Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (1st 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.
I have been one of the foremost advocates for fiscal reform on the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
As Commissioner for the 1st District of Cook County, I see regressive taxation and an inequitable property tax system as a direct threat to the stability and welfare of my constituents. As costs outpace revenues, it is simply not an acceptable solution to reach into taxpayers' pockets to attempt to close the gap. Instead, we must take an approach that is both fiscally responsible and morally responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
County officials who pit the needs of the poor and the sick against the need to keep Cook County affordable for all residents are presenting the citizens of Cook County with a false choice. Following the successful repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax, the County Board's 2018 budget process provided us with a blueprint of what a successful fiscal reform strategy for Cook County can look like going forward.
We should scour the County's $5.2 billion dollar budget for savings and look to right-size County government to the point where the County can perform its essential public safety and public health functions without unnecessary bloat and waste.
Additionally, it is essential that we do a better job of training our employees at the Cook County Health and Hospital System and the Cook County Jail, to avoid scenarios that lead to costly litigation. This can save the County millions of dollars in legal fees, settlements and judgements. The County can also save money by reforming its procurement process.
While initial contract prices are often low, repeated change orders result in costs that spiral ever upward over time, at great cost to the taxpayer. We must put in place safeguards to mitigate these costs. Finally, I have been a strong proponent of zero based budgeting and eliminating vacant and open positions that are an unnecessary drain on taxpayer's resources. In the 2018 budget I forced the closure of more than 1000 vacant and open positions saving the taxpayers $52 million.
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 would look to reduce the size of the County payroll through the elimination of certain vacant and middle management positions before raising taxes. Working families in Cook County have had to contend with the ever-increasing cost of living, while simultaneously having to face rising fees and taxes, particularly in the City of Chicago. It is neither right nor just for Cook County- the governmental entity that exists to alleviate the burdens of the poor- to add to those burdens through additional taxation.
Do you favor or oppose privatization of county services and downsizing of the county's workforce?
I am always interested in innovative partnerships with the private sector that can work to make County government more cost-effective. Additionally, as the populations of Cook County Jail and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center decrease, it is imperative that we right-size the County's workforce to accommodate these changes.
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?
With respect to public safety and the court system, there exist several policy opportunities which, if taken advantage of, can work to drive down costs.
I applaud the bail reform initiative put forth by Chief Judge Timothy Evans, which has contributed to a substantial reduction in the population of Cook County Jail, and I continue to advocate for safe pre-trial detention alternatives for those charged with non-violent offenses. Responsibly reducing the number of detainees will reduce the cost to the taxpayer.
As I regularly remind my colleagues, the cost of public safety specifically and County government generally can be greatly reduced if we seriously confront the issue of gun violence and bring down the number of shootings that take place every day in Cook County. The cost to our courts, our law enforcement, our Health and Hospital System, and the Cook County Medical Examiner, of our gun violence crisis is staggering, and a meaningful reduction in shootings would reduce the financial burden on these systems significantly.
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?
The County Board should work with the Chief Judge to advance policies that reduce the length of and necessity for pre-trial detention, including lowering the cost of bail (which the Chief Judge has already done), examining docket management policies and recommending mechanisms for "fast-tracking" certain matters.
Where appropriate, the County Board should provide resources and policy guidance with respect to electronic monitoring of those charged with non-violent offenses. I have publicly supported these types of initiatives and remain highly interested in ways that we can increase the productivity and effectiveness of our Circuit Court.
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.
I believe that if a home rule municipality wishes to assume responsibility for a particular area of its governance, and it is legally permissible for the municipality to do so, the County should agree to let the municipality take over those services. This should result in a net savings to the County. I would also note that the County could potentially achieve savings by utilizing the Cook County Sheriff to conduct patrols in the Forest Preserve District, rather than employing a separate Forest Preserve police force.
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?
My primary concern with respect to the services received by unincorporated areas of Cook County is that they often get a disproportionate amount of the County's infrastructural dollars. As Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District I have sought a more equitable distribution of infrastructural and transportation dollars at the County level. Parts of the 1st District have decaying and crumbling infrastructure. Some of the resources that go to the unincorporated areas of Cook County should be redirected to the parts of the County that have lacked focus and investment for too long.
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?
As the Tribune's investigation has highlighted, the property tax system in Cook County is broken. Its inequities are many, and, as is too often the case, the residents of Cook County who can least afford it bear its burden most heavily. I would favor the creation of an office of tax administration to provide an ombudsman for those residents of Cook County who do not have the benefit of a well-connected lawyer to reduce their taxes, and could benefit from assistance in navigating the system. This would help to rebalance the scales and correct the inherent inequities that currently plague the system.
For incumbents: During your current term, on what proposed ordinances have you been the primary sponsor? For challengers: What proposed ordinances would you introduce?
2015 Ordinance Prohibiting the use of choke holds by the Cook County Police (passed) Ordinance the tax on firearm ammunition (passed) Ordinance creating the Gun Violence Task Force and the appointment of a Gun Violence Coordinator (passed) Ordinance creating Cook-Chicago Heroine Taskforce (passed) 2016 Ordinance eliminating the tax on feminine hygiene products (passed) Ordinance establishing Earned Sick Leave for Employees in Cook County (passed) 2017 Ordinance creating a program that would allow property homeowners demonstrating a hardship the ability to apply for an interest free loan from the County to pay the tax bill Ordinance requiring any dealer of secondhand cellphones to check the serial number in the Stolen Phone Database (passed)