On Feb. 20, Bridget Degnen appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. After winning the March primary, Degnen is running uncontested in the November general election.
The Sun-Times sent the candidates running for Cook County commissioner in the primary a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area.
Degnen submitted the following responses to our questionnaire.
The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget. Can county government now claim an appropriate balance of revenue and services, or will more revenue or more cost-cutting be necessary? Please be specific as to where new revenue might come from, or where further cuts could be made.
Degnan: Given that the Cook County Board was facing a $200M budget shortfall, with cuts to essential services, layoffs and job posting closings, it’s imperative that each of the Board’s Commissioners develop credible revenue generation sources.
If elected, my first priority will be to focus on revenue generation without placing an undue burden on citizens or services. For example, expediting documents and services across Cook County offices will generate revenue, while providing convenience for a fee. Cook County should address services for areas that are currently unincorporated, and determine how best to ensure services are paid for equally by all living in Cook County. Additionally, certain taxes are not collected at 100%. I would advocate for collection rate of 100% for all taxes currently on the books.
Who is Bridget Degnen?
She’s running for: Democratic nomination for Cook County commissioner in the 12th District Her political/civic background: Democratic Her occupation: Attorney Her education: Undergraduate degree from University of Dayton in Environmental Engineering. Law Degree from Loyola University Chicago. Campaign website: www.bridgetdegnen.com Twitter: @DegnanBridget Recent news: Bridget Degnen
If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, what would you propose doing to keep the county’s Health and Hospitals System on sound financial footing?
Degnen: If the ACA is repealed, many of the people insured under County Care will find themselves uninsured. Without the funding County Care provides, Cook County hospital systems will be thrown into financial chaos. We should advocate for the retention of the ACA at all levels of government in Illinois. In the face of a repeal, we need to immediately find alternative funding sources. If elected, I will file a resolution with the Board that each Cook County Board member be responsible for credible and viable funding and revenue sources that are available, and possible to implement in the next year.
What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
Degnan: Privatization is often argued to be tied to cost savings, but in reality, privatization can also be tied to declines in service quality, limited flexibility in adjusting the contract, and increased costs to consumers (i.e. the Chicago parking meter privatization). There needs to be balance between public and private sector responsibilities, but taking governmental responsibility and corresponding government jobs and transferring it to for-profit companies to reduce “Government” is not always the answer. I have seen firsthand that due to cumbersome government procurement rules, once a contract for a service has been executed, it’s difficult to change or re-issue. In connection with privatization, those providing the service don’t always have the same incentive to ensure that the service is as good as it should be. An analysis would need to be done regarding the number of people performing the work, the economic development of transferring the jobs, health and safety, and whether the current jobs could be efficiently folded into the proposed department.
The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
Degnen: Rauner’s turnaround agenda has caused an avoidable disruption in the state’s finances and payer status. Cook County must have the revenue to cover essential services. Every year brings new technology and cultural evolution, yet we’re still stuck with the same revenue problems and arguable solutions. Instead of working toward the minimum, Cook County should look to see how it can pivot to a future where it’s projecting for improvements in jobs and technology rather than existing in a state of panic over revenue. I have articulated solid ideas on how to raise revenue, and believe all Cook County Commissioners should do the same. If elected, I would propose an initiative to the Cook County Board, that each year each commissioner provide sustainable revenue generation ideas. With 17 commissioners annually required to work on revenue, there would be meaningful progress, without arguments over cutting payroll or implementing taxes that overburden citizens.
What is your position on tax-increment financing districts? Are they a valuable development tool? Are they underutilized? Is the process sufficiently transparent? Should there be more community input? Should the definition of a “blighted” area be revised?
Degnen: TIF districts can be effective source of revenue. The City of Chicago should provide greater accountability and transparency on the TIF program. The public would like to have a say in how to prioritize the TIF funds with regular voting/ballot inquiries.
Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
Degnen: There are multiple other sources of revenue to be explored before going back to the property tax well. With 17 Cook County commissioners annually required to work on revenue, as elected officials, they should be making meaningful progress on matching revenue with services, instead of turning to the same two offers to cut payroll or implement taxes that overburden citizens.
Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
Degnen: The unincorporated pockets of the county should and many times do, receive the same services that the incorporated areas do. In a county the size of Cook County, everyone receiving the same services should pay equally for them. Annexing can be done over a graduated multiple year process, with local feedback and resident buy-in.
What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
Degnen: Economic development can start at home. With a focus on stabilizing education for those in Cook County districts where children have the highest barriers to long term job stability, we can advocate not only for college as an answer after high school, but for apprenticeship programs in lieu college, and the availability for non-traditional career paths especially for women.
An additional $40 million per year is needed to fund the Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Where can the county find the money?
Degnen: There are pop up restaurants on public land in Chicago. For example, Oak Street Beach has a pop up restaurant that brings people to the beach, increases beach use, and allows people the convenience of having lunch or beverages in an outdoor atmosphere. The Cook County forest preserve could allow leases for pop up restaurants for a limited time, over the summer months, and on a pilot program to People would be drawn to use the public outdoor space, and the forest preserve would generate income.
Traditionally, the Forest Preserve District has not charged for parking in the preserves, but it is considering doing so at Swallow Cliff Woods. Do you support that?
Degnen: Charge only for the best spaces, leaving the handicap accessible spaces and less accessible spaces at no cost.
Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
Degnen: The Cook County Board is sufficient. At $85,000 a year for Commissioner salary, those already elected should be completing the work on Forest Preserve matters.
Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
Degnen: The State of Illinois has many issues, including a current lack of leadership. It doesn’t appear that Cook County is a priority for the State, because the Governor is focused on his turnaround agenda. The governor appears to be treating many of the counties equally unfairly.
Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
Degnan: Cook County should be directly responsible for its pension system, including resolving the pension shortfall.
Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
Degnen: None. Officials should hire those best qualified for the position.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.