District running for: 5th Representative District
Political party: Democrat
Political/civic background: Chair, Kenwood Academy Local School Council (2012-2015); Current Boards of Directors: Juvenile Protective Association, Public Allies Chicago; Previous Boards of Directors: Community Justice for Youth Institute; Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center; Other civic organizations include Chicago Illinois Chapter of the Links, Inc. and Chicago Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, Inc., Chicago Bar Association, Black Women Lawyer’s Association, City of Chicago Affirmative Action Advisory Board
Occupation: Director, Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Juris Doctorate, DePaul University College of Law
Campaign website: N/A
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses
Q. Illinois has a massive state debt and crushing pension debt. Many elected officials from the governor to state lawmakers have indicated there is a need for additional revenue to help balance the budget. If Illinois needs to generate additional revenue, which options would you support in a budget package:
I am open to other forms of revenue especially to avoid making drastic cuts to services such as education, health care and vital services for seniors. Currently, our public schools are suffering from a massive budget deficit and one of the ways we can address this issue is with the millionaire’s tax. The millionaire’s tax would provide much needed revenue directly to the education system when it needs it the most, yet when it was called for a vote, my opponent failed to support it.
Balancing the budget on the backs of already struggling families is neither the right thing to do nor is it feasible. Any new revenue must be used to address current deficits and ideas such as shifting to a progressive income tax structure can help increase revenue while also ensuring the burden is not placed on struggling middle class families.
2. Expand the sales tax to services.
I am open to other forms of revenue especially to avoid making drastic cuts to services such as education, health care and vital services for seniors. I would prefer to support a constitutional amendment to shift the state’s tax structure from a flat tax to a progressive income tax that would reduce the burden on struggling and middle-class families. I also support closing corporate loopholes and requiring millionaires to pay their fair share by creating an additional surcharge for income over $1 million with the revenues going directly to schools.
3. Tax retirement income in excess of $50,000.
4. Adopt a progressive income tax.
If you oppose all tax hikes, please provide specifics on how you would reduce state spending by $7 billion to balance the state budget.
Q) Do you support another legislative attempt at pension reform? If so, which proposed changes in the pension system would you support that you believe would pass constitutional muster?
I believe it is very clear that something must be done to protect the solvency of pension funds for the individuals who have paid into the system. In order to craft a realistic solution, it is vital that all stakeholders are invited to the negotiation table and input from all of the stakeholders must be given serious consideration.
This problem was not created overnight and is due to years of improper funding and neglect by previous governors and legislators. Our state deserves an equitable solution and it must first be fair to taxpayers, retirees and current workers who are depending on these funds for their retirement.
Q) Do you support a budget template developed by a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators that would allow members to pass a budget without the consent of the legislative leaders?
There are several items in the proposal which I understand our state is already working towards that I would be willing to support. I believe, much like families across the state, that we should focus on paying down our backlog of bills and funding vital programs such as childcare assistance which allows parents to work and healthcare options for seniors and those with mental illness. In order to fund the programs and services families depend on, we must also be willing to add new revenue. It is also important that we prioritize ensuring that minorities have an equal opportunity in state contracting and participating in economic development programs. To this last point, I currently serve on the City of Chicago Affirmative Action Advisory Board which is tasked with monitoring and reporting on the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in public contracting.
In addition, it is important to point out that taxing retirement income or enacting reforms that drive down the standard of living for working families is not acceptable. We must prioritize funding for public education, healthcare for seniors and childcare assistance so that those who depend on those programs do not suffer while we get our fiscal house in order.
Q) What, if anything, should we do to change how we fund schools?
Every child deserves a high quality education regardless of the zip code in which they live. This is a very complex issue and must remain one of our top priorities until an equitable solution is crafted. Our communities can no longer afford for us to operate a flawed funding formula.
I am opposed to eliminating the block grant or any other reforms that will reduce the amount of funding that CPS will receive. It is not possible for us to provide a high quality education to our children without adequate resources from the state. That is another reason why initiatives such as the millionaire’s tax are necessary in order to provide much needed funding directly to the school system.
Q) Do you favor the state picking up the pension costs for Chicago teachers, as the state does for teachers outside Chicago? Do you favor school districts outside Chicago picking up their own pension costs, as Chicago does now?
I believe that having the state pick up the cost of Chicago teachers is an idea that might work well in coordination with new streams of revenue. It is important to consider that adding new expenses to the state budget might cause unintended budget pressures for other state programs that are depended on by families in Chicago.
I do not support shifting pension costs onto local property taxpayers who are already struggling to make ends meet and keep up with other rising costs.
Q) State support for public higher education has declined for two decades. Do you favor the status quo or a significant increase in state funding? What is your plan to restore Illinois’ leadership in public higher education?
Our students deserve that the state provide increased funding for higher education. The mark of strong communities and economies is based around having excellent educational opportunities for students and employers. We begin making investments in our children in early childhood education programs and we should continue making those investments until they have finished college and are fully prepared to enter the workforce.
Governor Rauner and my opponent, who is the chair of the committee on Higher Education Appropriations, have failed to provide students with the resources they need. This lack of leadership has resulted in nearly a thousand students who were not able to return for classes at the start of the spring semester. In addition, next month Chicago State University is faced with having to shut its doors to the very students whose lives can be changed the most by earning their college degree. This is a prime example of poor leadership and the very reason our state needs leaders who are honest and responsive to the needs of all communities.
Q) Illinois has a tremendous backlog of infrastructure needs: roads, bridges, waterways, transit. What would be a good way to pay for it? Do you support an increased gas tax — and/or other taxes and fees — to finance infrastructure improvements, including public transit?
In order to keep our infrastructure operating in good condition and to control costs, it is important that we shift to an annual infrastructure improvement plan. An annual plan would better allow us to plan projects and help to avoid expensive, large scale emergency projects. I am open to finding creative ways to fund this sort of program, but one option is to ensure the extremely wealthy are paying their fair share. Adding these costs solely to middle class families who are already burdened is not a fair option.
Q) Illinois’ public transportation formula provides money for operating costs, but not capital costs. Should Illinois create a reliable funding stream for capital costs?
Q) Illinois has long been a strong manufacturing state. Today, Illinois employs fewer than 600,000 manufacturing workers and manufacturing’s share of the Gross State Product has dropped to 12.4 percent. Our state saw the loss of nearly 10,000 manufacturing jobs in 2015 and announcements from some high-profile companies of job losses. The average manufacturing job pays more than $70,000 and helps create a strong middle class. Name the top three things that you would do to help attract and retain manufacturing jobs in Illinois.
Our state is home to some of the best resources and tools for successful businesses to flourish. Unfortunately, many of our problems are making it difficult for new companies to consider making Illinois their home.
The first thing we must do is to pass a state budget. Not only do we need a budget, but we also need a budget that prioritizes fiscal stability and protects our children, senior citizens and most vulnerable communities. Businesses and families deserve to trust that our economic climate will promote job growth and spur economic development.
The second thing we must do is invest in our physical infrastructure. Part of what makes Chicago and Illinois a great place to do business is the access to our airports, waterways, railways, and highways. These are the tools that companies must be able to trust will always be in good working condition and will be able to support their needs as their business expands.
The third thing we must do is invest in our education system. Not only is education the most important factor many families use to decide where they will live, but companies also look to having a well trained and educated workforce. We have some of the best universities in the world in Illinois, but we must ensure we are continuing to attract companies and industries that will be able to employ our talented graduates.
In addition to these items, it is important that government officials continue to partner with business leaders to create a long term plan for growth in our region. The public and private sectors depend on each other to remain healthy and it is vital that a strong partnership exist that allows for the flow and exchange of information and ideas. As industries such as technology and renewable energy grow, it is important that we are working to make sure our economy and infrastructure is adapting to accommodate these new industries.
Q) Illinois has a very diverse energy portfolio and is a net exporter of energy in a deregulated marketplace. Energy is poised to be major issue in 2016 because of federal regulations and possible changes in Illinois’ energy portfolio. Nuclear energy emits zero carbon emissions at a time when the new federal rule requires Illinois to reduce carbon emissions by 44 percent. Do you support or oppose legislation backed by Exelon to create a low-carbon portfolio standard?
Anytime we are considering making a decision that involves our natural environment it is important that we consider how we want to leave the world for future generations. Regarding Exelon’s legislation, I would like to learn more about the number of jobs it would create and if it would allow for other forms of zero emission generation, such as wind and solar, to compete on a level playing field.
Q) Illinois’ current Renewable Portfolio Standard calls for Illinois to procure a certain percentage of renewable power by the year 2020. The state is only halfway to its goal, and there is a proposal to increase the required amount of renewable energy and extending the time period to meet that goal. Do you support or oppose increasing Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard even if the cost of power increases slightly? Do you support or oppose the Illinois Clean Jobs bill?
I do support increasing Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard because the long term cost to consumers will be comparatively less. I also support the Illinois Clean Jobs bill.
Q) Illinois has to reduce carbon emissions by 44 percent under the federal rule. Do you support creation of either a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax to help mitigate carbon emissions in Illinois?
I believe a tax on carbon could be a useful tool in helping mitigate carbon emissions in Illinois.
Q) Do you support tighter gun background check laws? Do you support limiting straw gun purchases?
I am currently the Director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and community safety is an issue I have worked on in various ways throughout my career. The violence that is ravaging our communities must be stopped. Too often families are forced to mourn the loss of loved ones due to senseless acts of violence. It is a multi-faceted problem that can only be stopped if all stakeholders agree to a common solution and commit to providing whatever resources necessary to remove gun violence from our homes, communities and headlines. One of the keys to stopping this violence is to stop the flow of weapons into our neighborhoods.
Tighter background checks and bringing an end to straw gun purchases will go a long way in keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Legislators must be committed to making sure that those who are a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness receive the assistance they need and are not allowed to purchase or have access to guns.
Q) Do you support or oppose state licensing for all firearms dealers?
Q) Do you support or oppose allowing families to petition the courts to temporarily remove guns from people in crisis?
Q) Do you support or oppose legislation to promote the transparency and preservation of police disciplinary records?
Support. Police officers are members of our communities and most of the officers I have met as I walk door to door through the district are committed to doing their part to protect and serve local residents. Unfortunately, there are some officers who have betrayed our trust and violated the law and they should be held accountable for their actions.
Q) Do you support the goal of reducing the Illinois adult prison population by 25% by 2025? Would you support sentencing reform such as reducing or eliminating prison terms for non-violent drug offenses? Would you support early release of aged and disabled prisoners predicated on an assessment of risk to public safety prior to release?
I support the goal of reducing the Illinois adult prison population and I also support sentencing reform and investing in drug treatment programs, where warranted, as opposed to prison terms. Moreover, I believe there is no reason that those solely charged with non-violent, low-level drug offenses should be sitting in the county jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail. While these issues are often very complex and must be studied further, it is important that individuals who do not pose a threat to our public safety are not causing strain on our jail system as they await their day in court. I am open to studying a plan which would allow for the early release of aged and disabled prisoners predicated on an assessment of risk to public safety prior to release.
Q) Do you support automatic expungement and sealing of criminal records for all crimes after an appropriate period during which the former offender commits no crimes?
As a community, we must decide which aspects of reforming our criminal justice system will provide the most benefits for victims, taxpayers and offenders. I believe that in order to stop the cycle of mass incarceration, we must provide access to education, housing and jobs to individuals upon reentry. Recently, across the nation, we have seen states, municipalities and even major corporations adopt "ban-the-box" initiatives to ensure ex-offenders have the opportunity to be judged on their potential rather than solely on their past. The focus of our criminal justice system must be on rehabilitating offenders to become responsible citizens once they return to society.
Q) Given that there are more empty beds than youth now in the juvenile prisons, do you support closing one or more juvenile prisons?
As the former executive director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council and manager of the criminal and juvenile justice reform agenda for the Office of the Cook County Board President, I believe that decisions regarding closing juvenile prisons require very serious study and deliberation. Youth who are in the criminal justice system are at very crucial junctures in their development and it is important that they be provided the resources they need to deal with many social and mental issues that they are experiencing, including trauma. As such, I believe it may be more beneficial reduce the number of juvenile prisons and instead invest in community-based resources which can better meet their developmental needs.
Q) What is your view on a proposal to end the placement of juveniles on the state’s sex offender registry based on assessment of their risk and likelihood to reoffend and/or benefit from treatment? For adult sex offenders, what is your view on delivery of rehabilitation therapy and limiting sex offender registry restrictions only to those men and women assessed to pose a danger to others?
I support laws that protect local residents and children from dangerous sex offenders and predators.
Q) Do you support a form of merit selection of judges?
I believe that the power of electing judges should remain in the hands of voters. Reforms to the process to make judicial ratings more readily available to the public and media can help to ensure the most qualified candidates are elected.
Q) Do you support the pending constitutional amendment to create an independent commission to draw legislative districts?
Our current process of drawing legislative districts is not perfect and is in need of reform. The method of “tie-breaking” between the governor and lawmakers should be changed. With that being said, I have very serious concerns about the proposed constitutional amendment to create an independent commission. In light of recent incidents in Chicago, I believe that voters should have a say and recourse when decisions are being made on their behalf. An independent map commission would remove the ability of voters to hold mapmakers accountable.
The independent map proposal also poses a very serious threat to minority voting rights. I refuse to support any initiatives which threaten the ability of minorities to participate in elections or serve in elected offices of their choice. The NAACP released a report which cautions that some forms of redistricting reform threaten minority voting rights. I believe that all levels of government must be accountable to voters.
This is also why I support the creation of an elected school board in Chicago. Parents and voters deserve to be able to choose how decisions are made about their schools and our communities. For too long, our schools have been run by an unelected and unaccountable school board. The time has come for us to be able to end the reign of unelected bureaucrats and to allow the voices of our community to be heard.
Q) What changes in workers’ compensation or tort reform do you favor?
I think it’s very important to ensure that any further changes made to the worker’s compensation system do not drive down wages of middle class workers or decrease their standard of living. In the very near future, we must make decisions to improve our economic climate, but it cannot come at the expense of placing an increased burden on working families who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Q) Do you support or oppose automatic voter registration?
Q) What sort of ethics and campaign-funding reforms does the state need?
The people of Illinois have unfortunately grown accustomed to unethical politicians and I believe we have reached a crucial point where residents are taking a stand and demanding change. It is important that we take advantage of this point in history and find real solutions to give Illinois residents the strong policies that they deserve. Especially as we struggle to find funding for our most vulnerable communities, we need to strengthen penalties for theft of public funds and enhance penalties for public corruption.
I am open to studying campaign-funding reform proposals which would ensure voters have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and also allow for the best candidates to compete on a level playing field.
Q) 2016 is going to be a big year in education, as both state and the City of Chicago wrestle with fundamental issues of funding and school policy. Who was the most important teacher in your life and why?
I am a graduate of Kenwood Academy, a Chicago public school, and I was privileged to be a student of Kenwood’s world-renowned music teacher, Dr. Lena McLin. While I would never be considered a “vocalist,” Dr. McLin always encouraged me to stretch beyond what I thought was possible for my voice and to use the gift I was given in whichever form it presented itself. Dr. McLin made a huge impact on my life because she did not focus on the flaws of her young students, rather our potential. I have attempted to model that same approach throughout my life as a mother, youth advocate, and restorative justice practitioner.
Juliana Stratton is endorsed by the Sun-Times. Read the endorsement.