Democrat Fred Crespo is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 44th district Illinois House race. He faces Republican Katy Dolan Baumer in the general election.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts.
Crespo submitted the following responses, and watch the video above to find out why he’s in the race.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
- Reining in skyrocketing property taxes: High property taxes is one of the most common concerns residents relay to me in the community. To rein in the taxing power of local governments, I spearheaded House Bills 2397, 3082, 4988, and 4996 (100th GA), all of which freeze local property taxes when a unit of government’s cash reserves exceed 25% of its annual operating budget. To help lower property taxes, I also supported SB 484 and HB 156 (100th GA), both of which cut property taxes for middle-class families, and provided additional relief for seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans.
- Reducing senseless gun violence: Given the number of mass shootings our country has suffered, passing commonsense gun safety laws is important to me. That’s why I voted to restrict access to assault rifles, hold gun dealers accountable and ban bump stock modifications that turn military-style assault rifles into even deadlier fully automatic machine guns.
- Protecting a woman’s right to choose and access to health care: Given the current attacks on choice and women’s health, I am fighting to keep access open in Illinois. That is why I voted to protect a woman’s right to choose and reversed the governor’s extreme cuts to lifesaving breast cancer screenings.
- Ensuring every child has a world-class education: Making sure that every child has a quality education is one of reasons why I ran for office and one of the most pressing issues that I work on currently. My proudest accomplishments as an education advocate and Chairman of the Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee were 1) leading on the passage of the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, which replaced “No Child Left Behind Act” in Illinois and 2) helping craft the recent improvements to Illinois’ school funding formula.
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
- Opposing Com-ED’s power lines on the I-390 corridor: In 2015, Com-ED proposed the construction of new power lines along the I-390 corridor. This project would not lower energy costs, but would lower property values and create unpleasant views. I opposed this new expansion, and led on legislation requiring the high-voltage lines in ComEd’s proposed project to run underground through House Bill 6570 (100th GA).
- Preserving the state’s Medicaid commitment: Earlier this year, I received complaints from patients and providers in my district that the new insurance companies that Rauner outsourced Medicaid services to were denying critical health care procedures. The audit I requested on Rauner’s new Medicaid program revealed the Administration had inadequately monitored over $7 billion in Medicaid payments. I fought to continue the audit of this disastrous roll out since I knew that the same issues could continue to negatively affect my residents.
- Protecting state funding for local programs and services: Countless non-profits that serve my community, from the Education and Work Center in Hanover Park to the Ecker Center in Elgin, to day care centers, allow residents opportunities to better their lives. However, these non-profits often do not have mega-donors, forcing them to rely on unreliable state funding. That’s why I continue to fight for full budgets in Springfield that fund critical services back home.
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Crespo: The biggest difference between us is my history of independence from my party.
First, I opposed the Democratic establishment by publicly endorsing Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Assessor over Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios. Part of my commitment to property tax relief was supporting a candidate who I think will modernize the office.
As Chairman of the Appropriations-General Services Committee, I slashed the budget for the Lt. Governor’s office by 25%, even though someone from my own party occupied the office at the time.
I have also opposed my party by leading the effort to end an abused legislative scholarship program that too often doled out scholarships to friends and family members of Springfield and Chicago political elites.
I also want to note my commitment to working across the aisle. I recently introduced, and passed unanimously, not withstanding the governor’s veto, the Debt Transparency Act, which was highlighted by the non-partisan Better Government Association as one of the “15 Good Government Reforms Illinois Lawmakers Approved This Session”. This legislation requires each state agency to provide a monthly report to the Comptroller about its financial liabilities, whether funds have been allocated for those liabilities, and any interest penalties.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Crespo: Illinois needs to do more to keep people in the state. This is why I have supported:
- Providing property tax relief by expanding exemptions for middle-class homeowners, seniors and veterans. According to the Department of Education, Illinois relies more on property taxes for funding education than any other state. The result is the highest property taxes in the country, which drives people out of the state and into states where they can pay lower property taxes.
- Forcing the state, not local homeowners, to invest more in our K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning through revamping the education funding formula.
I also believe that words have consequences, regardless of if they come in a speech or a tweet. And one thing that has become very common is for some state leaders to travel the state and country and bad mouth our state. Illinois has many challenges, but it also has incredible strengths and continues to be a place I am proud to call home.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Crespo: Years of underfunding by both parties and the Great Recession have exacerbated Illinois’ pension crisis. We need to act now to ensure the state’s pension systems remain solvent.
To avoid the mistakes of the past, I took a tough vote for pension reform through Senate Bill 1 (98th GA) and since then have fought to require the state to make full pension payments. We must continue making full pension contributions and cannot allow political games or manufactured crises to threaten the long-term stability of the state.
Any pension changes must be fair both to taxpayers and public workers and must be negotiated with all stakeholders at the table. To do otherwise, would inevitably lead to costly litigation and implementation delays.
Illinois should replicate Minnesota’s process for pension reform: major stakeholders that often clash, such as business groups and labor unions, joined lawmakers at the table in good faith, posturing was minimized, and Democrats and Republicans compromised on real pension reform.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here? *
Crespo: Budget cuts and rising tuition coupled with greater difficulty in obtaining financial aid have made it virtually impossible for our families to send their children to Illinois public colleges. As state representative, I have fought for the state to properly invest in our schools and students, and make it easier for in-state students to attend college education in Illinois. This commonsense investment will in turn benefit the communities that are home to our beloved colleges and universities, creating new job growth and economic development as well as greater financial certainty.
While Illinois had underinvested in public education for decades, the governor committed a great disservice to our state by cutting off funding entirely until his demands were met.
Other states took advantage of Illinois not funding critical scholarships for hard-working Illinois students, known as Monetary Award Program (MAP) Grants, during the budget impasse and convinced students to travel out of state for their education. When Illinois cut MAP grants, public colleges reported students dropping out, taking bigger loans and cutting their course loads. In addition, at least 1,000 students whose MAP grant was cut did not return for the 2016 spring semester.
Even with the budget passed, more than half of eligible students were denied MAP grants in Illinois. These are students that are trying their best to improve their prospects. Illinois should support them in whatever way possible.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Crespo: The Legislature should pass, and the governor should sign, each of the following pieces of legislation. I support each.
- HB 1469 (100th GA): The Paul Bauer Act, named after the Chicago Police Commander that fell in the line of duty, would outlaw commercial purchases of body armor and limit the capacity of magazines.
- HB 4107 (100th GA): A ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
- SB 337 (100th GA): Gun dealer licensing legislation, to better regulate the flow of firearms and to crack down on dealers that do not follow safety guidelines.
- HB 1467 (100th GA): A ban on bump stock modifications, which can modify the number of bullets fired from a gun to 800 per minute.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Crespo: I would support the Fair Scheduling Act through HB 5046 (100th GA) which would establish fair scheduling policies in Illinois and provide badly needed work place protections to middle-income workers by requiring employers to notify shift workers at least 72 hours in advance of a change in their schedule. Employees whose shifts are canceled or shortened would receive at least half of their expected wages for that shift.
Nursing is one profession whose lack of workplace protections concerns me. I am aware of the physical, dangerous work that nurses perform dutifully every day without basic worker protections afforded teachers, firefighters, and police officers. Nurses are also increasingly suffering from erratic scheduling, which leads to low morale and quality of life issues.
To help nurses, this past year I helped pass the Health Care Violence Prevention Act through HB 4100 (100th GA). This legislation encourages new ways to handle potentially violent patients and provide whistle-blower protections for nurses who file criminal complaints against individuals who attack them. This would protect nurses from any backlash from their employers for reporting assaults.
However, more work remains to help create a better workplace for nurses, and other workers who do important, tiring work every day and lack basic workplace protections.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Crespo: I would only support legislation that includes input from law enforcement, educators, and medical personnel. I have stopped past efforts at legalizing marijuana that could increase impaired driving and make it easier for teenagers to acquire mind-altering drugs. However, I believe that medicinal marijuana can help reduce addiction to opioids, which is why I supported SB 336 (100th GA).
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Crespo: The opioid epidemic has seemingly touched every family and community. My solutions to the crisis include curbing over-prescription, improving hospital reporting standards, and providing law enforcement with the training and tools needed to handle overdose emergencies.
I believe that medicinal marijuana does have a role to play in reducing addiction to opioids, which is why I supported SB 336 (100th GA).
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done? *
Crespo: I will work with environmental groups to support and sponsor legislation that will create green jobs, invest in wind and solar power, promote the use of electric cars, invest in rail and public transit, reduce coal ash and nutrient pollution, and stand up to environmental deregulation from Washington.
I did not support the Future Energy Jobs Act. I refuse to add to the burden of middle class families through higher utility rates. Polluters, not middle-class families, ought to pay to clean up environmental disasters.
I should note that even though I voted against the act, I still have the backing of the environmental groups and unions.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? *
Crespo: I opposed the governor’s Medicaid privatization disaster, which has led to worse access, higher premiums, and too little transparency, which even the administration has admitted has not saved the state any money or properly monitored outcomes.
The Rauner administration could not even determine how much it paid in administrative costs to the “for profit” managed care MCOs. This is a major issue, as insurance companies should focus resources on health care, rather than bonuses, corporate retreats, and marketing. Additionally, health care providers have complained that the number of denied claims has significantly increased.
My solution was to introduce HR 100 (100th GA), which required the Illinois Auditor General to audit the MCO program. The audit I called for revealed the governor did not properly oversee $7 billion in health care contracting due to a lack of transparency and poor management. I am working now to require the governor to engage in a more transparent contracting process, rather than continue to push through no-bid contracts.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Crespo: While these programs can play a role in improving the Department of Corrections, my most important priority is to continue working to pass bipartisan budgets that invest our finite resources in the services that families in our community depend on most, like our schools, Meals on Wheels, medical care for the elderly, and lifesaving breast cancer screenings.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Crespo: I do not support plans that would allow dangerous or potentially dangerous criminals to be released from prison early and endanger our neighborhoods. For example, I don’t believe that Utah should have released five years early the kidnapper who helped take Elizabeth Smart from her home.
However, I will always seek victim advocates’ opinions.
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.