34th Ward candidate for alderman: Carrie M. Austin
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The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates running for 34th Ward alderman a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city and their ward. Carrie M. Austin submitted the following responses (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Carrie M. Austin?
She’s running for: 34th Ward alderman
Her political/civic background: Alderman and Democratic Committeman, 34th Ward, Founded the Lemuel Austin Youth Foundation 34th Ward
Her occupation: I am a full-time Alderman
Her education: Waller High School (now Lincoln Park H.S.), Roosevelt University
Campaign website: 34thward.org
What are the top three priorities for your ward?
Carrie M. Austin: Public safety, economic development, city services
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.
Carrie M. Austin: As Founder of Lemuel Austin Youth Organization — 34th Ward, a not-for-profit, we have raised funds to provide youth with alternatives to hanging on the street corner. In my work as Alderman, I have secured an Old Navy and the Ray Kroc Center for the residents of the ward. I also have plans to construct a new fire station, which will help foster economic development. An affordable residential building for veterans is also in the works and expected to break ground very soon.
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.
Carrie M. Austin: The state determines the structure of all City’s pensions. The decision left to the City Council is how to pay for it. It is important for the City to meet its pension obligations. The state must craft a pension structure that is agreed upon by all parties. This would include obtaining any agreement on any planned amendment to the state Constitution. If the state seeks to reduce pension benefits for new employees, it should do so through an agreement by all parties.
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.
Carrie M. Austin: I need more information on the casino tax, video gaming and recreational marijuana taxes because I want to be sure if I support these revenue sources they will be sufficiently stable sources of revenue.
The commuter tax, also known as a congestion tax is a tax I have long supported because it provides revenue without negatively affecting Chicago residents.
On the other hand, I oppose a LaSalle Street tax because, in the end, such a tax will hurt the City financially. The loss of these jobs, which are a vital part of Chicago’s economy, would cost the City in income and sales tax revenue.
I could support a reasonable increase in the transfer tax, provided it is tied to funding homelessness or remediation of lead in water.
Two years ago, the Chicago City Council approved a property tax increase that amounted to about an 8% increase to fund its pensions. That was not an easy vote for me because I knew it would be hard on my constituents but when I thought about the promise the City made to city workers to provide a pension, I knew it was right to take that difficult vote to raise property taxes. Will it happen again, remains to be seen.
As Chair of the Budget Committee, I hope to find alternate revenue sources to meet our pension obligations.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Carrie M. Austin: I would support a tax on off-premise billboards. These billboards generate a significant amount of revenue for owners and the City should tap into this revenue source. I would also encourage the Illinois General Assembly to broaden the sales tax to create more revenue.
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?
Carrie M. Austin: I served as a member of the TIF Reform Task Force. The Task Force made several recommendations and many have been implemented. TIF’s are an important economic development tool and the one in my community is relatively new compared to the first TIF’s established by the City. The City should make more information available online including M/WBE participation and city residency compliance. Those who receive TIF dollars must be held accountable for the promises they made, particularly when the commit to adding a number of jobs, we need to be sure those jobs are in fact created.
What will you do to rein in aldermanic prerogative?
Carrie M. Austin: Aldermanic prerogative, if properly used, is an important tool to ensure projects in my ward adhere to the needs of the 34th Ward residents. Some have suggested that some of my colleagues have abused aldermanic prerogative and we should look at those alleged abuses to see how we can keep them from happening in the future. Alderman know their ward and their constituents better than a developer and having that input from constituents on proposed projects helps ensure the development is in keeping with the neighborhood character.
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 is your view?
Carrie M. Austin: Based on the number of cases filed against some Chicago Police Officers, it is clear that we need to reform the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. These cases, by a select few Chicago Police Officers, give a bad name to the vast majority of Chicago Police Officers work follow the rules every day.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Carrie M. Austin: We should explore a lawsuit against the state of Indiana to hold gun dealers in the state responsible for failing to adhere to basic standards of accountability.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Carrie M. Austin: When it comes to education, my residents want a choice. Some prefer to try and be accepted to selective enrollment school, others prefer to attend one of our local schools and still others want to attend a charter school. I believe charter schools should be subject to the same standards as CPS schools.
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?
Carrie M. Austin: Presently several sister agencies boards appointed by the Mayor with confirmation by the City Council. These agencies have been subject to electoral influence by the mere fact that Alderman are elected by the people. On the other hand, CPS members are appointed by the Mayor, but do not require City Council approval. I believe the Illinois General Assembly should amend the law to require CPS Board members and the CEO of CPS to be confirmed by the City Council. This way voters will have a say in CPS.
Is there enough affordable housing in your ward? Please explain.
Carrie M. Austin: Housing in my ward is relatively affordable. The 34th Ward suffers from the lack of housing. Post the housing crash, my community was left with a number of vacant homes that are in need of restoration. I am working with local developers to ignite this restoration effort.
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?
Carrie M. Austin: I voted in favor of Chicago becoming a welcoming City. Chicago is a city of immigrants and should be open to all. I also voted in favor of the Chicago City Key, a valid government-issued ID card offered to all Chicago residents that will unlock many of the things our City has to offer. Chicago must vigorously defend its right to be a sanctuary city.
Should the inspector general have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees? Why or why not?
Carrie M. Austin: The Inspector General is an arm of the Executive Branch of government. Authorizing the Inspector General to investigate members of the Legislative Branch of government or any of the programs, operations and committees of the Legislative Branch violates the separation of powers. I also do not support the Inspector General having investigative authority over members of the judiciary.
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.
Carrie M. Austin: I have not employed people in my staff that have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the City. I cannot envision an instance where I would do so.
Is there a past or current alderman whom you model yourself after, or would model yourself after, or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Carrie M. Austin: I have been blessed to have two former Alderman, who served as my role models. My last husband, Alderman Lemuel Austin was a tremendous teacher and taught me a lot about being a good Alderman. The late Alderman Wilson Frost also provided superb advice and guidance to me throughout his life. He provided incredible institutional knowledge.
Also running for 34th Ward alderman: