Running for: Illinois House - District 50 (Kane and Kendall Counties)
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: Former Library Trustee and Board Chair (elected, non-partisan)
Occupation: Nonprofit Consultant and Executive Director, Neighborhood Food Pantries
Education: MA, Indiana; BS, University of Illinois
Campaign website: ElectKate50.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Kate Monteleone submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 are not an Illinois problem, it is a universal and international problem. The part that falls to Illinois is a result of federal failure, inaction, and denial. So what are we to do?
1) Immediately understand that Coronavirus will be part of our daily life well into 2021 and maybe beyond. We are all concerned about the viability of our local businesses. We can help them by being diligent in the practice of the 3W safety precautions (wear a mask; watch your distance; wash your hands). This is what every citizen can do and must do to help their local community.
2) The $1.5 Trillion Trump tax gift to corporations and wealthy individuals must be clawed back and used to relieve state and municipal governments for their COVID-19 impacts in the form of block grants.
3) Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) awarded to well-capitalized businesses that qualified based on the 500 employee standard should be returned and awarded to the states to help finance increased unemployment liability.
4) Any business incorporated or operating in Illinois that derives excessive profits due to COVID-19 (e.g. pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and PPE manufacturers etc.) should be assessed a windfall profit tax.
5) Businesses incorporated or operating in Illinois that practice price gouging at any time during the COVID-19 emergency should be fined.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
Governor Pritzker has followed the science and kept a keen focus on the health and safety of all of Illinois. The early closure of schools (March 14) was the right and prudent action to take in the face of a virus about which little was known. The response to increase access to ICU beds and ventilators early in the progress of the disease without the benefit of federal leadership or a nationwide plan to contain the spread was necessary, though ultimately exceeded actual demand. Because of the plan implemented by Gov. Pritzker and IDPH, Illinois was the first state to meet all criteria for phase 4 reopening on the federal model on May 29. The governor and IDPH have been clear and consistent in communicating our situation, have taken steps to increase access to testing and, have continuously monitored the core measures of community spread to know when to increase restrictions on gathering size and other precautions.
The Governor can be commended for listening to communities that argued in favor of less restriction due to less incidence. In response, the original four health regions were reconfigured into eleven health regions to monitor the spread of disease. On August 7, the governor issued a mandatory mask rule for public places, putting businesses on notice that employees and customers are required to wear face coverings. Failure to comply will result in a warning and ultimately a fine. This is a necessary step that I would have taken as of the May 29 reopening date. Doing so would have prevented the surge we are experiencing now. In the interest of calming dissent, the Governor dialed back protections that should have remained in place.
Overall Grade: B+
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
Police reform is essential! My reform plan would include provisions to:
1) Increase implicit bias training among peace officers with the goal to eliminate the practice of racial profiling.
2) Invite feedback from local citizens and police departments to identify specific concerns and recommendations.
3) Require certification of proficiency in de-escalation techniques.
4) Require certification on limiting use-of-lethal force and elimination of the “fear for my life” defense.
5) Require officer intervention when there has been a violation of de-escalation or use of lethal force standards.
6) Surrender of public pension benefit upon conviction in abuse of power and use-of-force complaints.
I do not support defunding police departments. Constraining resources while requiring additional training and certification protocols would be counterproductive.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Used properly, body cameras benefit both police and community. Body cameras are useful to ensure that police conduct is consistent with department guidelines and can provide important evidence in cases where an officer has been charged with offenses such as racial profiling, failure to de-escalate, inappropriate use of force, etc. Review of body camera video is a rich training tool for command staff to see what works well in police-community interaction and what does not. While I find body camera use to be an acceptable practice and would support a law requiring use, I would not allow the footage captured on body camera to be used to develop a facial recognition database.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
I am saddened to acknowledge that Illinois leads the nation in public corruption. According to ABC-7 there have been 891 convictions of public corruption in Illinois since 2000. Who’s to blame? We have enabled a culture of corruption in Illinois by empowering individuals with a thirst for power. And, we have perpetuated Chicago-style machine politics at many levels including in the state legislature. It is in the best interest of the citizens of Illinois to end the culture of corruption, and one strategy to do so is having term limits on elected positions. Another is questioning whether there is a conflict of interest having the leader of any branch also serving in the role of chair of a political party. Finally, the Legislative Ethics Commission that investigates complaints about legislator activity should not include legislators. A commission of nonpartisan appointees would better serve the interests of our citizenry and uphold the value of fairness in ethical review.
If Michael Madigan is indicted in the ComEd bribery case, he should resign. While unindicted, he has become a distraction to the orderly conduct of state business and lost trust, so the dignified response would be to step aside.
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 have volunteered as an Election Judge since 2016, and I am in my second appointment as a Democratic Precinct Committeeperson in my community. I have also volunteered as a Kane County Master Gardener, affiliated with the University of Illinois Extension. I work as the Executive Director for Neighborhood Food Pantries, a network of six pantries addressing food insecurity in neighboring DuPage County.
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) Kendall County has experienced rapid growth in the last decade and is now one of the fastest growing counties in the country. A lot of discussion, study, and comment has been compiled to determine feasibility of extending the rail line to Yorkville, and there is a $100M allocation in the capital plan. Kendall County lies outside the six-county group that comprises the Regional Transit Authority. The RTA Act must be amended to include Kendall County.
2) The operating budget for Illinois Math & Science Academy, a public school in Aurora needs to be protected. IMSA is a unique asset in the public education landscape promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teaching resources throughout Illinois. Outreach programs provide STEM experiences for teachers as well as elementary and middle school students.
3) Illinois Youth Campus in St. Charles has reported two COVID-19 outbreaks in the last month. The current census is less than one-third of capacity. An outcomes analysis must be undertaken to determine whether the operating model at IYC and other juvenile facilities in Illinois is meeting the needs of the population served.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Illinois families need health care coverage. Many of the benefits of Obamacare have been gutted from health care coverage and the number of uninsured is on the rise. My plan is to introduce a Medicaid Public Option that allows individuals to buy-in to a plan designed by Illinois at an affordable premium. A public option plan achieves three important goals that combine to improve access to health care. As a buy-in program premiums should off-set expenses.
1) Expands the number of covered individuals—including lower risk, healthy people
2) Increases competition within the marketplace and lowers premiums
3) Increases consumer choice
Another priority is ensuring that small businesses in villages and towns across in Illinois have a fair chance at securing COVID-19 emergency assistance funds from the federal government or the state government to prevent hollowing out of our communities. We must ensure that measures intended to keep Main Street viable reach Main Street in time to make a difference, without being delayed by administrative gamesmanship at the county or municipal level.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
The progressive income tax is the better model for calculating income tax in Illinois. Flat taxes are regressive and adversely impact average and lower income taxpayers. As proposed, the graduated income tax (Fair Tax) will assess incomes up to $250K at the current 4.95 percent or less with marginal increases on incomes over $250K. The maximum rate of 7.95 percent would apply to incomes over $1M. According to the Tax Foundation, 73 percent of pass-through businesses in Illinois report an AGI below $200K. Based on the Fair Tax proposal 97 percent of taxpayers would get tax relief, and Illinois would benefit from the increased budget-relieving income. Illinois has not met its primary financing responsibility for public education which shifts the burden to local communities through high property taxes. The progressive income tax can begin to restore the state’s proper share of public school funding and provide property tax relief.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. 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 crisis is real and threatens the stability of Illinois and essential services provided to citizens. Let’s be clear that the cause of the problem is not pensions but the compounded debt associated with more than 15 years of nonpayment and years of severe underpayment of the obligation that began in 1994 with the Edgar ramp. We continue to underestimate the true cost of the liability. The state is limited in its response by the Illinois Constitution which prohibits diminishment or impairment of benefits and is prohibited by the federal government from filing bankruptcy to reorganize debt. How the funds are managed should be reconsidered. Since 1994, the DJIA has been up in nineteen years and down in only seven with net growth of 242 percent, an average of 9.3 percent per year. Converting the funds from a defined benefit model to a market-based model would enhance, not diminish, the benefit available to public employees and help to pay down outstanding liability. A moratorium on benefit enhancements is also advisable.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
At this time I would oppose taxing the retirement incomes of the wealthiest residents for a couple reasons: 1) This population segment has great mobility; they are not constrained to a region for employment or school enrollment and some no-tax states such as Florida only require six months residency per year to qualify as a resident. A tax on retirement income would incentivize additional out-migration. 2) Believing the Fair Tax amendment will pass, the state budget should be on a path to balance, so this additional revenue should not be necessary. 3) Many of the wealthiest residents will likely have regular income generated from investments that are not “retirement” accounts, which would be taxed as regular income. Illinois should continue its current position of not taxing retirement income.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
1) Illinois could fulfill its constitutional requirement to be the primary source of financing for public education. 2) Explore opportunities for efficiency using evidence-based performance data to examine student/teacher ratios and student/administrator ratios. It may be within reason to consolidate administrations in districts with low student enrollment.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Pass the BIO Bill (SB 1966) requiring point of sale background checks for all gun sales including those by an unlicensed seller, reduce the FOID duration to 5 years, require FOID applicants to submit fingerprints with the application, require the removal of weapons for FOID revocations, improve FOID revocation enforcement.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I favor term limits for elected officials in Illinois and in the federal Government. New people bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to solve our most pressing problems. As I noted in question 5 above, term limits help to curb corruption that arises when elected officials are allowed to remain in office for twenty or thirty years or longer.
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?
Gerrymandering is a problem that perpetuates entrenched career politicians by limiting challengers in any election and allows people in power to stay in power. This race for the 50th House District is a perfect example. One party was unopposed in the primary, and the other had a ballot vacancy because no challenger entered the primary. I believe strongly that no candidate for re-election should ever go unchallenged because voters need a choice. Appointing an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission utilizing population data instead of voting data to determine district boundaries is the right thing to do and is preferred by constituents.
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?
Is anyone surprised that scandal, corruption, and long-serving lawmakers go hand-in-hand? The Lobbyist Registration Act was a good start, but did not go far enough. It still permits legislators to moonlight as lobbyists and perpetuates the transactional relationships for which Illinois is known. The Better Government Association recommends three additional actions to strengthen the LRA and improve transparency.
1) Disclosure of lobbyist compensation and who it was paid by
2) Prohibit legislators from lobbying other agencies of government on behalf of private clients
3) Require a time-out (e.g. 5 years) for retired legislators to return as a lobbyist in the General Assembly
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?
The Computer Crime Prevention Law that addresses computer crime and differentiates between misdemeanor and felony offenses. Because cybercrime is rapidly changing and its effects more damaging, the laws that protect private data must be always current and relevant. Vigorous enforcement is essential. The legislature must also attend to the state’s responsibility for the data it collects and dedicate manpower and funding to building a strong cyber defense with a focus on detection and management of intrusions over prevention.
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?
Illinois public universities are expensive when compared to peer institutions in other states. To illustrate, tuition at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last year was 51 percent higher than Purdue in neighboring Indiana and 57 percent higher than the University of Iowa. NIU was 56 percent higher than Iowa State. Consequently, our students will graduate with higher levels of debt. And, neighboring states offer attractive incentives to qualified Illinois students that makes the out-of-state cost comparable to in-state in Illinois. Among the answers to this question is learning how to compete to recruit our best students to stay in Illinois by making the Illinois experience a better value for money than it is today. The state is not obligated for primary financing of public colleges and universities as it is for elementary and secondary education, but more financial support of higher education institutions (including community colleges) is needed to keep college affordable for Illinois families.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
The Clean Energy Jobs Act is a top priority made more urgent by the ComEd case. Two goals of CEJA are to become carbon neutral by 2030 and transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2050. Particulate released by coal power generation plants contain 87 hazardous air pollutants including sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic, and nitrogen oxide according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Roughly one-third of Illinois energy is from coal generation. The benefit to air quality is reason enough to move to clean energy. The economic benefit of creating clean energy jobs for the Illinois economy is just as strong. The realization that ComEd had its finger on the scale to win automatic rate hikes in 2011 is infuriating and an insult to every ComEd and Ameren customer in Illinois.
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.
Jane Addams, a reformer and leader in the Social Settlement movement and founder of Hull-House in Chicago, came from a prominent family in Cedarville, Illinois. She saw the segregation of classes as a social problem in rapidly industrializing urban communities. Jane Addams and her associates took a scientific approach to understanding the needs of the immigrant community they served by collecting data on working conditions in factories, income, neighborhood demographics, and housing. Addams introduced the first factory inspection act in Illinois, advocated for child labor laws, and compulsory school. Addams is recognized as the Founder of the social work profession. She was the first American woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Call the Midwife, a BBC production on Netflix was my answer to the shutdown. It is a wonderful drama set in Poplar on London’s East End from post WWII to the late 60s. It is the story of a group of midwives and Anglican nuns who provide community based health care to the residents who are immigrants and working class families of scarce means living in densely populated tenements. While mother/baby care is their primary focus, as the only providers in the community, the nurses handle a wide range of disease, accidents, and other ailments. Over eight seasons the storyline explores the dawn of the British National Health Service, the introduction of birth control, the thalidomide scandal, back alley abortions, and epidemics with seriousness and compassion. It is a great series with characters whose own stories are interwoven with the main theme.