Running for: State Senate, 22nd District
Political/civic background: Illinois State Senator, 22nd District (2016-Present)
Commissioner, Kane County Board (2008-2016)
Board Member, Illinois Housing Development Authority (2013-2016)
Member, WINGS Leadership Council
Advisory Board Member, Centro de Información
Black History Family Festival
2015 YWCA of Elgin, Myrtle Spiegler Gerberding Award for Public Service
Selected as one of 25 Suburban Leaders who’ve made a difference in the past 25 years by Reflejos Publications.
Occupation: State Senator
Education: M.B.A, Northern Illinois University, Bachelor of Science, Northern Illinois University, Associate of Science, Elgin Community College
Campaign website: castroforstatesenate.org
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Illinois Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Cristina Castro submitted the following responses:
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
During my first term in the State Senate, I have had the opportunity to work on and pass many important pieces of legislation and issues, many which were signed into law. Here is a small list of the ones I worked on over my first term:
1. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Police and Fire Pension Consolidation bill (signed into law)
2. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Clean Jobs Act
3. Chief Senate Sponsor of legislation to expand the Illinois Human Rights Act (signed into law)
4. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Equal Pay-No Salary History Bill (signed into law)
5. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Bank on Illinois Bill (signed into law)
6. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act
7. Sponsored and helped pass legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (signed into law)
8. Introduced Legislation to improve healthcare for pregnant and postpartum individuals, which aimed to combat the state’s maternal morbidity and mortality rate.
9. Sponsored and helped pass legislation to cap the cost of insulin.
10. Chief Senate Sponsor of the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (signed into law)
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
1. Passing a balanced state budget while improving efficiencies and cutting waste
2. Ensuring continued funding for K-12 and Higher Education
3. Continuing to work on Pension Reform, we need to continue working to address this issue to help our local taxpayers and improve the state’s financial stability.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Clean Energy Jobs Act
Addressing Maternal Morbidity
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I’m in support of the Fair Tax Amendment. Illinois has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. We are among only a few states in the country that impose the same tax rate on all residents no matter their income. A fair tax will ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share while working families, approximately 97% of Illinois’ tax base, would see relief under the plan.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
Passing the Fair Tax is critical to restoring Illinois’ financial health and repairing the disastrous effect of the financial crisis created under former Governor Bruce Rauner. As you recall, the state went almost three years with no budget, ballooning the state’s unpaid bills and damaging our vital services and higher education system. We also need to look to improve efficiencies and cut waste within state government, one idea I have is to conduct an audit on the number of state owned facilities and see if we can consolidate some of those buildings in order to cut expenses.
In regards to pensions, I was the chief sponsor of the Police, Fire Pension Consolidation bill (Senate Bill 1300) that was recently signed into law by Governor Pritzker. The bill consolidates over 649 police and firefighter pensions into two statewide funds, one for fire and one for police, for investment purposes. This new law improves the financial stability of the pension funds, while easing pressure on local governments to raise taxes to fund those pensions. Experts believe this could generate an additional $820 million to $2.5 billion over five years. We need to continue to work on solutions similar to SB 1300.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
This is an issue that has been recently been discussed to be studied. I will consider legislation as its being proposed, I would also suggest that if there is a final proposal, like the fair tax, the voters get an opportunity to weigh in. Taxing retirement income has always been a touchy issue, while financial analysis feel it should be done, our constituents feel otherwise. An advisory referendum on different proposals, would allow us to see where our constituents are on this issue
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
In 2017, Illinois modernized the school funding formula that put kids first and drives dollars to the neediest school districts. While there is still more work to be done this modernization sets every school district on a path toward providing equitable and quality education. The General Assembly has increased its appropriation by $350 million per year and will continue to do so in order to ensure the neediest school districts receive the funds they need to prepare our students for the future. Another area we need to look at is investing in is early childhood education which remains significantly underfunded. Research has shown investing early on in a child’s development pays off dividends in the long run. Governor Pritzker recently named a commission to study the issue and I look forward to the commission’s work and recommendations. In regards to high schools, we need to increase our investment in Career and Technical Education but also build public/private partnerships with high schools, colleges/community colleges, businesses, workforce development groups etc. to build coalitions and programs that meet the needs for a trained workforce. Furthermore, we need to increase access to dual credit, dual enrollment programs as this allows students to earn college credit at the same time as they are in high school, which helps them finish school faster and with less debt. I was a student of the tech prep program during while attending high school and it helped prepare me for the rigors of college and made my college experience more affordable and left me with little college debt. These programs are important and need to be prioritized.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I have supported and voted for common-sense laws to help prevent gun violence and to get guns out of the hands of violent offenders. With my colleagues, I will continue to work on common-sense gun laws to make sure no family has to experience the pain of burying a loved one due to a senseless shooting. In addition to common sense gun reform, we need to continue to increase funding for mental health services not only as a state but also as a nation. In the state’s fiscal 2020 budget, there was an $80 million increase in funding for mental health and addiction treatment. We also need to continue to support community initiatives that unite communities and work with them to help end violence such as after school programs, job placement programs, etc. We all need to work together to end the senseless killings that are tearing families and communities apart.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Elections are in essence term limits. Constituents have the power to re-elect or vote out any elected official in Illinois. In recent years, the General Assembly has seen considerable turnover. The rough average years of service in the Senate is about nine years. The last four years we’ve seen new people, including me, bring new perspectives and new ideas to the table. These ideas and perspective help move our state forward.
Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
As I do with every piece of legislation, I will review, study and consider redistricting legislation as it is proposed in the General Assembly.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
When we see allegations like the ones we’ve seen in recent months, they call into question the integrity of our democracy. Legislators and lobbyists must absolutely be held to higher standards and no one should be able to profit from their public service.
I was appointed by President John Cullerton to the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform. The members of this bipartisan and bicameral commission have a clear goal, identify and fix loopholes and shortcomings in the state’s ethics and lobbyist registration laws. To do so we will hear from experts on what works in other states and how we can make similar changes work here. We will also look to review and reform the states lobbying laws, ethics laws for state officials and employees, and state purchasing and contracting laws. The commission’s mission is to produce concrete legislative recommendations for our colleagues and the governor to enact. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important issue.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything? *
SB1719 stalled in the house this past year, I look forward to re-introducing and working on it as well as other privacy related legislation this upcoming session.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
The almost three year budget impasse under former Governor Bruce Rauner had a tremendous impact to our higher education system and its ability to keep Illinois high school students from going to out-of-state institutions. The lack of stability, MAP funding, and threat of closure for some of Illinois public universities and community colleges were many of the reasons why students chose to head out of state. We have begun to undo a lot of that damage and this year we made investing in higher education a top priority.
The FY 20 budget ensures a 5% increase of support to operational funding for community colleges and universities, which doubles the funding increase from FY19. MAP funding received $451 million this year which is an increase of $50 million over FY19. We also increased the AIM High Program, which is designed to encourage Illinois students to attend an in-state university, improve college affordability, and reduce student loan debt by $10 million.
As a proud product of Illinois’ higher education system, we need to continue investing in our institutions so they can continue to prepare our future workforce.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I am the Chief Senate Sponsor of the only comprehensive clean energy legislation, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). CEJA takes major steps to address climate change while also promoting jobs and equity for people of color and small town communities that are being left behind. CEJA will fundamentally reshape our power generation and transportation sectors to meet the challenges of the next century.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act addresses these major energy crises facing Illinois with four main pillars:
1. Promoting jobs, equity and economic opportunity for communities left behind in the current economy
2. Ensuring Illinois reaches 100% renewable energy by 2050
3. Eliminating the pollution equivalent of one million gasoline and diesel-powered
4. Making a just transition to a carbon-free power sector by 2030
This will be one of my main priorities this January and I look forward to working in conjunction with the Governor’s office to pass this by the end of May 2020.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
The late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. Senator Simon, was a statesman, a selfless public servant with impeccable integrity. He believe that public service was an honor, not a right and that government should work for and help the people.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I’m a student of history and really enjoy watching television shows/documentaries about ancient times/places or current events. You can never have too much history and knowledge of things of the past sometimes it helps you understand current times.