On Feb. 6, State Sen. Ira Silverstein appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for re-election in the Illinois State Senate 8th district in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Ira Silverstein I’m a state senator. I was elected in 1999. I’m a practicing attorney, been practicing for over 33 years at a neighborhood office and one downtown, I have a general practice. Like I said, I was elected in 1999, I love the job. It’s very rewarding, helping individuals and doing good things for others.
This session is to overturn the governor’s veto of the community care program that provides home care services for seniors, which I don’t understand why he vetoed it. Number two, providing getting more stricter gun laws. I’m an advocate of gun control, one per month, licensing gun dealers. Infrastructure, I would like to see some money put forth for infrastructure for our schools in support of Senate Bill number one. We have to make sure schools are funded. We have to make sure students are educated in a proper place and a proper environment.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois State Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Silverstein submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
In addition to northern Chicago, I represent several suburban communities in my district. I am committed to protecting local governments from any attempt to undermine worker’s rights. In the senate, I spearheaded the effort to block the Rauner administration from creating right-to-work zones in municipalities. I will continue to fight for people’s right to organize and negotiate while opposing any effort to put profits over people.
One specific issue I focus on in Springfield is making sure that the growing senior citizen population in Illinois has access to high quality healthcare and medical services. As a member of JCAR I stood up to Gov. Rauner when he threatened to unilaterally replace experienced home caregivers with subpar services and displace up to 36,000 elderly citizens. I also continue to fight the Trump Administration’s attempts to undermine access to Medicaid and Obamacare.
Running for:Illinois State Senate 8th district
Political/civic background: Past President of the Northtown Community Council, JCAR Member
Education: Loyola University – Chicago and John Marshall Law School
Campaign website: N/A
QUESTION:Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: Infrastructure – One of the biggest needs in my district is improving access to public transportation in suburban communities. I am committed to making sure that the planned Dempster Pulse Line is completed on schedule and properly utilized. This new route will connect suburban Metra and CTA riders with a convenient way to O’Hare as well as increase access to the already vibrant business district along Dempster Street.
Overcrowding in schools – Several schools in my district are facing issues with overcrowding as well as deteriorating facilities. We need new additions to existing schools as well as new construction. Every child deserves to have access to a high quality education and it has been repeatedly demonstrated that lowering student to teacher ratio, especially early in elementary school, is directly related to student’s success.
Gun violence – No neighborhood is safe from the scourge of gun violence that plagues Chicago. In my district, we have had several tragic shootings in Rogers Park and an uptick in gun related crimes in areas like Albany Park. I am committed to keeping illegal guns off the street and will continue to demand universal background checks, stiff penalties for repeat gun offenders, and work to keep guns out of places where they don’t belong.
TOPIC: Pension debt
QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?
ANSWER: Resolving the pension crisis in Illinois is going to take bi-partisan cooperation and compromises from all stakeholders. However, this solution must hold up in court and it cannot be done on the backs of hard working people who made life choices based on promises made to them by the state. I support giving incoming employees a chance to choose their benefits and contributions, but I would oppose any plan that hurts retirees or tries to diminish the benefits of someone already in the system.
TOPIC: Minimum wage
QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?
ANSWER: I support an incremental increase that ends with a $15 minimum wage. I’m proud that Cook County and Chicago have taken action to give workers a raise, and I feel it’s been too long since we increased wages statewide. Regardless of zip code, it is unrealistic to expect hardworking people to provide for their families while making $8.25 an hour. As life becomes more expensive, it is our responsibility to make sure people can keep up.
QUESTION:Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I believe that we are on the path to legalization in Illinois. I am open-minded on this issue and I am looking forward to studying it more as it continues to be debated. Unfair drug laws disproportionately affect certain communities and I agree that legalization would have a positive impact on our criminal justice system. However, any move towards legalization would have to include strict regulations like those imposed on alcohol and tobacco. Any revenue generated by the sale of recreational marijuana should also be earmarked for essential services and paying down our pension debt.
QUESTION:Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, I have always been supportive of gaming expansion, including the construction of new casinos and allowing racinos to operate. We need all the entities involved in this issue to come together and compromise, because we are missing out on an opportunity to create jobs, increase tourism, and bring much needed revenue into Illinois.
TOPIC: Property tax freeze
QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.
ANSWER: A temporary property tax freeze with exceptions for our debt and pension obligations should be something we are able to pass with an overwhelming majority. The residents of my district pay some of the highest property taxes in the state and they need relief. I have supported and voted for a two-year property tax freeze in the past and I will continue to advocate for property tax relief on behalf of my constituents. There is broad bi-partisan support for a property tax freeze but this issue has been used as a political football at the expense of homeowners.
CHECK OUT THE CANDIDATES IN THE SUN-TIMES 2018 ILLINOIS PRIMARY VOTING GUIDE
QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?
ANSWER:I think the new funding formula was a much-needed first step in improving how we invest in our public schools. The sponsors of the bill and education advocates did an amazing job working with stakeholders from across the political spectrum to fix a broken system. We should always be spending more on public education, and new revenue streams from casinos or a progressive income tax system would allow us to do that without raising taxes on middle class families.
QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.
ANSWER:We have to prioritize treatment over incarceration. Most people suffering from opioid addiction are not criminals, and if they are it’s the disease of addiction that made them that way. I firmly believe this is a public health crisis, and if we are going make it into a criminal justice issue then we need to be looking at the suppliers. I also believe the legislature can do more to strengthen the inadequate regulations on pharmaceutical companies and prescribers. In the Illinois senate I have sponsored legislation that would increase what information drug manufacturers must provide when they are making changes to their products.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER:Any instrument that makes a gun more lethal has no business in our community.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, I am a proud co-sponsor of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. It is important to check the background and qualifications of any individual who makes a living selling firearms.
QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others?Please explain.
ANSWER: With a lack of sufficient background checks for gun owners, it is important to give that authority those who could be affected by an individual who does not have the capacity to safely handle a gun.
QUESTION:What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program?Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
ANSWER:I am a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion and I believe it should be available to everyone. In the meantime, making sure that people are clear about what benefits they are eligible for should be atop priority. The current administration is on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act and Gov. Rauner has failed to adequately protect those who need access to government resources. I have a large immigrant population in my district and it is important for us to provide more assistance and options to them when they are trying to navigate the complicated web of what is available to them.
TOPIC: College student exodus
QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
ANSWER:I would encourage the state to increase scholarship opportunities for in-state residents, or look at a tuition model similar to what Chicago does with its city colleges. NEIU is in my district, and I don’t think we have too many universities for a state of our size and diverse population. However, it is important that we monitor any institution receiving public funding and make sure they are using appropriated funds for their intended purposes.
TOPIC: Gov. Rauner
QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.
ANSWER:It’s difficult for me because Gov. Rauner and I have significant differences when it comes to public policy. I am pleased that he signed HB 40, which protects access to reproductive health coverage. Additionally, while the school funding compromise isn’t perfect, I’m glad that a consensus was reached and the Governor followed through with his signature. Finally, I am grateful that Gov. Rauner signed my initiative to keep state funding out of businesses boycotting Israel.
I don’t think we have a governor that is particularly interested in compromise. I disagree with how he handled the years long budget crisis which he only worsened with his unwillingness to engage those who didn’t always agree with him. I strongly disagree with Gov. Rauner when it comes to employer/employee dynamics, and was the chief sponsor of an anti-right to work bill that he vetoed as well as a bill that would have barred companies from asking about wage history in employment interviews. Lastly, I disagree with how Gov. Rauner has pushed to privatize essential social services for senior citizens and eliminate public workers in favor of inferior alternatives.