The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 44th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Austin Baidas submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses:
Who is Austin Baidas?
He’s running for: 44th Ward alderman
His political/civic background: I am a first time candidate. served as Governor Quinn’s Associate Budget Director and Assistant Director of CMS, and served in the Department of Transportation under President Obama. I am actively engaged in the Lakeview community, volunteering on several nonprofit Boards focused on education, healthcare and LGBT services, including 8 years on the board of the Center on Halstead and currently on the board of Howard Brown Health.
His occupation: Consultant
His education: BA in Economics and Management from Albion College in Michigan
Campaign website: austinbaidas.com
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Austin Baidas: Create a 10 year city budget plan which funds our priorities and obligations including pensions, increased resources and training for police, increased education funding. Ending practices that hurt our ability to fund city programs, like selling assets and TIFs. Create a development plan for the ward to address vacant storefronts and ensuring that all workers in our area are treated with respect through through the implementation of a $15 minimum wage.
Recent civic work
Please tell us what you have done in the last two years to serve the city, your neighborhood or a civic organization. Please be specific.
Austin Baidas: At Howard Brown Health as a member of the Finance Committee, we produced a budget for this year which raised our minimum wage to $14 per hour with the goal of raising it to $15 per hour next year. I also helped to develop and implement a plan at Howard Brown that provides resources for outreach to communities that traditionally lack health care access, with a particular focus on service industry workers.
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Austin Baidas: The city must keep its promise to current and former employees by fully funding their pension benefits. Future employee contracts should be negotiating through the collective bargaining process.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why? A Chicago casino, legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a LaSalle Street tax, a commuter tax, a property tax increase, a municipal sales tax increase, a real estate transfer tax increase, video gambling.
Austin Baidas: I support legalized gambling in Chicago, as long as it is properly regulated and is approved through a neighborhood review process. I support legalized and taxed recreation marijuana.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Austin Baidas: In office, I plan to look first to reforming current revenue streams. As Illinois’ Associate Budget Director, I saved money without cutting programs including saving $55 million per year by consolidating leases.
Tax-increment financing districts are a primary economic development tool for Chicago. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth of property values are set aside for 23 years to be used to support public projects and private development. What changes do you favor, if any, in Chicago’s TIF program?
Austin Baidas: TIFs take money from the general fund that should be used to fund basic city services, like police and schools. I believe TIFs should be minimized and, where possible, eliminated.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Austin Baidas: Efforts to expand affordable housing are necessary in every ward, including the 44th Ward, but decisions must be made in conjunction with input from the community. The use of aldermanic prerogative to block affordable housing must end, and I will support efforts that increase transparency with the goal of balancing the need for affordable housing with the interests of my neighbors.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Austin Baidas: I fully support the consent decree.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Austin Baidas: The proliferation of illegal guns in our city is a problem that must be addressed in conjunction with federal and state authorities. I am a firm proponent of gun control measures.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Austin Baidas: I support public neighborhood schools, and we must ensure first that they are fully funded. I believe that charter schools can provide choices to parents, but charter schools must always be held to the same standards as traditional public schools, and their teachers and other employees must have the same rights to organize as traditional public school teachers and other employees.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid?
Austin Baidas: I believe that we need a school board that is responsive to students, parents, teachers, and voters. I support an elected school board if seats are districted, and it is possible for an involved parent to run and be elected.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Austin Baidas: No. Many people are leaving the ward because it is too expensive, especially for working families. Property taxes are rising too quickly, and that has negatively impacted both homeowners and renters.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Austin Baidas: I fully support the “welcoming city” ordinance.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Austin Baidas: Yes, I believe in transparency and accountability in government, and the inspector general should have the authority to audit and review City Council programs.
Would you employ, or have you employed, staff in your office who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city? If so, please explain.
Austin Baidas: I would not employ staff in my office with outside jobs or contracts that create conflicts of interest.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Austin Baidas: I plan to join the progressive caucus if elected. In office, I will be my own man and represent the interests of the 44th Ward first.