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Iris Y. Martinez

Democratic candidate for Illinois Senate (20th district)

Iris Y. Martinez

Iris Y. Martinez

Democratic candidate for Illinois Senate (20th district)

Northeastern Illinois University; University of Illinois at Chicago
Illinois State Senator; Majority Caucus Whip

Responses to our questions

Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?

I believe that the difficulty in passing a budget had to do with a lack of cooperation from the Governor. I saw Senate President Cullerton and Senator Radogno working together to come up with a budget solution and the Governor just refused to work with anyone. It showed you that the Governor was really disconnected with Illinoisans. We have to stop choosing political agendas over the willingness to negotiate and compromise.

Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?

I do believe that we can work together to come up with bipartisan solutions in order to balance the budget going forward. We need to look at the costs of our state and examine possible new revenue sources. At this point, I do not believe the answer lies in any new taxes to burden working families in Illinois. We have to sit down in a bipartisan fashion and work together to come up with new solutions to our budget problems.

What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.

I would support several new revenue streams, including legalizing, taxing and regulating the sale of recreational marijuana. Another possible source could be to look at bringing a casino to Chicago. I also think that passing balanced, bipartisan, budgets will encourage more businesses to move to Illinois and keep educated workers here, which will help grow our tax base.

Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.

I am in favor of a graduated income tax. I believe in the principle that those who earn more should pay more in taxes. There are 33 other states and the District of Columbia who have a progressive income tax. I believe this is the right thing to do for our state both ethically and financially. If we are looking at any increased taxes in the future, it has to be on those who can afford it.

Please list five areas where you would cut spending.

There are a few areas where I believe we can cut spending in order to help balance our budget. One possible area would be to cut government administration posts at the top levels. There is a lot of waste and duplication in government personnel and I think there is room for cuts and consolidation. Especially among those making big salaries. Cutting waste will have a positive impact on our budget and help restore people's faith in how state government is structured.

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 pursue bipartisan legislation that addresses our pension costs and looks at a model where new state workers are put into a plan where they can choose their benefits. However, we cannot reduce the benefits of our current and retired workers who rely on their pensions as their sole source of retirement income. This problem should not be solved at the expense of hard working people who made their life decisions based on those promises from our government. We should always be working in a bipartisan way to come up with new solutions for tackling our pension debt.

Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?

I believe that new state workers should be moved into a new plan where they are able to choose their own contributions or benefits in order to control our pension costs.

What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?

I firmly believe that both parties created our pension problems. In order to solve our problems we are going to need solutions from both sides. The Governor must be willing to work with the Legislature and stakeholders from both parties in order to come up with a compromise solution on these pension reforms. We need to work across the aisle to address the issue together. The first step to compromise is negotiating in good faith. I have not seen that happen yet on this issue.

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?

In my opinion, high taxes and fees are disproportionately hurting the middle class and poor communities. Although I do see younger people and diverse families moving into my district, we are still seeing too many people who work hard but are not getting ahead. They're not seeing their incomes increase, but they are seeing increased burdens, which are hurting their incomes. As a result, people are looking for relief away from Illinois. Our local and state governments saw a backlog of bills that were not paid due to the uncertainty of the budget and our residents paid the price with higher fees for decreased services.

What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?

The state of Illinois must work with local governments to roll back some of these fees that are hurting families and forcing them to leave the state. We need to look at policy solutions across the board to bring in new revenue streams and keep people moving into the city and staying here. I believe some of these new policies include a progressive income tax, a new casino for the city of Chicago, and the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana.

What should Illinois do to promote job creation?

We need to think about creating good jobs for everyone, not just white-collar professionals or those who work downtown. I am not someone who is against incentivizing large job creators to come to Illinois, but we need to really look at the deal we're making with big corporations, like Amazon, to bring them to the city. It's vital that businesses coming here rise up our entire communities, not just help those who are already at the top.

Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?

Although I believe that some of the final additions to the compromise bill that the Governor signed were not helpful to the majority of Illinois students, I do support the education funding reform package because ultimately it fixed an antiquated formula and gave more money to our schools that need it most.

What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?

We need to continue to work together on bipartisan solutions and use new sources of revenue to aid Chicago Public Schools. We must agree on new policies that will help our students without further increasing taxes on those who can't afford it.

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 public money for private school scholarships. However, the bill represents an agreeable compromise so I believe we need to honor that commitment. Right now, I would not work to eliminate that program.

Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?

It is obvious that there is too much money in politics and there is always more that can be done to regulate campaign financing and make our elections more transparent. I have never been someone who is interested in stockpiling campaign cash. I am supportive of lowering caps on certain types of donations.

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 a long professional relationship with Senate President John Cullerton and I am grateful for that. I am receiving the same help and financial support other caucus members receive, but ultimately I am responsible for the decision making on my own campaign and I will rely on my constituents and the issues in my community to drive this campaign.

If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.

I worked extensively with Republican Senator Neil Anderson on the Home Birth Safety Act in order to help Illinois women give birth at home attended by a licensed midwife. Although Sen. Anderson and I have different views on many issues, and our districts span diverse communities in different parts of the state, that didn't stop us from working together on our shared commitment to making sure women can choose to have safe home births with properly licensed midwives.

If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.

There have been many times over my career in the Senate where I did not agree with my party on a certain issue. However, I took an oath to uphold the wishes of my constituents and work for them to support the issues they care about. I am proud of the votes I have taken to support my district and my party, as well as the times I have worked across the aisle to support the priorities of the Republican party that align with the needs of my district.

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 have supported and voted for term limits on legislative leaders in the Illinois Legislature. However, I believe that term limits on rank and file legislators are another way to limit voters choices in elections. People should have the option to continue to support their elected officials who work in their communities and be able to run for office themselves if they believe their district can be better represented. I'm interested in pursuing an electoral system that empowers everyone to vote and run for office, rather than limiting how long people can serve in the legislature.

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 do support changes to our redistricting process so that all electoral power can be equally represented across our local and state governments. However, I do not support the breaking up of long standing communities or neighborhoods in order to diminish their voting power or their collective voice. I do not believe that solid lines across districts necessarily equal better representation.

Tell us a little about your family.

I am proud that my family has many health care workers. I have a brother, a sister and many nieces that are registered nurses. My mother was also a registered nurse in Puerto Rico. Due to the lack of proficiency in the English language, she wasn't able to get her nursing license here in Illinois. Instead both of my parents found work in factories upon arriving to the United States.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us.

Many people don't know that since my mother's death 28 years ago, I have been the full-time caregiver for my 98-year-old uncle.

Candidates for Illinois Senate (20th district)