infrastructure investment can be purchased at a lower cost as part of a larger unified county project. The trend from small segregated governments to a unified county government is one I think that all county residents will support once they understand the cost savings and service benefits involved.
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?
Due to Cook County's highly urbanized population, the services provided to one resident has an outsized impact on the environment, the economy, and the quality of services provided to every resident. Many areas of unincorporated Cook County receive fewer or lower quality services than the areas immediately surrounding them. This has a massive impact on those surrounding areas. As a result, I am not in favor of any part of Cook County remaining unincorporated over the long term.
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 propose a major change to the way that we assess properties in Cook County so that the system is simpler, fairer, and more transparent.
In particular, I propose basing assessments only on land size, location, and usage rather than on the value of the structure that may sit on the land. This change has been successfully used in other cities to combat urban decay and encourage development. It will eliminate the tax penalty on doing home improvements, and will eliminate the tax incentive for letting property decay. In addition, it will reduce the need for homeowners to pursue the time consuming and sometimes costly process of contesting their assessments, since lots of similar sizes in similar places with a similar usage will assess for a similar value. I believe the creation of a single office of tax administration to handle all county taxes would not only be beneficial for the county budget, but it would also be beneficial to the county taxpayer.
Too often our taxpayers do not know which unit of government they need to be talking to, wasting time and money as they search around for the proper office to contact. By creating a unified office for taxes, residents will have a single place that they can contact in order to resolve issues and answer questions.
For incumbents: During your current term, on what proposed ordinances have you been the primary sponsor? For challengers: What proposed ordinances would you introduce?
I have a few top legislative priorities that I would be pursuing in my first term. In addition to the tax overhaul and greater economic development I talked about in question 1 and 9, and the overhaul of our criminal justice system that I talked about in questions 4 and 5, I would also prioritize providing funds to replace public and private landscapes with natural flora.
I propose raising additional revenue through our newly introduced tax on investment property to fund a $2.4 billion program over the next decade. This natural-flora program will save the average homeowner nearly $300 in annual home maintenance costs, and will save some homeowners thousands of dollars in reduced damage from basement flooding. These kinds of programs have also been proven to save homeowners hundreds more in utility costs, but since Cook County will be among the first in our climate to institute a natural flora program exact numbers are difficult to calculate.
By the end of the program, the MWRD and local municipalities will save approximately $60 million annually due to reduced infrastructure strain from rainwater runoff. This program will also reduce our County's net carbon emissions by approximately 40%, putting us on track to meet our Paris Climate Agreement goals.