Democratic candidate for Illinois House (59th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
Amassing and maintaining power have been the priorities for Illinois' elected officials. A balanced budget requires a willingness to reach across the aisle and do what's right for Illinois. That involves compromise and trust in the integrity of political adversaries. It is imperative that policy makers make every effort to run the government more efficiently. This includes reduction of outsourcing to private for-profit companies. At a minimum, we should be diligent in our efforts to review outsourced services to prevent waste.
My belief in term limits touches on the difficulties in Springfield. Term limits would create a sense of urgency that our legislators lack. Our legislators will not be trying to buy votes with favors, because they will be ineligible as candidates. Instead, candidates will campaign on issues that are not only important to their districts but to the greater community. We will be free from Illinois machine politics as we know it. Illinois legislators will have greater freedom to vote according to conscience and district needs.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
Yes. Well, what counts as new? First, I believe Illinois should modify the way it collects taxes. This will be addressed in my answer to your later question about taxation. Second, we must hold companies that have government contracts accountable. Where private companies have overcharged and under-provided, we should hold the companies liable for breach of contract, collect revenue from them, and develop more vertically integrated systems to save money. Reliance on private, for-profit companies is in direct conflict with providing government services efficiently.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
- The sale of bullets should be tightly controlled from production to final use. Manufacturers of ammunition, if they do business in Illinois, should be able to account for bullets. Transfer of ownership or possession of bullets should be taxed. The use of assault rifles in a crime should not only lead to increased sentences but also to financial penalties to the last owner of record. The seller of an assault rifle should be accountable for its use in a crime unless the seller can identify the person to whom the rifle was sold and demonstrate that a federal background check was completed.
- Illinois should collect a toll or a tax for allowing the Dakota pipeline to pass through and benefit from Illinois.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
Eliminating the regressive tax structures and increasing the flat tax might be more palatable than a graduated income tax for everyone across the income levels. I support the abolition of taxes that disproportionately burden the poor and middle class. A better and fair way to collect revenue in Illinois is from an increased but flat income tax. Taxpayers are likely to feel that something is being taken from them if they are asked to pay a higher percentage. The highest income-earners, however, are currently the people who are favored and who pay the smallest percentage in taxes. If we were to remove all of the other taxes and simply have a flat tax for state and federal systems without deductions or other taxes, we would see an enormous savings and less hostility between interest groups.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
- I would cut school spending by investing in early childhood programs. These investments lead to savings in K-12.
- I support prison reform. I would support legislation to shorten prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. I would be in favor of community-based programs for young nonviolent offenders instead of prison. According to Voices for Illinois Children, such programs cost 1/29 the amount Illinois spends on incarceration. I would cut spending related to wasteful incarceration.
- Medical liability reform would save money for Illinois. I would support legislation that requires medical facilities to report mistakes that lead to injuries. This would save money currently wasted by insurance companies, doctors, patients, and families. It would also lead to greater safety and diminished errors. (Current policy forces patients to sue in order to determine whether an error has occurred.) The lack of information sharing prevents doctors from learning about best practices from each other and about what preventable mistakes have been made.
- Illinois should continue to consolidate governmental units that are redundant. In walking door to door, many residents of my district had specific examples of fiscal irresponsibility that they shared. Legislators do not have to comb through records to find waste. We need to listen to the people of Illinois who can and do report what they witness.
- I would eliminate spending on government contracts with Securus and other companies like it. We should not be spending money on services that cause more harm than good to both the prison population and Illinois families. There must many contracts like this that soak the Illinois taxpayer without providing any meaningful benefit.
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 legislature can make paying the pensions a priority so that the principle gets paid down. The increased flat tax would create revenue to pay down the pension debt. We need to tighten our belts for the good of the state. The debt is manageable and can be paid, but only if we have leaders with the will to push for it. It won't get paid down by talking about it.
In the cases where the beneficiaries are not financially struggling, we could offer something along the lines of what John Adams proposed to entice the best people into government posts (instead of going into business). Adams believed that the honor and respect of the American people would make service worthwhile. What sort of honorific might appeal to Illinois men and women who are compensated beyond their needs? It may have been in Discourses on Davila that Adams suggested titles. The use of "Dr." , "Esq.", "Honorable" and such have value to those who use them. Lords, Ladies, Sirs, and Dames in Great Britain take pride in their earned or inherited titles. If Illinois makes these sufficiently scarce, they can be meaningful. They must have perks (like lifetime nontransferable free parking throughout Illinois) or other such benefits that enhance the quality of life for the people who freely release the state from its obligation or from part of its obligation.
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
He should allow the unions to have ownership of the problem. The unions negotiated for pensions that are hurting our state. The power of the unions at the time when the pensions were negotiated allowed them to demand these budget-crushing liabilities. If the unions did not intend to wreak havoc here, how can they help us move forward? I would strongly encourage the unions to participate in solving the crisis of the budget in Illinois. The more partners we have at the policy-making table, the greater the chance we will have of a successful solution.
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?
Job creation was bringing people to Illinois. We need to create jobs again. At one time Illinois boasted almost 200,000 births in one year. We are more recently at 50,000. With a population near 12 million, such a change in birth rate has a significant impact.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
We need to create jobs. We have plenty that needs doing. The State of Illinois needs to shake off the myth that big government is bad. That was pushed by private companies that wanted to take our taxpayer revenue for skimping on services that we need. We should have Illinois be the employer and control the spending that way and increase good jobs at the same time.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
Illinois should get rid of the profiteers who take over government responsibilities only to minimize costs by firing people and by providing less than what we need.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
I would have preferred a different reform bill. Illinois had been identified as the worst of the fifty states in providing adequate resources to low-income schoolchildren. That problem on its own should have concerned our legislature and our citizenry. So, yes, I support this reform bill's intention to bring needed resources to low-income schoolchildren, but no, I take issue with the parameters for recipients of the scholarships. The bill sets the income levels too high to serve the families in greatest need. The reform bill does not target low-income children with its opportunity scholarships. The households with the greatest need are not making annual incomes anywhere near $73,000 for a family of four. Illinois faces a financial crisis. Providing a tax credit (and removing revenue from the public coffers) for a non-urgent matter (moving lower-middle-class families into private schools) would be unwise. I say "would be" only because the votes must not have been there without this tax credit. What do I think about it? I think we need to remember that we are a republic, and that virtue has rewards.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
The legislature needs to close a loophole left in the 2010 education reform. The law mandated teacher evaluations but failed to insist on impartial evaluators. The mandate in its current condition offers little to improve our schools. (It is like our toothless water-quality law that mandates notice within 24 hours of a violation but defines violation in a manner that would allow tainted water to go unreported for six months or even nine years depending on the service area.)
Here, the entity that trains the evaluators shows how easy it is for the teacher evaluators to do this important work without having undergone the training themselves: "There is an expectation in the Illinois School Code of the honesty and integrity of all individuals who take the assessments who are certificated or soon to be certificated in Illinois. When an individual is found to have violated a condition of testing with the intent of falsifying his or her identity or unfairly affecting his or her performance in the current or a future test administration, the violation shall be taken as evidence that the individual is not of good character as required by Section 21-1 of the School Code [105 ILCS 5/21-1]. This means that violating any condition of testing would result in loss of qualification as an evaluator and/or educational certification in Illinois. Evaluators will be required to validate their identity and that that they understand and comply with the rules for assessment security each time they take a training program or assessment." -Illinois Performance Evaluation Growth Through Learning FAQ April 12 2012
That bit does not even touch on impartiality. At the outset, the structures in place for evaluation do not even assure us that the evaluators are qualified. We need to identify the teachers who are not providing education at the premium level we must expect for our community. They must receive supportive training or move to positions that meet their skills while keeping them active in the school system.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I take issue with a few of the aspects of the opportunity scholarships. First, as mentioned above, if they are truly about school choice for low-income families, then the eligibility should be set to a lower level of income. Second, it allows only certain taxpayers to say exactly where a portion of their tax dollars will go. What makes people who support private education more valuable philanthropists than others to our community? Third (I am saying "third" but this is really an iteration of the second point), our public schools need money and resources desperately, but this diverts state revenue that could support public programs toward private programs. Eliminating that program would not help anyone.
The bill was crafted such that removing the scholarships would eliminate all of the good aspects of the legislation. The benefit to the public schools of over three hundred million dollars outweighs its detrimental effect. I begrudge the legislators who insisted on the tax credit/scholarship before doing what was right for the poorest among us. I am hopeful that the opportunity scholarships will truly benefit children who receive them.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
It costs money to inform the voters, but it isn't a level playing field if we don't regulate campaign finances. I would support a campaign fundraising cap and further regulations with regard to campaign ads.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
The Democratic Party has not offered any assistance to me.
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
I am not an incumbent.
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 am not an incumbent.
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 do support term limits. Yes, I support term limits. I will commit to sponsoring legislation on behalf of a constitutional change.
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?
Yes, I support changes to the redistricting process. This will need to be a national change. I believe that Illinois should lead the nation in developing a model for drawing new maps. We should then participate in a nationwide campaign for fair maps. I would want input from Jonathan Mattingly of Duke Math, Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Moon Duchin of Tufts Math, and Mira Bernstein of Tufts Science, Technology and Society. We need partisan fairness in the drawing of maps. The current rules that were intended to create partisan fairness failed to anticipate the utter disregard for fairness that dominates the political scene. The rules are not as sophisticated as the people who seek to maneuver around them.
Tell us a little about your family.
My grandmothers died young. My grandfathers both came to America around 1914. My mother, Marlene Shatkin (nee Wieselman), was a Chicago schoolteacher when she met my father, Henry Shatkin, a commodities trader. Before that, my father had a lot of jobs drove a stock car and a taxicab, delivered mail during the busy Christmas season, pumped gas (once for June Haver), promoted and worked in management for the James Gang, as well as Ike and Tina Turner, judged for Golden Gloves, and scouted for college basketball. My dad also invested in soap-on-a-rope.
My parents had three children, Robert, Judy, and me. They moved from Chicago to the northern suburbs. My brother became a commodities trader, my sister, a doctor, and I, a lawyer. I met my husband on a blind date when I was 32. We have now been married for twenty years and have two children, Stephanie and Joe. Our children tend to be patient regarding the ignorance of the older generation. Stephanie has selected politics as her major at Occidental College. She is not at all interested in the politics of the State of Illinois. Joe, 17, plays the trombone and the baritone horn in several bands at Stevenson High School. He wants to be a journalist or a chef.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
In 1985 I placed a call to South Africa to request that Nelson Mandela be released from prison so that he could receive an honorary degree from the University of Michigan. As a member of the Free South Africa Coordinating Committee, I had attended a teach-in where a South African poet suggested we simply call. "They are looking for a reason to release him," he said. I found out the country code for South Africa and called. The operator there asked me if I was aware what time it was. "He is not in summer camp, miss," said the person who was awakened for the call. "He is serving a sentence for making bombs and attempting to overthrow the government."
In 1986 Seamus Heaney wrote me a little poem: I wish I had a catkin To give to Susan Shatkin.