1) City Pensions
Q: Chicago's fire and police pensions are greatly underfunded, and the city is required by the state to make a $550 million payment into the pension funds by the end of 2015. Do you support restructuring the pension systems, inevitably reducing benefits, to put the funds on sound financial footing?
Yes or No:
Chicago's pension systems for municipal workers and laborers already have been restructured, reducing benefits, but the city has yet to identify where it will find the revenue to sufficiently fund those systems. Under what circumstances would you support a property tax increase to raise the needed revenue for the fire and police pensions and/or the municipal workers and laborers pensions?
Chicago’s pension crisis did not develop in a short period of time and it will not be resolved overnight. The city can begin to solve its pension crisis through a variety of suggested options: taking a measured approach to incrementally increasing spending on pensions until sufficient funding levels are established is one approach. First and foremost, we should avoid taking any additional pension holidays. That’s what helped create this difficult situation in the first place.
In addition, we should seriously strive to avoid shifting funds around, proverbially in a misguided attempt to hold off the future ‘rainy day’. It’s pouring now, and we need to aggressively research and use common-sense, financially viable approaches designed to reclaim a firm financial footing - - without removing existing benefits from current retirees and employees. The city made a deal with these workers. They kept up their end of the bargain by providing the required number of years of public service to the City of Chicago.
I also firmly believe that we must continue to honor our fiscal commitments to them as well. As difficult as this may be considered by those against new fees, we may need to consider a small levy on (a) either financial transactions and/or (b) a combination of small increases on fees on non-city residents working in the city, goods or services on which can be utilized to retire a portion of the pension debt, while providing needed funds for our pension obligations. Using this approach, we could potentially significantly raise much-needed revenue; avoid reducing the economic health of the city’s consumers and at the same time ensuring that our retired and existing workforce will reap the benefits of the money they have faithfully contributed, for their years of dedicated service when the time comes.
2) Chicago Public Schools pensions
Q: Large and growing payments required to keep the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund solvent are squeezing CPS' budget, forcing cuts elsewhere and limiting investment. The Chicago Board of Education has increased property taxes, but it is not enough to keep up with the high annual costs. What measures do you support to ensure a solvent retirement system and to improve the district's finances?
SEE RESPONSE TO QUESTION #1
Q: In light of the financial issues discussed above, do you support any or all of the following measures, each of which would require, at a minimum, approval by the Illinois Legislature?
* A statewide expansion of the sales tax base to include more consumer services
Yes or No:
* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city
Yes or No:
* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”
Yes or No:
Please explain your views, if you wish, on any of these three revenue-generating measures.
See response to question #1
Q: Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in Chicago?
A: Yes, I’m in favor of hiring more police officers to protect the residents of the City of Chicago - - and the most-affected wards in particular. The current 15th Ward consists of the 7th and 8th Police Districts, and a lot of resources were sent to both districts to stem crime. I would hate to lose those invaluable resources due to an increase in crime in what is traditionally considered “low crime” areas.
Police manpower is a key issue facing the city. Simply put - - Chicago needs to hire more police officers to improve public safety. The city is on track to hire 500 new officers; however, current estimates indicate that it actually needs to hire at least 1,000 more police personnel, merely to keep pace with recent attrition due to retirement, and other workplace transitions within the department.
In today’s public safety environment, Chicago Police Department (CPD) resources should be redeployed to support the expansion neighborhood police officer patrols, who will walk, cycle or drive a beat and develop key relationships with neighborhood residents, who also have a key role in keeping our communities safer. The newly redesigned CPD website make anonymous reports easier for concerned residents to facilitate, but that does not absolve a united front of citizens from working with elected officials and others to make our neighborhoods safer.
Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?
A: I would support any well-crafted, common-sense legislation designed to impose harsher penalties for those caught trafficking in illegal guns across state lines, as well as inter-state trafficking. First-time penalty offenses also need to be significantly strengthened to send a clear message that this flood of illegal guns into our city will no longer be tolerated, and that we are serious about protecting the health and welfare of our citizens in Chicago.
5) Elected school board
Q: An advisory referendum on switching Chicago to an elected school board, rather than an appointed board, is expected to be on the ballot in more than 30 wards on Feb. 24. Currently, the mayor appoints all seven board members and the Schools CEO. Do you support a change to an elected school board?
Yes, I worked hard to help get signatures to get the vote for an elected school board on the ballot in 2015. The average everyday citizen, also known as the voters should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. After all, these are their children. More than that they are OUR children - - and they represent the future of Chicago! Further, we should also remember that Chicago is the only municipality within the state of Illinois without an elected board. The massive school closings authorized by the appointed CPS school board were divisive, devastating to the affected communities and highly unpopular among city residents who expressed outrage, disbelief and a staunch, overwhelming opposition – yet the schools were closed anyway. The bitter after-effects vocally expressed by many parents, affected school employees, community and religious leaders and CPS children and youth themselves still lingers today in many neighborhoods, and the purported financial savings appear minimal at best.
6) Tax-increment financing districts
Q: TIFs are the primary economic development tool of the city. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth in property values are set aside for 23 years to be used for public projects and private development. Do you support increasing the annual TIF surplus that the mayor and the City Council have declared in each of the last few years, money that goes to the schools and other city agencies?
Yes or No:
Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?
A: Municipalities like the city of Chicago are faced with numerous challenges. Today there still remains the challenge of encouraging economic growth in blighted, decaying, and often underperforming neighborhoods like parts of the south side that I represent, which are sorely in need of development or redevelopment. Most often improving these areas requires a public investment to reduce the extra cost and risk that private development faces in such areas. TIF is one such development tool. The city has leveraged tens of millions in TIF funds over the last several years. That’s good. But the problem is that many already financially stable neighborhoods such as the Loop, River North and other such areas have benefitted from TIF spending and project support, the areas which need it the most - - and for which the initial legislation was created, remain somewhat bereft of the economic stimulus benefits that TIFs can, and have successfully created. My suggestions for improving TIF designations and funding are as follows:
Enhanced Transparency in TIF District Creation & Expenditures - TIF District Oversight: The overall goals of the TIF program are both simple and laudable. TIFs are primarily designed to serve as the city's chief apparatus for bringing new and expanding existing economic development and enhance infrastructure investment to neighborhoods that couldn't otherwise attract them. However, this has not always occurred. Many of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods have benefitted greatly from an abundance of TIF largesse. I would create a TIF Advisory Committee for each TIF in my Ward and a public member to represent the advisory committee to the City. Establishing this advisory committee would serve as a TIF oversight authority, comprised of local officials, community residents and leaders and young people would truly allow us to review TIF proposals, expenditures and strategic projects for the maximum benefit of those communities, businesses and individuals who need this infusion of capital and resources the most.
Leveraging Excess TIF District Funds for Innovative Uses: Under the TIF law, funds can be shared between adjacent TIFs for specific redevelopment projects. Let’s explore the targeted annual transfer of a percentage of TIF funds from the financially prosperous TIFS, to their neighboring areas still struggling for renewal. I strongly advocate for developing clear and transparent standards when creating a TIF district. In addition, I believe that establishing clear goals for the utilization of TIF funds within specific districts is critically important. Further, we need to consider establishing mandated sunset provisions for these districts, once their useful lifespan has been reached. TIF districts have an important role in the city’s future health and vibrancy, but they should not have the only role in our economic development toolkit.
Limiting the Use of Public TIF Funds for Private Project Investment: One suggestion is to limit the public investment of city resources for proposed private projects, unless there is a designated revolving fund established to support specific city education, social service and/or quality of life enhancements - - as an example, to restore funding for art, music and physical education classes,( many which have been cut due to budget restraints) in our public schools, or re-opening some of the former city health clinics, among other similarly-focused options. These TIF subsidies are funded by the city’s taxpayers - - let’s make sure that all of these at-risk children, working families, local small and emerging businesses and vulnerable seniors get their fair share in this great city. I will continue to push for more TIF transparency and directed resources to the areas of our great city which could best use their positive neighborhood improvement impact.
7) Neighborhood economic development
Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community?
Since I’ve been Alderman, promoting and expanding economic development has been one of my key priorities -- no easy feat in my moderate-income southwest side communities, where preconceived negative perceptions often overwhelm actual reality. However, I have a firm belief that economic development initiatives are inextricably tied to improvements in public safety. If residents, existing and potential business owners and others don’t feel safe in a neighborhood area, they will not come. While I am proud to report that we have successfully worked with community residents, CAPS, Block Clubs and neighborhood organizations and made significant progress in this area, thanks to the excellent cooperation and work of the 7th & 8th Police Districts, challenges remain.
A prime example of this persistent residual fear and negative crime perceptions is the recent tragic and unfortunate killing of 15-year-old honor student, good kid and Johnson Academy sophomore Demario Bailey, who was walking on 63rd Street with his twin brother to a Saturday afternoon basketball game at their school - - not far from the proposed new Whole Foods market at 63rd & Halsted. Another example is the ‘crash and grab’ incident at the EZ Pawn on South Western Avenue in the 15th ward - - and these are but two examples of the types of criminal carnage that occur which serve to frighten away potential economic development options. The business was devastated in the robbery, but community responses were less than sympathetic - - and why? Because the community made it clear that they did not want it in the first place. I listen to my community and work to accede to their wishes. It’s a delicate balancing act.
I continue to work strategically to bring new infrastructure improvements to the ward to make the area more attractive to residents, existing and potential business owners and employers. My staff and I talk to our businesses about their city service needs, and make sure that they receive them. Finally, I will focus on a long-term process, which emphasizes a mix of using various city and state resources, including the innovative use of TIF funds and other economic stimulus support mechanisms to bring jobs and opportunity to my ward.
8) Size of the Chicago City Council
Q: The City Council has 50 members, but civic groups and other regularly argue for reducing the size of the Council. What should the size of the Council be? Please provide a specific number. And why?
This is an issue which has been advanced and considered by some to be a potential source of cost savings within the City of Chicago. There are also questions as to what is the motivation behind this Council reduction? In addition, exactly how would this measure be implemented? The prospective cost savings are debatable when one considers that fewer Aldermen would represent larger numbers of city residents (significantly more than the current average 56,000), with considerably fewer resources and staff), and yet would still be required and rightly expected by the populace to provide quality services.
This could potentially require increased overall costs over the long-term to provide an effective level or programs, services and resources. Generally, some continue to wrongly believe that the job of Alderman in today’s multi-faceted is somehow not a full time public service endeavor. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Progressive Reform Caucus, of which I am a member, has outlined proposals which, if adopted, would result in some Aldermanic reductions to 35, while advocating maintaining the Ward structure with realistic boundaries to maintain neighborhood viability. This would result in an Aldermanic responsibility for average constituency of about 72,000 residents, and with significant demographic changes of the horizon for the city’s populace ---- which is fine as long as the Alderman can get the support in terms of adequate funding and resources for infrastructure, programs and services for the people who put them in office. We are, after all the voice of the people and the first line of defense for our constituents.
9) A Chicago casino
Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?
A: Yes, far too many of our Chicago residents are driving to the suburbs or over state lines to gamble. Chicago definitely needs the tax revenue that gambling would generate.
10) Red light and speed cameras
Q: Does the city have an acceptable number of red light and speed cameras currently, and are they properly employed?
Yes or No:
No, not really. As currently constructed, the traffic light camera program could be considered by some to have a positive revenue-generating advantage, coupled with some very real negative consequences for Chicago residents. On one hand, it helps to promote the overall concept of public safety, which is always a good thing in a major urban metropolis like Chicago. But the jury is still out on exactly how safe the red light camera program has made our traffic flow within the city. Conversely, the traffic light camera program - - has yet to be proven as an unqualified success as a public safety measure, and was quickly pushed through the City Council with limited committee or Aldermanic review or program oversight. Further, this initiative is viewed with considerable suspicion and negatively by many Chicagoans as an inequitable revenue generator for the city, which drastically impacts low-and moderate income residents, while yielding significant contract dollars for the outsourced private companies running the program. The lack of transparency throughout the implementation process reinforces these perceptions. Until significant reforms are instituted in the traffic light camera program, it will continue to be considered a potential ‘anti-Chicago consumer boondoggle’ and viewed with mistrust by city residents. I stand for city program openness, transparency and accountability to those I represent.
11) Ward issues
Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?
Education/Job Training (with a job at the end of the course)
The answer to this pertinent question is one that I, as the elected official concerned with representing my constituents in the best manner possible, grapple with constantly - - the interrelated issues of providing improved neighborhood public safety, which ultimately impacts education, influences economic development and job creation, therefore affecting the quality of life for local residents in my ward. Crime, the media-inspired and intensified perception of crime and the daily reality of shootings, gang problems, domestic violence and sex-trafficking to name a few keep many good communities locked in a desperate, constantly repetitive cycle of personal and neighborhood fear, civic disengagement, lowered educational success, property values and high levels of economic disinvestment. The 7th and 8th police districts which service the current 15th ward have been reliable and efficient partners in this public safety process, and we continue to work hard to try to keep our residents safe and secure. As I have emphasized previously, a quality education is extremely vital to the health, wealth and strength, and indeed the positive future - - of any community in the city of Chicago. Economic development is a key component of improving the lives and the daily reality for residents in my ward.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Toni L. Foulkes
Office running for: Alderman, 16th Ward
Political/civic background: Previously served as a local neighborhood activist and community organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and ACORN; where I served as Chairman of the West EnglewoodChapter, and Illinois delegate to the National Board of ACORN.ACORN [1970-2010] was the nation's largest community organizationof low and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities. Currently serve as the volunteer executivevice-president of the board, Chicago Paul Simon Job Corps; volunteer board member of EMBARK. I continue to attend neighborhood CAPSand Police meetings, block club and other community meetings, hostmonthly community meetings and more.
Occupation: Alderman-15th Ward
Education: Bachelor of Applied Arts and Merchandising-Intercontinental University (London, England Atlanta, GA.) Campaign website: www.tonifoulkes.com