Monica Gordon, Illinois Senate 40th District Democratic candidate profile

Her top priorities include completion of the South Suburban Airport, Kankakee River improvements and economic development for Pembroke Township.

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Monica Gordon, 2020 Illinois Senate 40th District Democratic primary election candidate.

Monica Gordon, Illinois Senate 40th District Democratic primary candidate.

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Candidate profile

Monica Gordon

Running for:Illinois State Senate District 40

Political/civic background: Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. Service affiliations include Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association Leadership Circle, Rich Township Democratic Organization, Democratic Women of South Suburbs, Girls 4 Science Board of Directors, and Plan4Success Board of Directors

Occupation:Executive Director, Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation

Education: Master of Arts in Communications & Training, Governors State University, University Park, IL
GSU Collegiate Graduate Scholarship Recipient

Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL

Campaign website:

Facebook: Monica Gordan for State Senate

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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 their districts and the state of Illinois. Monica Gordon 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.

I am working on a committee with Rev. Jesse Jackson about Pembroke farmers and other constituents regarding the devastation in their community. I have discussed with them needs related to safety — policing and fire department — water and sewer, mobile homes on their property, solar energy, and natural gas. I have had briefings and attended community meetings about the enormous regional benefits of completing the South Suburban Airport. I also met with Kankakee county officials about strategies for cleaning up the river and supporting the River Walk.

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.

*Completion of the South Suburban Airport, which will benefit the long-neglected Southland area, as well as the entire state.

*Kankakee River Improvements, particularly flooding and sedimentation, as well as support implementation of the 2018 Riverfront Master Plan, which should positively impact the region

*Economic development for Pembroke Township, historically one of the poorest areas in Illinois, with potential to also enhance neighboring communities

What are your other top legislative priorities?

*Support property tax reform bill that is languishing in committee currently

*Improve healthcare, particularly addition of a trauma center

* Improve access to quality public education, especially vocational training

What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.

I definitely support as more equitable for Illinois residents and better for the state than the flat tax. I also believe the $250,000 threshold is fair. Pritzker has said his proposal would raise an estimated $3.4 billion in new revenue by increasing the income taxes paid by the wealthiest three percent in Illinois, while modestly cutting income taxes for the bottom 97 percent of earners.

Illinois is considered one of the most egregiously unfair taxing states in the nation — overtaxing low- and middle-income families while under taxing the wealthy. This is compounded on a national level, as researchers found that more than 108 percent of all real growth in income — or more than all of it — has gone to the wealthiest 10 percent in America. Everyone in the bottom 90 percent made less after inflation in 2015 than in 1979.

Opponents argue a progressive tax would have a negative impact on job growth or entrepreneurial activity. In fact, even traditionally anti-tax groups like the Cato institute have not found meaningful evidence of that. To the contrary, businesses hire more workers to meet the demand of more people who can pay for their product or service.

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?

The pension obligations are the biggest roadblock. I believe there are several ideas that offer ways to address a huge pension problem created by state government’s failure to allocate funds responsibly. I favor strategies like the following, which address the crisis without overburdening or disadvantaging current/future public employees or taxpayers.

First, In October 2019, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability proposed reamortizing pension debt to save $45 billion in service payments through FY2045, while still getting the pension systems 72 percent funded. To work, it would require greater contributions on the front end. Recognizing the state’s poor fiscal condition, as well as to avoid cuts to current services or raising taxes, this strategy calls for issuing a series of annual pension obligation bonds. With a funding target of 72 percent in FY2045, these bonds would total $9.8 billion over nine years.

Second, Illinois Policy recommends aligning state pensions with the Social Security retirement age of 67, while still protecting workers currently nearing retirement. Currently, Illinois government workers can retire in their 50s while collecting most of their final average salary. There are more than 200,000 current retirees across Illinois’ five state retirement systems. More than 60 percent of Illinois government pensioners retired before the age of 60. These workers are living longer and collecting more retirement benefits for longer periods than in the past.

Third, The Chicago Sun-Times proposed expanding the state’s income tax to include six-figure pensioners, which could generate close to $1 billion. They report a wide range of support – from the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, to the more politically progressive Center for Tax & Budget Accountability.

Generally, the private sector is a largely untapped source of revenue, capable of contributing more with far less impact on them than constantly milking average citizens. For example, studies have shown uncollected taxes from corporations could alone plug deficits and that the state rarely sees benefits from “incentives” that give corporations a free pass. I also advocate the legislature enact a financial transaction tax on speculative trading. Considering the volume of speculative transactions in Chicago alone, a $.25 fee for both buyer and seller of derivatives contracts would generate an estimated $1.4 billion per year. There seems to be growing support in the legislature for Rep. Mary Flowers’ proposed $1 fee.

Long term, the South Suburban Airport is the only economic engine sufficient enough to create revenue streams necessary to have an impact on any number of financial issues, particularly historically neglected South Region communities. It is projected to generate $2.6 billion in annual income for the state, create good paying jobs to increase our tax base, as well as mean an overall $17 billion economic boon for the region at full build. SSA will also help alleviate the financial drain systemic unemployment has had on government coffers. The inaugural phase alone will create 15,000 direct and indirect jobs for Chicago’s Southland, eventually translating into more than 200,000 jobs.

Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?

Yes. Not taxing that demographic is based on the past when older Americans tended to be poorer. Studies show retirement income is now rising twice as fast as wage income. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago recently found that 51 percent of excluded retirement was associated with taxpayers grossing $100,000 or more. The state comptroller estimated this is the most expensive tax break in Illinois, costing $2.3 billion in fiscal 2015.

I have reviewed several suggestions for how to avoid making retirement taxes burdensome for those who can least afford it. Even conservative business groups agree our financially strapped state should consider this, even if we also end up changing to a graduated income tax and\or requiring more from corporations.

What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?

I believe we build failure into our educational outcomes from both accepting and funding low performance as demographically “natural.” According to a recent study of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the performance of the average student in the U.S. falls below the OECD average for all 64 countries in its survey, and far below the average for the major industrial countries, and 37 countries outperform the U.S. in the degree to which socioeconomic status predicts low achievement, including those with less than a fraction of America’s financial resources.

The OECD notes, “the expectation and insistence that all students will meet high standards is the single most important explanation of the success of … Asian countries with students of every description, including disadvantaged students.” In the American system, as students start to fall behind, they spiral into future failure, low morale and often into dropping out. East Asian countries stop this cycle before it gains momentum, specifically focusing on immigrants, rural areas and children having problems. They largely avoid “tracks,” elite schools and other academic ability groupings. Principals, teachers and administrators must provide this kind of service, with equal pay, if they are to climb the career ladder.

The report concludes, “the main obstacle faced by disadvantaged students in the United States is the high degree to which different expectations for students from different educational backgrounds are embedded in our culture.” Schools in Evanston, Skokie and Matteson consistently show high and improving rates of high performing schools. The state should be incorporating their practices for treating all students as capable of succeeding.

Illinois must also stop allowing necessary funds to be diverted to nonpublic options and noneducational projects. Privately run, taxpayer supported charter schools make claims about superior education, but their track record is proving to be a lot less than promised. Lottery money supported by residents for public education was diverted into the general fund instead of added to the state’s education budget. We need to treat our schools as the vital resources they are for the future.

Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?

This is a complex issue that must be addressed by partnerships on several fronts – schools, police departments, mental health services, youth/community organizations, and job developers. Unfortunately, we cannot at this point control one of the biggest factors – easy access to weapons.

Law enforcement officials estimate about 40 percent of guns confiscated on the streets of Chicago come from nearby suburbs and 60 percent from Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi. Until recently, the Illinois General Assembly has supported weak gun laws, with the only real tooth being the ban on assault weapons. Despite powerful opposition, this may be changing, with the push in 2019 for fingerprinting, increased fees and requiring private gun sales/transfers be handled through licensed firearms dealers. I would work on behalf of such stricter laws.

Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.

Generally, I oppose. It hasn’t worked in Michigan and Florida, where representatives don’t have time to gain necessary experience, such as mastering the legislative and negotiation process needed to be effective.

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?

I agree with those who argue that partisan gerrymandering undermines democracy. For me, the key is having this done by independent commissions, not elected officials.

The Center for American Progress found that unfairly drawn congressional districts shifted, on average, 59 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2012, 2014 and 2016 election – resulting in 20 seats shifted in favor of Democrats and 39 in favor of Republicans. In all, this meant disenfranchising about 42 million voters. The potential impact is just as bad at local levels.

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?

While it requires disclosure of elected officials who lobby, it does not prohibit them from doing so. There still needs to be reform that deals with egregious corruption connected to bribery, kickbacks or conflicts of interest.

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?

There was a flurry of privacy bills introduced in the Illinois House in 2019. While there seems to be the will, legislators have not yet found the way to do anything. Much of this stems from the complexity of the issue, particularly definitions of key terms (e.g., “personal information,” “disclose”) and enforcement.

From what I have read, I would support the “Data Transparency and Privacy Act” (HB3358) as passed by the House. It’s not the strongest protection, but could be a start. It would be enforced solely by the attorney general’s office, which gets around opposition to a later amendment to allow class-action enforcement. However, the original bill includes exemptions (i.e., licensed hospitals, public utilities, retailers and telecom companies), several of which I would question as weakening protection too much.

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?

A large factor seems to be money. According to Illinois Policy, tuition grew as much as 100 percent from 2006 through 2016. The annual cost at the U of I-Champaign is around $16,00. The skyrocketing costs are attributed to pensions, swelling bureaucracies and exorbitant salaries of administrators.

So far, legislators have proposed affordability grants and state purchase of private student loan debt at a 0 percent interest rate for eligible participants. This may keep some students in state, but at taxpayer expense, without acknowledging underlying issues, the state’s already deep debt or perceived/real weak local job market for students.

Instead, legislators should force these institutions to be accountable, manage better, earmark the recent influx of higher education funds on maintaining costs and improving classroom services, rather than increasing administration and paying exorbitant salaries. Completion of the South Suburban Airport could also stimulate excitement and good, diverse local jobs to keep graduates in Illinois, particularly since several local institutions have related aviation, engineering, managerial and other programs.

What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?

Kankakee River cleanup/maintenance and supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act

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.

A historical figure I admire or draw inspiration from is Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. He was a poised, witty and fiercely intelligent man of many gifts who was the founder of the great city of Chicago and had an integral role in developing the Chicago River settlement.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

My favorite TV show of all time is Dexter. Dexter was an extremely well written crime drama, mystery cable TV series. The unique and dark twisted plot was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a TV script.

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