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Illinois Senate 27th District Democratic candidate: Ann Gillespie

Ann Gillespie, Illinois Senate 27th District Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Feb. 18, Ann Gillespie appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic nomination in the Illinois State Senate 27th district in the March 2018 primary:

Ann Gillespie, running for Illinois State Senate in District 27. I got involved, this is my first time running for office. But, I got involved after the Women’s March last year. When I came back from the march in D.C. I joined a local group called We the People Mt. Prospect and that group became very active in a variety of issues. I led the effort to fight against the suburbs opting out of the minimum wage earn sick leave battle. I became our office’s liaison to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office and have been doing things ever since and got approached to run for office as a result of that. I’ve also been tutoring at La Rabida for six years in their outpatient children’s tutoring program and have been involved in a variety of actions. I went up to Madison to help occupy the capital up there and have just been involved in a lot of community activities that way as well.

My top priority, it’s really four. I believe we need to invest in people and infrastructure and the four things I want to focus on are education, early childhood all the way through career training. I want to focus on healthcare. My career background has been in healthcare and there’s a lot we can do to still make that affordable and accessible. I want to focus on infrastructure because I think it will not only make our lives better for our citizens but helps draw business and to do all of that we need to have need to redesign our tax structure. So that will be an underpinning to doing all of that. To make for a graduated income tax among other things.


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. Gillespie 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.

Investing in the future of Illinois by providing a world class education to all students, from early childhood through college. This can be achieved by assuring adequate and equitable funding including reducing reliance of real estate taxes, expanding opportunities for vocational education, relieving teachers and administrators of overly burdensome administrative duties and excessive testing, and restoring funding to higher education. This should also include career training, particularly in areas impacted by changing industries and automation.

Establishing a fair tax system for the middle class. This will require evaluating the state’s tax system at all levels. Steps to achieve this include establishing a graduated income tax or finding methods to reduce the burden on middle and lower income taxpayers, having the state pay its fair share for education funding to reduce reliance on real estate taxes, including higher-end services in the sales tax, and identifying other revenue sources.

Assuring that healthcare is accessible and affordable for all citizens of Illinois. This will require maintaining the affordable care marketplace including opening up Medicaid to users of the exchange. We must also assure that women continue to have access to affordable reproductive health care and that adequate funds are provided for mental health, addiction, and senior health care.

Continued development of the state’s infrastructure to attract 21st century businesses. New strategies for funding infrastructure projects at rates which pay workers a living wage must be developed. The current gas tax has not been raised since 1993, while revenues from the tax have consistently declined due to higher mileage engines. Developing infrastructure includes the use of green industries and being conscious of our impact on the environment.

From my experience keeping the CVS Mail Order Production Facility in Illinois, I know firsthand that addressing these four issues will have a much greater effect on attracting and retaining businesses than corporate incentives and reducing corporate tax rates.


Ann Gillespie

Running for: Illinois State Senate 27th district

Political/civic background: Organizer of efforts to support the county minimum wage and sick leave law with We the People

Mt.Prospect (a progressive community group) and Arise Chicago;

Liaison with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office for We the People Mt. Prospect;

Tutoring weekly at La Rabida Children’s Hospital;

Site Leader, Lung Force Walk (American Lung Association);

Northwest Suburban United Way Women’s Leadership Council;

Girl Scouts Troop Co-leader and Service Unit Leader (1990s);

Election judge

Occupation: Retired. Formerly Vice President and General Manager for CVS Mail Order Pharmacy

Production Center in Mt. Prospect. Prior to this I was a lawyer specializing in healthcare.

Education: BA in History from University of Illinois C-U,

JD from DePaul University

Campaign website: AnnforIllinois.org


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: Eliminating the structural deficit in the state budget through tax reform and re-amortizing the pension shortfall so that the state can adequately fund education, health and social services while reducing reliance on local real estate taxes. The passage of the new federal tax codes makes this more important in District 27, where real estate values and taxes are higher than the state average.

There are a number of infrastructure projects which need to be addressed in District 27 including roads and bridges.

Even though the school districts in District 27 are well off, misapplication of the new funding formula could leave them with less revenue than they currently have. This could cause increases in real estate taxes, which is the opposite of what this campaign hopes to achieve. So proper implementation, if not expedited implementation of the evidence-based formula included in

Public Act 100-0465 is a major issue. The first step to achieve this would be repealing the so-called scholarship program included in the bill and moving the state’s commitment of $70 million per year to the public school system.

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: Benefits are not the problem with pension costs; the issue is a combination of the payment system established in 1994 and the failure to fully fund the pension some years. When a balloon payment on a mortgagee comes due, the mortgagee refinances the debt. Like a mortgage, refinancing the pension debt at a flat rate over 45 years would save the state millions of dollars. Yes, refinancing would be at a higher rate than we’re currently paying, but it would be less expensive in the long run.

It’s important to remember—and for the public to understand—that a significant portion of the pension costs are in lieu of paying the 7.5 percent Social Security and Medicare payment. Not counting repayment of the debt, the pension actually costs the state less than an employer paying social security and contributing to a pension plan alternative (e.g., a 401k match). Therefore, any legislative change needs to carefully account for this in order to avoid creating a new set of problems. With this in mind and recognizing that we have made a promise to state and education employees, I would not support a constitutional amendment that would allow for reducing pension benefits in order to reduce the pension liability.

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 was directly involved in organizing to fight against towns and villages opting out of the Cook County minimum wage ordinance and I continue to believe that residents of our area require a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Further, this amount should be increased annually in line with increases in the consumer price index.

TOPIC: Marijuana

QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, and it should be taxed as a new revenue source for the state government. Both through scientific research and statistics from states that have legalized marijuana, it has been shown to have less safety, medical and psychological impacts on individuals than alcohol. Further enforcement has needlessly resulted in a disproportionate number of African American males being incarcerated, even though the incident of marijuana use among African American populations is no more than in Caucasian populations. Legalization with taxation will both increase state revenues and reduce prison populations.

TOPIC: Casinos

QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.

ANSWER: I am in favor of responsibly increasing the number of casinos, and even racinos in Illinois as a way to increase revenue. I would prefer that funds be used to honestly help fund public education, providing funds over and above what the state would normally budget in a given year. However, we must be careful to not reach a point of diminishing returns and to take care to authorize only the number of gaming spots that the market can support.


CHECK OUT THE CANDIDATES IN THE SUN-TIMES 2018 ILLINOIS PRIMARY VOTING GUIDE


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: Reduction in property taxes could help stabilize Illinois’ population in connection with other steps, such as developing an infrastructure that supports business development in rural areas. But a property tax freeze is not the way achieve this goal. Freezing property taxes now will result in further underfunding of schools and municipalities on top of the state budget problems.

Property taxes should be reduced in connection with other changes in the state tax system which end the long term budget crises. A properly balanced state budget will result in the state fulfilling its constitutional commitment to schools, enabling schools to reduce property taxes. As an alternative, it might also be appropriate to increase the Illinois Property Tax Credit.

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: In order to fully fund the evidence-based formula, the state will need to increase school funding by as much as $650 million a year. Current projections are that it could take 10 years to reach this amount. But during this time, students in poorly funded districts will continue to fall behind, further hurting their chance for a place in the middle class.

For this reason, I am proposing a four step strategy to expedite increased funding of public education from the State including:

  1. Institute a fair tax system to enhance the state contribution and re-amortize the pension shortfall as I have described above.
  2. Exempt school districts from TIF districts or redesign the TIF program so that school districts can obtain the full value of their levy without having to increase residential taxes to make up for fund losses to business interests.
  3. Making sure existing education dollars go to public education. This includes repealing the so-called “scholarship program”, establishing limits on charter schools, and returning the right to reject charter schools to local school districts.
  4. Create better incentives for school consolidation. In rural communities in particular, consolidation can improve educational quality by creating districts that are large enough to support expanded curriculum like advanced placement and vocational education programs.

TOPIC: Opioids

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: Opioid abuse should be addressed from two sides. For patients, opioid abuse should be treated medical condition. Instead, we need a strong mental health and addiction program in the state to provide low cost or free addiction treatment.

From the supplier side, we need to enforce existing law against bad players. The existing government databases that track the prescription of controlled substances should be used to identify companies and medical providers which appear to supply and/or prescribe larger quantities of opioids. And I support the efforts of the Attorney General who is taking action against companies who appear to be profiting by supporting addictive behaviors.

TOPIC: Guns

QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes. The only purpose of a silencer is to mask the commission of a crime.

QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, and there should be tougher penalties for failure to properly check FOID registrations. Studies are showing that current lax of enforcement outside of Chicago of FOID registration is a primary cause of gun violence in Chicago proper. Proper enforcement does not inhibit valid gun purchasers from making purchases. But it does allow for better tracking of guns throughout the state.

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: Yes, and such a petition should be possible in an expedited process which does not require the family member to hire a lawyer first. I agree that the person is more likely to be a danger to themselves or others than individuals who are emotionally stable. If news reports are correct, such action could have helped this country avoid a number of mass shootings as well as spousal injuries.

TOPIC: Medicaid

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: Ensuring the viability and expansion of the state’s Medicaid program requires commitment from both the state and federal governments. At this point in time, the federal government may be reducing its commitment directly.

One way to offset this is to permit everyone, or at least everyone who uses the Affordable Care Exchange, to buy into Medicaid. Medicaid works the same as all insurance products. Those who are healthy pay for the care of those who are sick, recognizing that one day the healthy will have the same need. Expanding the program to the public increases the pool of healthy people participating in the program.

As the former director of a state-wide HMO industry association and lawyer to an early HMO, I know that managed care can be an effective method for holding down costs while providing quality care. So I believe that continued expansion of the state’s managed care program is desirable. However, such expansion must take into consideration accessibility to care and insure that administrative overhead does not end up costing the state more in the long run.

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: Students follow the faculty. During the past few years we have seen an exodus of faculty as higher education funding has been significantly reduced. The first step in keeping students in state is to renew funding at pre-2014 rates.

Reducing in-state tuition is critical as well; many out of state schools (including Big Ten schools) are less expensive than the University of Illinois. It will be some time before Illinois can afford tuition-free college education. A second source of revenue that helps subsidize in-state tuition is the recruitment of out-of-state students. Again, they will come only if the faculty quality warrants their choice.

Dual credit for high school work also increases the likelihood of someone staying in-state and reduces their tuition costs. My proposal for vocational education programs includes dual credit programs, especially with community colleges.

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:

Disagree: Governor Rauner’s negotiating strategy. For the first three years of his tenure, the Governor’s strategy was, “take my way or the highway.” He never really came to the table to work out solutions, except to try to offset a potential loss. Governance requires compromise. From my perspective, governance can work in a bi-partisan fashion if people sit down and explore solutions together, including upstream problems and downstream impacts. This was how Andy Manar developed the evidence-based school funding program, and how the Caucus of Women Leaders functions in the Senate.

Governor Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.” My basic principal is that the best way to recruit and retain business is to invest in our people and infrastructure. I experienced this firsthand when leading discussions at the CVS Mail Order Production Center in which we chose to stay in Illinois rather than move to Texas. Governor Rauner appears to believe that the way to business expansion is to cut personnel costs, cut corporate taxes, and reduce services.

Governor Rauner’s callousness to human suffering. During the budget standoff, school districts and numerous non-profits went short on funding. Many non-profits had to close, leaving clients without critical services. Those few non-profits that could afford it became the state’s lender of choice, holding the state’s debt as unpaid bills while reducing staff or their fund balances. Again, this is the opposite of my principle to invest in people.

Agree: The Governor’s signing of HB 40. Considering all that has happened during his tenure, this appears to me to be the one decent and courageous thing he did.

Extending the angel investment tax credit to support the creation of entrepreneurial businesses.

The Governor’s signing of LGBTQ-friendly legislation including updating the law regarding changing the gender marker on a birth certificate; prohibiting the use of LGBTQ panic defenses in murder cases; and, allowing individuals to self-identify as LGBTQ when they apply for a seat on a State board or commission.