Democrat Kevin Morrison faces Republican Timothy O. Schneider in the Cook County Board race to represent the 15th district of northwestern Cook, including Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates and Elk Grove Village. Watch the video above to learn why Morrison is running for office.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board also sent the nominees for Cook County Board of Commissioners a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing Cook County. Morrison submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
Cook County has cut its spending and probably will pass a budget that includes no new revenues. Given the county government’s resources and responsibilities, what else would you do to cut or to generate sustainable revenues? How much would money would that save or generate? Are you willing to vote for new taxes or fees? Please be specific.
Morrison: No, I would not vote for new taxes or fees, as Cook County Commissioner. I will find revenue generating solutions that do not require raising taxes on middle class families, or involve short-term taxes such as the soda tax that hurt the small business community.
There are opportunities to expand our tax base and not burden the middle class that should be explored. Expansion of pro-small business policies such as lowering the property tax and incentives on new small businesses would create a brand new stream of revenue for the county.
I would propose policies on the county level and work with our local governments to pass policies that would make it more affordable for small business development, which would lead to growth in our local economies.
Also, a corporate lease tax, closing corporate loopholes and creating a more transparent and fair property tax system would allow us to finally give a break to our hard working families. A fairer and more honest system will see those at the top with huge commercial and residential real estate pay their fair share while working families and those with small businesses are allowed the opportunity to thrive and continue to grow.
The Cook County Health and Hospitals System lost out on some $165 million in revenue over three years because of lax clerical procedures and errors, according to report last spring by the county inspector general. What would you do to end this kind of waste?
Morrison: The report compiled by the Inspector General is a troubling one. It shows that Cook County Health Systems has a lot of room to improve and these changes can be achieved through better staff training, updating billing procedures, and general speaking, more oversight.
Everything from updating the way the county schedules new patient appointments, to doctors completing medical files on time, to increasing training and staff accountability will lead to more efficient practices that save the county money. It is unacceptable that such a sum was lost due to inefficiencies that can be addressed and solved.
I will work with the county board to make sure that our billing procedures with our coding practices are done accurately, that our hospital staff is held accountable and they are well trained to ensure that such mishaps do not happen again. Taxpayers expect us to use their dollars wisely and the more efficient our practices the more we can invest in the county.
Who is Kevin B. Morrison?
He’s running for:
- Cook County Board of Commissioners, 15th District
His political/civic Background:
- Prior to running for office, Kevin was the former special projects coordinator for Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.
- Kevin has vast experience working to help elect progressive candidates. He led efforts to organize precinct voters during the Iowa caucus to help elect Hillary Clinton.
- He also helped build volunteer organizations in Colorado, Arizona, and Ohio through the Primary and General Election for her presidential campaign.
- Full time Candidate
- Political and Environmental Science Major at Depaul University
Campaign website: www.kevinbmorrison.com
What should the County Board’s role be in assisting economically depressed areas in the south suburbs? Should the county sheriff take over policing responsibilities in more suburbs that are struggling to maintain police protection?
Morrison: The Board must focus and prepare Cook County to be a leading economic engine in an ever increasing globalized economy in the 21st century. The stronger every region of Cook County is, the stronger our economy will be going forward regarding efficiency, productivity, and it will help reduce the high costs of poverty.
All of these factors are intermixed so ensuring that economically depressed areas like the South Suburbs become a thriving regional hub once again is a no-brainer. The South Suburbs of Cook County once provided a major manufacturing center, with vast railways, a middle class respite from the City of Chicago, with easy transit access to downtown, and forest preserves available for recreational use. However, industrial decline decades ago have led to high unemployment, skyrocketing poverty rates and the out-migration of many middle class communities.
All of the aforementioned factors brought a decreased tax base which in turn led to a decline in services provided as communities struggled to get by. Although the problems seem insurmountable, it also provides the South Suburbs with an opportunity to make a comeback.
The South Suburbs are still home to a variety of positives such as an expansive infrastructure, industries in health care, food and packaging, and the presence of many hard-working civic groups invested in the restoration of this area.
We need to continue partnering with non-profit groups, and push job training and apprenticeships to help tackle youth unemployment. This will better prepare the next generation for more well-paying jobs. We must also expand recreational projects, such as improvements to local trails and waterways, which will make the South Suburbs more attractive to business and residential development.
It will not be a turnaround that will occur tomorrow or even next week, however investing with the right groups, utilizing property tax mechanisms such as enterprise zones to attract new businesses, the implementation of a fairer property tax system, and pushing for federal grants to revitalize blighted areas, we can expect to see the south suburbs attract new businesses, residents, and slowly become a thriving economic hub once again.
In the south suburbs there is a presence of increased crime in communities that do not have the resources to adequately fund a larger police presence. The Cook County Sheriff department stepping in to help assist these communities that do not have the budgets to hire more officers is one that needs to be explored and I would open to the department taking on a larger role to help if there is a call by these municipalities to do so.
As a commissioner, how strongly would you support efforts to ensure that voting within the county is secure?
Morrison: The 2016 Elections have shown us that there are glaring security issues when it comes to our voting systems and institutions. This fact has made voters increasingly nervous and skeptical that our institutions are not secure enough to protect their most basic right in our Democracy, and of a free and fair election.
Illinois has seen firsthand efforts to hack our electoral systems, with hackers penetrating and acquiring 76,000 active voter records. This is incredibly alarming. We do see the federal government and state board of elections taking action to help assure that those voices are protected with the Help Americans Vote Act, but I believe this is not enough.
We must put the focus on modernizing our voting equipment, hiring cyber security experts to defend and test our system regularly, implement better post-election audits, ensure that a paper copy is printed with every vote. This will help voters feel as if their county, state, and federal governments is doing everything they can to keep our electoral process safe and to regain their trust.
I would consider it a top priority to work with the County Clerk and the Board to ensure that our systems are protected for years to come.
What should the County Board do to help reduce gun violence?
Morrison: It is sobering and not unfamiliar to anyone that that gun violence has reached epidemic levels here in Cook County. In 2017 alone, CCHHS Stroger Hospital on Chicago’s west side cared for nearly 1,100 gunshot victims. If that were not alarming enough, Cook County Health and Hospital Services spend nearly $30,000 – $50,000 (30-40 million annually) to treat gunshot wounds.
In response, the county has pushed to pass tougher penalties such as longer sentences for those possessing illegal firearms and calls for an increased police presence. Current penalties on the books should be enforced, however, to truly tackle the root issue of the gun violence in our county we need to look at more that one solution.
Many of the areas of Cook County that are plagued by this violence have been for decades left behind with lack of economic investment, poor school districts, and lack of opportunity. We do need to have stronger gun laws, which the incumbent has voted against to side with the NRA, but we can not treat this issue with one answer alone.
It is going to take a collective effort with local, state, and federal branches of government working together to pass safer gun laws, but also will require Cook County and the City of Chicago stepping up to expand mental health care services, and pushing for economic enterprise zones to help jump-start these areas with new small businesses.
This year alone Illinois has passed a host of bills to make Cook County and Illinois safer, including the passage of SB3256 which requires a 72 hour waiting period for all gun sales and HB2354 which allows firearms to be confiscated with a judge’s consent from those that are deemed to do harm to themselves or those around them.
These are proactive steps taken by our Representatives to keep citizens of Cook County safer, however, we also have a Governor that earlier this year vetoed the Gun Dealer Licensing Act which would have required gun dealers and their employees to undergo training to properly conduct background checks, store guns, prevent thefts, and stop straw purchases throughout our state.
Although, our state legislature has taken steps to make us safer, we need to go even farther to ensure public safety with a gun licensing bill. This does not take the federal government out of the equation by any means. Illinois has a host of neighbors that have relatively unsafe gun laws, which allows the transition of illegal firearms into our state. We need the federal government to step up to make sure that everyone is doing their part, as well as the Board should be in tackling this issue.
It is paramount that we approach this issue as a public health crisis and not one that can be swept under the rug with talking points until the next incident occurs. Economic development, mental health, and expanding opportunities is also key to lowering the incident of gun violence.
What ordinances would you propose and make a priority?
Morrison: As Cook County Commissioner, I will introduce an ordinance that would lessen the property tax burden placed on new small businesses for two years. Starting a small business in Cook County has become a task that is only accessible by those who are independently wealthy, where as those in the working class are left behind. We need to be creative and smart about removing the many obstacles that impede new small business development on the county level, and I would work with the municipalities to see that these policies take effect on the local level as well.
I would like to see the expansion of a Cook County Medical Facility here in the 15th District. Providing more affordable and high quality healthcare is incredibly important, and it is outrageous that the 300,000 residents in my district do not have easy access to a Cook County medical facility. Bringing a more affordable healthcare option to the district will help lower medical costs in the Northwest suburbs, and bring an expansion of accessible mental health services that our community desperately needs.
I will also propose a property tax panel assembled to provide more oversight on the Assessor’s office. The current system is one that only rewards the well connected, doesn’t adhere to industry’s standards, and disproportionately affects working families and small businesses throughout Cook County.
I would like to work with our new Assessor in fixing our broken property tax system. Our working families should be given the proper assessment from the start, and this game of appeals must end once and for all.
We need a firewall between the Cook County Assessor and property tax attorneys for this very reason; I plan to introduce legislation that will ban property tax attorneys from making campaign contributions to the Assessor.
Finally, streamlining services as the Senior Tax Exemption and Senior Tax Freeze are incredibly important in lowering the burdens we place on our seniors.
The role of government should be to make life easier for our families, not more difficult. I look forward to working with our new Assessor and others on the Board for pushing the state to introduce legislation that deals with the current legislation that needlessly burdens our seniors to reapply every year for the exemptions and freezes that they are due.
Also, closing any corporate loopholes that multi-billion dollar corporations currently take advantage of is also essential to bringing in much-needed revenue to ensure that are services are well provided for.
Should Cook County create a Consensus Revenue Forecasting Commission to give the board independent analyses?
Morrison: On the surface, the creation of a Consensus Revenue Forecasting Commission has promising opportunities to be an arm for the Cook County Board to help ascertain where we are financially and what the impact of future ordinances will be. I am open to the creation of such a commission only because it will serve to bring more transparency that I’m sure will be a welcome sight to the taxpayers of Cook County. However, I would need to see more specifics on how much such a commission would cost the county.
Does it make sense for the sheriff’s department to take over the Cook County forest preserve police? Does it make sense for Stroger Hospital to have its own police force? Please explain.
Morrison: After the incident that took place this summer, it has become clear that the Cook County Forest Preserve Police are not adequately equipped or trained to protect our community. It would be more efficient to have the Sheriff’s department take up the role as opposed to having a separate force. Such consolidation could save the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. If the issues that we saw this past summer are not adequately dealt with, I would be open to seeing the Sheriff’s department take over.
I don’t believe that Stroger Hospital should have its own police force. If safety at Stroger Hospital is not maintained, we could consider having a more active police force on the grounds.
Within the forest preserve system, native plants areas in unmanaged land are deteriorating at a rate of about 3 percent per year because of weeds and invasive species. What should be done, if anything, to protect the forest preserve’s ecosystems?
Morrison: Protecting our native ecosystems is of vital importance to the health and biodiversity that we benefit from here in the county. We must make sure that we are taking active steps to slow the rate of weeds and invasive species that put our forest preserve system at risk. Teaming with environmental groups, and providing internships to communities to help deweed and remove invasive species is a step we must take.
This is an issue that will not be dealt with by volunteerism alone, and we must find ways to bring in new forms of revenue that will provide the resources necessary to manage, maintain, and improve our preserves. Funding the “Next Century” plan would deal with many of these issues, and I would propose fundraising mechanisms to afford this plan without raising taxes on our working families. Selling naming rights on trails, or allowing advertising on forest preserve maps for wealthy corporations, philanthropists, and local groups could be an important way to bring in the revenue necessary to fund the programs we need to rejuvenate our forest preserves.
Are county commissioners, who are mostly Democrats, independent enough of their party and the president?
Morrison: I can not speak to the independence of the current County Commissioners, but I can speak as to how I plan to govern. I will be an independent Democrat advocating for our middle-class and working families. I see my role as a watchdog for Cook County taxpayers, opposing regressive taxes and reining in wasteful spending by reforming county government, unlike my opponent, who is beholden to Governor Rauner, President Trump and special interests who donate to his campaign.
As I talk to voters at the doors, over the phone, at community events, one thing has been consistent, and that is government at all levels is not doing enough to represent the voices in individual districts. This sentiment is felt across party lines.
I am running for this position because I believed we could do a better job for our hardworking families, and that we need a Commissioner who is full time and present in their community. One that will knock on your door, hold town halls, and be open to this community at all times as a public servant should be.
We can expand healthcare access, promote public safety, expand small businesses, and not continue to pass regressive taxes that push working families out of the county. Serving my constituents is my sole concern, and this type of focus is what I plan to bring to the County Board on day one.
What can the county do to create synergies with the City of Chicago? Or is this unnecessary?
Morrison: I believe that government is at its best when we are working together on behalf of working families, and not burdening them with unmanageable taxes. Many key areas in the County overlap with the City of Chicago, so it only makes sense that there is more cooperation to eliminate waste and share resources.
In 2013, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Emanuel announced their collaboration had achieved $70.9 million in savings and revenue for the city and county. Saldy, the committee has been disbanded, which eliminates an opportunity for continued savings.
As Cook County Commissioner, I would like to pursue a conversation for consolidating city and county election services under the Cook County Clerk. These times call for further voter protection, and aside from sharing equipment, there doesn’t seem to be much collaboration despite the fact that many districts have both city and suburban boundaries.
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.