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: No.
Pension promises should not be decreased and accrued benefits should not be compromised. We cannot think of pulling the rug out from under retirees who gave decades of public service and planned their golden retirement years around the City fulfilling its contractual obligations. Moving forward, incoming city employees should be placed into a direct contribution or 401(k)-style system that will provide employees greater control over their retirement finances.
Q: 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?
A: Raising property taxes should be a very last resort. New funding should be derived from collecting and/or increasing fees on city services already being utilized: e.g., universal water meters, bulk garbage, branch removal, and recycling. Serious consideration to spending cuts and increased efficiency in many programs must be entertained.
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?
A: The State of Illinois has failed to proportionately contribute to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) while contributing a higher proportion to the state Teachers Retirement System (TRS). The Illinois legislature should return to its commitment of contributing 20-30% of its contribution to the TRF.
To improve district finances, CPS must streamline operations and organizationally slim down. The Civic Federation warns of decreasing enrollment, and federal and state funding while the CPS budget increases spending and calls for new programs. Chief Administrative Office expenditures continue to be disproportionately high. Blanket free breakfast and lunch programs need to be rethought. CPS should consider charging or increasing fees for extracurricular programs. Wastefully privatizing services (e.g., Aramark janitors) must stop. Facilities whose maintenance cannot be reasonably justified by enrollment, should be sold. CPS should consider expanding programs in which facilities or other equipment may be rented.
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: No.
* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city
Yes or No: No.
* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”
Yes or No: No.
We should seek to increase revenue by attracting people to live and work in Chicago. Chicago residents already face one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Sales tax expansions and commuter tax proposals should be disregarded.
Q: Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in Chicago?
Yes or No: Yes.
The Chicago Police force is undermanned. We must hire and train more police officers to keep our citizens safe. More officers, serving as a deterrent in their respective beats, will combat crime and gun violence. Issues such as beat integrity and community outreach will strengthen the department.
The broader issues of unemployment and underemployment as well as engaging at risk youth in productive job training and athletic activities should be a priority. I have been actively involved in community policing efforts for over a decade and have seen the positive effects firsthand of an involved community.
Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?
A: In addition to increasing penalties for gun trafficking violations, I would generally support legislation that: (i) incentivizes gun dealers to decline to process sales transactions where they suspect the purchaser is engaging in gun trafficking; (ii) requires that dealers have anti-theft policies; (iii) requires dealers to train employees on how to spot fraudulent purchases; (iv) requires that dealers record point-of-sale transactions; and (v) restricts dealer business license transfers where licensee has violated the law.
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 or No: Yes.
The CPS Board should be accountable to the public and thus those positions should be elected. Input from parents, teachers, administrators and the community at large should be welcomed to help streamline operations, enhance educational excellence and reward quality improvements.
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: Yes.
Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program?
A: TIF surpluses should be returned to their original taxing bodies. A TIF district’s fundamental purpose is to improve blighted areas through infrastructure and other business-friendly improvements. However, more than half of the city’s TIF districts are near downtown and many subsidize profitable corporate headquarters.
TIF districts take needed funds from local schools and parks. I would not support creating new TIF districts in the 19th Ward. Existing TIF funds should be used for commercial infrastructure improvements such as parking (e.g., acquiring private parking and converting it to public use), a common complaint among 19th Ward business owners.
Overall the TIF program needs to be more transparent with information readily disclosed and easily accessible. The City Clerk's website itemizing TIF expenditures is a good start, but more needs to be done to improve oversight.
TIF funds should not be used to directly subsidize private development (e.g., McCormick Marriott, DePaul arena), especially in the absence of any revenue sharing model.
7) Neighborhood economic development
Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community?
A: I would encourage area manufacturers to produce and sell their goods here. There are a variety of local soap, wine, beer, hat and coffee products which can be manufactured and retailed in the 19th Ward. Prohibition era liquor restrictions should be eased to allow the service of beer and wine in neighborhood restaurants. Infrastructure improvements, especially parking, within the Ward will increase business traffic and lead to more local commercial development. I would oppose sales tax increases and the imposition of further burdensome regulation on small businesses. These issues are especially important as 19th Ward business owners directly compete with bordering suburban jurisdictions.
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?
A: The City Council's size should reflect the city's population. As of the last census, the council’s size should have been reduced by four members. Overrepresentation reduces the Council's efficiency and decision-making abilities.
9) A Chicago casino
Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?
Yes or No: No.
The inevitable increase in criminal activity associated with a casino will outweigh any residual financial benefit. Chicago tourism continues to bring in rising, record breaking revenue without a casino. The tourism industry generated $805 million of tax revenue in 2012 which continues to increase. The City should maintain focus on attracting more tourists and the tax dollars they spend.
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.
Chicago's red light camera program, the program's contracting, and its implementation has been a fiasco. It is now clear that the program is really a thinly-veiled revenue source. The City's relationship with contractor RedFlex is under investigation.
Studies have shown that red light cameras may actually increase the number of accidents (rear end collisions) so they should be used sparingly.
11) Ward issues
Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?
A: Education, safety, and economic development are the three most important issues in the Ward. The 19th Ward's educational challenges (funding and overcrowding among others) are linked to Chicago's larger CPS budgetary challenges. The 19th Ward's safety challenge is to retain its CPD coverage in our local beats adjacent to higher crime areas. Economically, the 19th Ward needs to make itself as attractive as possible to local businesses and improve the region's access to them.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Office running for: Alderman, 19th Ward
Political/civic background:Candidate, Alderman 19th Ward (2011)
Education:University of Chicago, BA; Rush College of Medicine, MD
Campaign website: http://www.electanne.com