Kelly M. Cassidy
Democratic candidate for Illinois House (14th 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 recent budget impasse was, more than anything, a titanic clash of wills and egos between Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan. Both escalated the confrontation and stalemate beyond any reasonable measure, and it damaged our state for years to come. Getting real budgets will continue to be a challenge if the two sides are more focused on using budget negotiations to score political points than to achieve outcomes. There must be some basic level of good-faith intention that simply wasn't present before.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
No, it can't. The math doesn't add up.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
Primarily, we need a graduated income tax structure, like most states and the federal government. Billionaires and waitresses shouldn't pay the same income tax rates. And while revenue isn't the primary reason to pursue it and the amounts would be a drop in the bucket, there is also revenue (and economic growth) to be had in legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use. Closing corporate tax loopholes is another.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Strongly, yes. The flat tax system is just poor public policy. Most of both red and blue states have graduated income taxes. The Republican-controlled federal government just overhauled the tax system, and never once considered scrapping the graduated system. It simply makes more sense and generates more revenue. And unlike inherently regressive levies like the sales tax, a graduated income tax could increase state revenue without increasing the burden on lower and middle-class families.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
- There remain significant opportunities to save the state money in criminal justice reform. Money that we spend on unnecessary arrests, prosecutions and jail terms is doubly wasted in that the inmate is also removed from the economy. One immediate opportunity exists in passing my bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use. We still have hundreds of people in jail for manufacture and delivery of marijuana. Colorado saw a 25% reduction in arrests for manufacture and delivery as the black market started to fade post-legalization. Those are dollars we should be saving.
- We must limit the ability of Illinois executives and executive agencies to retain expensive consulting services on the taxpayer's dime without competitive bidding or oversight. Just recently it became known that Governor Rauner awarded McKinsey and Company, a firm to which his administration has ties, $12.8 million dollars to oversee our Medicaid overhaul without a competitive bidding process. That should never be allowed to happen.
- Illinois must get more judicious about corporate bailouts in the form of tax breaks. In 2011, we awarded Sears $275 million dollars to keep their corporate headquarters in the state. Soon after, they cut 100 jobs. Despite continuously getting burned on deals like this, we keep doling out tax breaks for minimal demonstrated impact. We could save tens of millions simply by being more careful with these giveaways. To that end, I introduced HB4131 to put a $50,000 per new job cap on the amount of tax breaks the state can offer to Amazon, Inc. for its new headquarters.
- We need to get serious about procurement reform and oversight. Last Spring, an investigation revealed that Illinois taxpayers are spending $2.4 million dollars to rent a document storage warehouse that could have been purchased outright for $750,000. We must generate better safeguards to prevent this kind of waste.
- The State of Illinois is decades behind the times in digitization. Most state business is still conducted on paper, and decades of old documents are still stored in physical form. The warehouse from the previous example was rented to hold paper documents that could have been digitized for a fraction of the cost. An initial investment in becoming a more digitally savvy state would pay off in significant savings in the long-term.
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 2015 Supreme Court decision severely restricted our legislative options. The broad nature of the ruling solidified the notion that pensions are guarantees, plain and simple. As with during the 2014 discussions, I remain open-minded about legislative means to control past pension costs. But in the end, the Supreme Court made it clear that there isn't much we can constitutionally do besides pay what we owe.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
I have been supportive of efforts to reform the pension system for new employees, and it is important to ensure that new hires don't leave us in a similar situation thirty years down the road.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
Our pension debt is not being driven by recent employees: it's driven by deals made years ago that we're bound by. New employees, unionized or not, do not receive the generous benefits of their predecessors. The Governor should deal fairly and in good faith with the unions.
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 estimation, the primary driver for outmigration is our inability to generate a stable path forward. We lower taxes, then raise taxes. We cut services, then restore them. We starve public education of funds, then restore them to bare minimum. We continue vacillating in a state of near-chaos, and have for years. Why send your kids to Illinois schools when you aren't sure if they'll have enough money to open in the fall? That was a fair question for Illinois parents to ask just a few months ago. We can no longer lurch from crisis to crisis and expect people to stick around for it.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
People want stability, and they want to see positive change. We need a graduated income tax that doesn't raise the burden on the middle class. We need to fully fund public schools, both K-12 and higher education. We need to fund human services and our social safety net fully and consistently. We need to pay down our bill backlog and pension liabilities. A lot more people would feel more comfortable staying in Illinois if they believed we had a real commitment to investment, improvement, and stability.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Job creation is critical. Equally critical is that job creation not come at the expense of the health, safety, or living standard of the folks working those newly created jobs. The most pro-business piece of legislation up for consideration in the next session is my bill to legalize adult use marijuana. With that one piece of legislation, we could create an entirely new economic sector. We've seen the economic boom that accompanies legalization in other states, and I want those thousands of new, well-compensated jobs for Illinois workers.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
I supported the change to the funding formula, which is something I have spent years helping to push. The bill itself was bittersweet, however, and ended up losing my vote due to the private school scholarships. Our previous funding formula was broken and deeply inadequate, and it was most deeply felt by my constituents who had to attend badly underfunded Chicago public schools. The new formula helps everyone, but will go an especially long way for the most underfunded schools around the state, including CPS that were most harmed under the old formula. I was deeply saddened that public money for private and religious schools was a trade-off I was supposed to accept in exchange for basic fairness and funding parity.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
Provide them with an amount of money that reflects the enormity of their task. I work closely with my neighborhood public schools, and I can say without hesitation that the biggest issue they face is lack of funding. There are few music programs, barebones sports, and few to no other extra-curricular activities. Basic things other districts take for granted are an unheard-of luxury in CPS. We have a school designated as a "technology academy" without a single tech teacher in our neighborhood. We have schools without libraries or librarians, school social workers serving incredibly high need communities with impossibly high caseloads and students learning in buildings with huge structural needs. The kids with the highest levels of need are given the lowest levels of resources, and then publicly shamed for performing poorly. What do we expect, when we give them virtually nothing and expect everything? We have shirked our duty to provide adequate school funding across Illinois, instead letting it fall to property tax levies. This must change.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I believe that fully funded public education is the best way out of the cycle of poverty and violence that many of my constituents face. The pseudo-voucher provision in the funding reform bill represents an effort to strip support away from public education, and provide a backdoor to allowing public money to go to often-unaccountable private institutions. Studies from other states show that this scheme simply doesn't improve outcomes writ large. Most often, it is students already attending private schools who get to use these vouchers. At best a handful of public school students get a private education that may or may not be of higher quality, while most of their peers see incrementally less funding for their public school, whose enrollment has now decreased.
The only sustainable thing to do is uplift all children by funding every Illinois public school to a level of real adequacy. "Rescuing" a few kids while continuing to consign their peers to educational poverty is a short-sighted, cynical, and ultimately foolish idea.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
Democracy is supposed to be the rule of the people. The era of billionaire self-funders has called that notion into question. I'm sponsoring a bill in the house to create a small-donor matching program in Illinois that would amplify the everyday residents, many of whom can't afford to give their favorite candidate more than $25. With this system in place, running a modern campaign without a wealthy backer, party or PAC would be more realistic. If we want a democracy in which the elected officials are representative of their constituents, we must empower Illinoisans without personal wealth or party connections to run.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
My opponent challenged my petition signatures, and the party provided legal assistance and staff time to help verify signatures. At the time of this writing, that's all the help I've gotten from my party.
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
I've worked hard to establish relationships with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Specifically, on criminal justice reform, I've been able to establish a bipartisan contingent of legislators willing to work towards progressive reform of some of the more draconian elements of our system. The Republican spokesman on the Public Safety Appropriations committee that I chair, for example, has been an excellent partner in this work. I have also been able to attract bipartisan support for my overhaul of school bullying laws and, more recently, my marijuana legalization effort. I have also been willing to push back on my caucus leadership, including being one of a small handful of democrats to vote against the Speaker's budget proposal when it was unbalanced.
If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.
I voted against Speaker Madigan's first major budget proposal during the impasse. It was badly out of balance, not serious, and designed for political purposes. I told him that, and I voted against it, bucking most of my party. I got plenty of heat for it, but I was unwilling to compromise my principles for the sake of politics.
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 legislative leaders. I don't support term limits for legislators. For one, elections are term limits in a democratic system, and we face election quite frequently. More importantly, term limits fundamentally shift power to the executive. Without established legislators who know their way around the process, the governor and unelected, unaccountable staff members and lobbyists are handed an enormous amount of power to direct the legislative branch how they see fit. I don't believe in a legislative rubber stamp for governors; we need three co-equal branches, and legislative term limits work against that. That said, establishing leadership term limits is a great way to ensure that fresh ideas see the light of day and reduce over concentration of power.
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?
Absolutely. For several years I've had bipartisan discussions about a redistricting solution with representatives from both chambers. Republican Rep. Mark Batinick and I co-authored an article a few years ago describing one of our favorite solutions; an interstate compact. The inherent issue with passing redistricting state-by-state is that cherry picking which states to reform has been designed to benefit Republicans more than Democrats. Since many other states favor Republicans with their maps, that would be a political non-starter for many legislators. The goal would be to find a red state that mirrors us in population and congressional composition and then pass a compact, in which both states only reorganize their maps if the other does as well. There is precedent for similar such compacts. The political impact would be zeroed out, and both states get fair maps.
Tell us a little about your family.
My three sons and I live in Rogers Park with a comically large cat named Puck. My spouse, Candace Gingrich (yep, that Gingrich family), lives in Hyattsville, MD where they work for the Human Right Campaign focused on youth and campus organizing and issues.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Baking is my therapy, and I take requests from colleagues for favorite treats during legislative session. Last session, my Republican colleague Avery Bourne and I circulated one of her favorite cookbooks around the chamber. We then baked the results along with my Springfield roommate, Jennifer Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council.