Grace Chan McKibben
Democratic candidate for Illinois House (25th 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 budget impasse that existed for much of the past three years boiled down to a philosophical difference between Governor Rauner and the state legislature leaders. Governor Rauner wanted to prioritize his plan to weaken the state employee union by allowing union members to avoid paying dues, and refused to negotiate on the budget until his onerous and unfair preconditions were met. The result was a prolonged stalemate during which community-based organizations that provided childcare, services for seniors and other needed services continued to suffer, and mounting debts were owed to the state's various vendors.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
Even though a budget was passed for FY 2018, the accumulated debt is still around $16 billion, and Illinois' credit rating is still miserable. I believe that it would be irresponsible not to explore new sources of revenue going forward.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
A progressive income tax is critical but likely insufficient. A state level estate tax increase as well as a tax on financial transactions would go a long way to closing the budget gap without increasing the tax burden on those least able to pay. Additionally, Illinois' corporate tax code is riddled with loopholes, allowing 65% of corporations to pay no state income tax. Closing these loopholes will bring substantial new revenue.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Absolutely. Illinois is one of only six states without a graduated income tax. A flat tax is unfairly regressive, placing a disproportionate burden on the working and middle class. While a constitutional amendment should be the first priority, several states have proposed interesting alternative approaches in order to work around the new federal cap on state and local tax deductions. These approaches, include allowing individuals to "donate" money to state coffers (meeting the requirements for charitable donations which remain tax deductible) or repealing the state income tax entirely and replacing it with a graduated payroll tax paid by employers. Either of these arrangements would be fully deductible and allow for progressive taxation without a constitutional amendment, and are worth exploring.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
Illinois is not a high spending state (ranking 37th in spending among the 50 states) and state employee headcount per capita is one of the lowest in the nation as well. So there aren't too many areas from which to cut spending. That said, Illinois has 7,000 local government entities, reviewing the functions of these bodies and consolidating where needed would bring some operational efficiency. With rising pension costs, several aspects of the pension system are worth exploring, including raising the retirement age for state employees from 60 to 65, moving the majority of new state employees to a defined contribution plan, and closing the loopholes that allow people that enter the state retirement plan late in their careers to game the system in order to receive higher pension payouts. Another area to cut spending is to reduce corporate tax giveaways.
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?
While it will lead to difficulty in the short term, the best way to get pension costs under control is to stop the insidious practice of taking "pension holidays" and prioritizing current payments of pension obligations moving forward. It is not only irresponsible to allow mounting debt, it is unconscionable to make future generations pay for this obligation. Moving future state employees to defined contribution plans will also help.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
Illinois should begin to transition the majority of new hires to defined contribution plans. I would stop short of saying "all new state workers" should move to defined contribution plans.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
Paying current obligations to avoid mounting interest would go a long way to controlling pension costs in the long run.
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?
Simply, the state of our politics make it difficult for residents to believe in the future of Illinois. The prolonged budget impasse is the tip of the iceberg of parties being unable to work together to come up with practical solutions.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
Encouraging business growth through tax incentives and operational assistance to small businesses, improving transportation infrastructure, revamping the property tax system such that it does not disproportionately tax low income and working class families, improving funding to public schools so the schools that needs the most resources get the help they need. These all will go a long way in encouraging residents to stay, to build a future for their families.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Illinois must proactively pursue the industries of the future, including green energy and green manufacturing. Illinois must invest more in higher education and workforce development to attract these industries. Silicon Valley was made possible by Stanford, while the Massachusetts miracle of the 1980's which saw the state transform a dreary, stagnant industrial economy into a thriving technologically oriented one was possible because of MIT. Illinois has the higher education assets in Northwestern, University of Chicago and UI Champaign to supply a knowledge based economy and Naperville is already deemed the Silicon Valley of the prairies. We should actively build on this momentum.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
While the education funding reform bill begins to address some of the funding inadequacies in the most needy schools, it opens up the path to a voucher program by allowing tax credits for private school scholarships. I would oppose public funding to support vouchers of any kind.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
I believe in having a school board that is accountable to parents and the community, and would like to see the legislature pass a bill that creates an elected school board for the Chicago Public Schools. Illinois still largely relies on property taxes to fund public education, creating large disparities between wealthy school districts such as Winnetka, and the least wealthy school districts such as those in the south suburbs. We must continue to move towards having more equitable resources to support our schools.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
If elected, I would keep monitoring the program to be sure it does not grow any larger, and would work to phase-out the program over time. Creating any system in which public dollars is used to fund private education is problematic. Privates schools already have ample other resources to draw from, such as private donations and foundation grants, not to mention tuition dollars, while public schools continue to struggle for every dollar of funding they need.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
I support SB 1424 which would set up matching funds for small donor campaign contributions.
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 have not received any help from my party and its leaders.
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 support term limits for committee chairs and would sponsor legislation to that effect and/or lobby my colleagues.
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 am in favor of a non-partisan redistricting process led by an independent commission, similar to that used in California and will commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying my colleagues.
Tell us a little about your family.
I have been married to my college sweetheart for 26 years. We have four children ages 16 to 24. They have all attended Chicago Public Schools. We have lived in Hyde Park the entire time, which I think is one of the best places for an African-Asian-American family to live happily and productively.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
In high school, I assisted in an autopsy as a hospital intern.