Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president: Bob Fioretti

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Bob Fioretti. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Feb. 23, Bob Fioretti appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for president of the Cook County Board in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Bob Fioretti. I’m running for Cook County Board president. I am an attorney, a civil rights attorney. I do a lot of difficult cases that face this city and face this county. At the same time my background is I’ve given a lot of time to charitable events, not-for-profits and those areas.

I’m running so that we can have a, that we invite people into this county instead of taxing them out. I see people everyday that feel the oppressive policies of the regressive taxes are leaving this county in droves. Every day I meet people that say they’re fed up, they’re going.

I’m going to bring back this county, live within a budget and invite people, businesses to live here, work here and shop here.

I think first of all getting our hands on a manageable budget, number one. Number two, reforming the tax structure, the discriminatory, unjust tax structure in and of itself. I also believe that at the same time we need to look at our criminal justice reform and reform it for the people of this city, the victims of this county so we have a better understanding of what’s happening on the streets of this city and in this county.


The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Cook County Board president a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Bob Fioretti submitted the following responses:

QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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.

ANSWER: I believe the tax on sweetened beverages was both unnecessary and ill-conceived. Even with major reforms, both more revenue and more cuts are likely to be needed in the future. Cook County must learn to live within its means. If more revenue is needed, it cannot be a continuation of the regressive nickel-and-dime taxes on Cook County residents that the current Administration prefers.

Real property tax reform is needed. As outlined in recent media reports and academic studies, the current tax assessment system is corrupt, unjust, and broken. The regressivity of the current system purposely under-assesses commercial and higher value residential property, shifting the burden to working class homeowners. According to at least one media report, the assessment system has also intentionally discriminated against minority communities. This is not acceptable, nor is it acceptable that the incumbent has sat idly by for nearly eight years and done nothing to reform the system. Rather than stand idly by for a corrupt property tax system and the Assessor who administers it, I will work from day one to ensure that every Cook County property tax owner is treated fairly.

This problem does not simply lie with the Assessor’s office. After seven long years, by setting up an advisory “commission” to do yet another “study” of the system, the current President finally admitted she has a role to play in reforming the system. Too little. Too late.

On other revenue issues, I would fight hard in Springfield for a new casino both for Chicago and the south suburbs. Far too many gaming dollars go to Indiana. Many elected leaders in the Southland believe the current Administration has dropped the ball on this issue.

I would work hard to achieve real TIF reform, freeing up revenue for local governments at every level.

I would go to Springfield and work hard to convince the state government to pass a graduated income tax, creating more revenue for governments at every level from those who can best afford to pay it.

I would work hard to pass the legalization and taxation of marijuana, perhaps with the intention of making the revenues generated in Cook County dedicated to paying on Cook County pensions.We do not need a toothless, non-binding referendum on the issue. The people of Cook County are for this, and it is past time for the people of Cook County to begin to see the tax revenue that would come from this policy change.

A recurring problem has been the Bureau of Health’s poor record of collecting accounts receivables from both out of county residents who use the services and those Cook County residents who have insurance and could pay some amount for the health services they need.

We also have at least one large asset in the old hospital that could be sold and developed for a one-time revenue gain.

As for cuts, one of the two arguments for reducing inmate population, in addition to the fairness issue regarding not keeping non-violent offenders in jail for months or years awaiting trial, was that it costs $143 per day per inmate. We heard that argument for years. According to many media reports, inmate population is down 5,000 from ten years ago, and 1,500 from last year alone, yet we have yet to see a penny of savings. In other words, this was another broken promise.


BobFioretti

Running for:Cook County Board president

Political/civic background: Former 2ndWard Alderman and Democratic Committeeman

Occupation: Civil Rights Attorney

Education: Mendel High School, University of Illinois-Champaign (Bachelor’s Degree), Northern Illinois University Law School (JD)

Campaign website:bobforcookcounty.com


QUESTION: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?

ANSWER: One of the recurring problems with our county health system is the poor record of collection of bills owed not only by those insured Cook County residents who are treated by the County health system, but also from out-of-county residents who use our facilities.As a first step, the County’s health system needs to get serious about collecting money that is owed to them.I also believe the county’s health care system can save perhaps tens of millions of dollars per year with more developed preventive programs regarding premature babies and other chronic medical conditions that take up an inordinate percentage of the health budget. I will be rolling out more specific proposals regarding that as the campaign progresses.

QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?

ANSWER: I am generally not in favor of privatizing services except in extraordinary circumstances. One of those may eventually be the collection of accounts receivables in the Bureau of Health as noted above.

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QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?

ANSWER: For one thing, elect a new Governor. Bruce Rauner has been a disaster in every way. Second, enact a progressive, graduated income tax. Third, when a new Governor is elected, a much closer working relationship needs to be established with the Governor’s office and the legislative leaders to ensure the residents of Cook County are not left behind.

QUESTION: 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?

ANSWER: Tax-increment financing districts, if used correctly, can be a valuable development tool.Lack of transparency, particularly as it relates to the City of Chicago (the largest user of TIF districts in the State of Illinois), is the primary problem with TIF districts.Also lack of accountability is an issue. In Chicago TIF districts, the Mayor’s office and the Alderman have sole discretion in which projects get developed and which developers get to build the projects. A few Alderman seek public input, but it is not required and rarely done, and even then most of the decisions are made on the 5thfloor.

QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?

ANSWER: Calls for a “freeze” by some “populist” politicians such as Bruce Rauner are a diversion from the real issues regarding property taxes.For instance, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has not voted to raise its levy in thirty years. Yet the property taxes of residential homeowners in Cook County have still skyrocketed. One reason of course is that the county portion of the overall property tax bill is fractional.Another reason is that a “freeze” on government property tax levies does little or nothing about the other aspects of the property tax system that determine a property owner’s total property tax bill, such as assessment.

This part of the discussion leads us to the desperate need for real property tax reform in the aspect of property tax assessment in Cook County. As outlined in numerous media reports, the property tax assessment system in Cook County is broken, corrupt, unjust and discriminatory.Until real property tax reform is enacted that accurately assesses wealthy commercial property so billionaires such as Donald Trump pay their fair share and that shifts the burden away from residential home owners can we even begin to know the extent of the problem.

The County Board President’s office has a much larger role in the property tax system than the incumbent has sought. I will be rolling out more specific proposals in this regard as the campaign moves forward. Ensuring all Cook County taxpayers are finally treated fairly in the property tax system will be my top priority.The incumbent has had eight years to help enact change in the property tax system and has barely lifted a finger to do so. That will change when I am County Board President.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?

ANSWER: I support efforts to merge unincorporated areas into adjoining municipalities but there is no foreseeable way to force the issue.Those that could be easily merged have been done already.I am not for a special tax on unincorporated residents as proposed once by my opponent. One idea that needs further study is to cede the roads that are currently under county control to townships or the cities and municipalities they run through. If that could be implemented, that would seriously cut the costs of the County Department of Transportation and Highways, although that department is a small percentage of the overall budget.

QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?

ANSWER: The current budget has only 8% dedicated to economic development, and it shows.According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s annual report “Where Workers Work” suburban Cook County is the only geographical area in the Metropolitan Area that has fewer private sector jobs in 2018 than it had in 2007 before the Great Recession. Since the depth of that recession, the City of Chicago’s private-sector job growth was 15.7%. Across the border, Will County’s was a robust 30%. In suburban Cook County, however, private-sector job growth since 2010 has been anemic 7.5%.

Because of the series of stifling, regressive nickel and dime taxes and tax increases imposed by the current Administration, businesses and people have fled to neighboring states and counties in record numbers. This exodus of private sector jobs from the county has been a large contributing factor in the annual budget spiral of deficit and crisis.

So a more business-friendly County government would seem to be in order.When I am County Board President, we will be in the business of inviting businesses and people into the County and not taxing them out.Too much emphasis is placed on economic development in the downtown business district at the expense of suburban areas, particularly to the west and south. One example of that is the Amazon proposal. Of all the potential places to put their new headquarters, none were in the south or west suburbs. Ignoring suburban economic development is something else that will also change when I am President.

QUESTION: 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?

ANSWER: The money will have to primarily come from a continuation and expansion of the partnerships that have already been formed. There is simply not additional taxpayer money in that amount available at this time for this worthy project.

QUESTION: 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?

ANSWER: No. This proposal is yet more of the same nickel and diming the residents of Cook County that this Administration loves to do so much.

QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.

ANSWER: I believe the Forest Preserve should not have its own board. I am not for new layers of government and bureaucracy. The goal should be to reduce the number of units of government, not increase them.

QUESTION:Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?

No. Bruce Rauner has given Cook County residents the back of his hand from day one.He has tried consistently to play the “Chicago” and “Cook County” card with downstate residents to play one group off of another since the first day he announced he was running for Governor. As noted in a previous question, the state is also in arrears in paying Cook County what it is owed.

QUESTION:Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?

The Supreme Court has spoken many times about the unconstitutionality of changes to the pensions of those already in the system. I am for following the law. I am for further changes to the pensions of those future employees who have not yet entered the system, as allowed by law.

QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?

No relatives have county jobs. I am against elected officials hiring relatives.



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