On Feb. 21, Alma Anaya appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Cook County Board of Commissioners in the 7th District. After winning the March primary, Anaya’s running uncontested in the November general election.
Here are her responses to our editorial board 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The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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.
Anaya: The recently passed County budget was very tight but it is also highly dependent on the “required” actions” contained in the budget (one-time revenues, layoffs, furloughs, elimination of funded vacancies, consolidations, federal payments, increased fee revenue, etc.) It will be necessary to carefully monitor the budget and the actions required in it. The absence of enough vacancies could lead to tighter enforcement of budgets and potential for hiring “slowdowns” which could affect many departments but especially the Chief Judge, Sheriff and CCHHS. Thus the budget did not eliminate the structural deficit at the County and we are likely to see more difficult budgets in the future.
I had worked with Commissioner Garcia to develop an alternative budget proposal that had some new revenue as any solutions will entail new revenues and new operational efficiencies. The new revenues included indexing the Aggregate Property tax level to inflation, increasing the gasoline/diesel tax, increasing the video gaming tax, creating a few on property tax appeals and, when appropriate a fee on marijuana sales.
I believe we have to start looking for operational efficiencies by combining administrative functions across departments and agencies. This last budget started to do that with some procurement and HR functions but we will need to look more closely at how we all work together.
Who is Alma Anaya?
She’s running for: Democratic nomination for Cook County commissioner in the 7th District.
Her political/civic background: Local School Council – Orozco School
Her occupation: Director of Administration for Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
Her education: Bachelor’s degree in Communications from UIC. Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago this spring (2018).
Campaign website: almaforcookcounty.com
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?
Anaya: I disagree with some current members of the County Board that believe we should not be providing health care. The County has been a leader in public health for over a century and provides critical health care to low income and minority communities. While we have reduced the operating subsidy to CCHHS from the County Budget the County is inextricably linked to CCHHS because of debt and pension obligations, asset management and development etc. We must bring in enough revenue to maintain those services as they are an essential component of what Cook County does. In addition, we need to explore ways to combine services (such as mental health and other clinics) with the City which will spread the funding cost and allow additional services.
What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
Anaya: I generally do not support privatizing services as it rarely reduces costs as much as promised. However, there are two areas where we can consider changes in the county services. The Zoning and Permitting and Zoning Board of Appeals departments only work with unincorporated Cook County and have a fraction of the work load and responsibilities they had 30 years ago. We should explore ways to contract with local municipalities to add those functions to their already existing zoning departments. The County could reimburse the municipalities for their costs which should still save the County resources. In addition, the Sheriff’s department is responsible for unincorporated areas and much of the resources go into gang issues, drug problems and other county-wide issues. Part of the Sheriff’s enforcement responsibilities go into support for some municipalities such as Harvey and the City of Chicago. We need to find ways to have joint support for that resource so it does not fall solely onto the County.
The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
Anaya: This is a serious and difficult problem with no simple solution at the County level. The County needs to be working with other counties and municipalities as well as officials in Springfield to work out funding solutions to pay Cook County and all the municipalities in the state the back funding they are owed.
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?
Anaya: Tax-increment financing (TIF) districts can be a valuable development tool for specific projects with clear end-dates. In the last 30 years TIF districts have often been divorced from specific projects and have become open-ended and poorly controlled funding streams for local officials without enough public oversight. TIF projects should be more transparent with public input into choice and location of projects. Finally, when specific projects are completed the TIF district should be dissolved.
Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
Anaya: I would be opposed to freezing property taxes. Over the last 50 years the state funding decisions have forced local governments to rely on property taxes to fund local needs, particularly schools, which has led to major funding inequities and local burdens. They way to ease that burden and reduce those inequities is for the state to develop a stable, predictable and equitable funding system. Options that I support would include a graduated income tax, a financial transaction tax, and expanding sales taxes to business and financial services.
Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
Anaya: As discussed in the question above on county services, I would support exploring ways to transfer certain responsibilities for unincorporated areas to adjoining municipalities and eventually move toward merger. For example, there are two areas where we can consider changes in the county services. The Zoning and Permitting and Zoning Board of Appeals departments only work with unincorporated Cook County and have a fraction of the work load and responsibilities they had 30 years ago. We should explore ways to contract with local municipalities to add those functions to their already existing zoning departments. The County could reimburse the municipalities for their costs which should still save the County resources. In addition, the Sheriff’s department is responsible for unincorporated areas and much of the resources go into gang issues, drug problems and other county-wide issues. Part of the Sheriff’s enforcement responsibilities go into support for some municipalities such as Harvey and the City of Chicago. We need to find ways to have joint support for that resource so it does not fall solely onto the County.
What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
Anaya: Too many people are either under-employed or employed in jobs with no future, no benefits or job security. Youth unemployment, especially in low-income communities, rural communities and communities of color is too high. Black youth (aged 16-24) had over 3 times the average unemployment rate for white youth in July 2017. Latino youth unemployment was 25% higher than white youth. The percentage of the workforce unemployed, temporarily employed or involuntarily in part time employment is still 8%. The median hourly wage is still only $14 per hour.
We need to increase our commitment to education and training for all people so that young people can get more skilled jobs and older people can be trained in new fields. We need to embrace alternative technologies for energy production, develop new electronic and biological technologies and invest in our infrastructure as other countries are doing. We should also expand our support for industry clusters, like the County is doing with metal-working, to provide coordination and resources these companies could not develop on their own.
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?
Anaya: I think the Forest Preserve District needs to explore its own options for raising the money rather then putting the burden on the County in general. The first step must be a close review of the FPDCC budget to identify any further savings and efficiencies that could cover some portion of the annual costs of the Conservation Plan. Once those sources are exhausted, then the FPDCC should consider what fees it could increase, whether taxes under its control could be temporarily increased to cover the costs, or whether there were private sources that could contribute to the total. .
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?
Anaya: I have not seen the documentation for why they are proposing to charge for parking. I would consider it if I saw the reasons and what the funding would be used for. If it was simply for operational support I would need to look at the entire budget to see what other options exist. If it was to support specific programs then it might be reasonable.
Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
Anaya: Just like the CCHHS, the Forest Preserve District has unique operational and staffing needs best handled by a separate structure. However, because of historical, funding, and administrative connections, the Forest Preserve District and the County are inextricably linked both financially and politically. A totally independent Board would not make sense.
Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
Anaya: The state treats Cook County much like it treats other counties and the City of Chicago so it is not singled out. The state funding system puts all counties and local municipalities at a funding disadvantage when they fail to provide localities with their share of state revenue and then charge additional fees for collecting and remitting sales taxes.
Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
Anaya: Yes if it is done in partnership with the County unions.
Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
Anaya: None and No.
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